IT'S EMBARRASSING when the guy at the next table calls you out for staring too hard at his food. Whatever. We couldn't help it.
We sat, menus in hand, at a shaded sidewalk table at Coquine, gawking at the parade of plates brought straight from the kitchen by chef/owner Katy Millard and her mostly female cooking team. Plates of New York strip steak piled atop olive oil mashed potatoes; multi-colored tomatoes with fromage blanc and a flaky olive oil pasty; and clams with white beans, their open shells holding fennel broth and a summer shower of ice plant.
Is it anti-feminist to wolf whistle at a lady's food?
According to the restaurant, "coquine" is French for "a lighthearted chide for a mischievous little girl, or means something a bit more flirtatious when said to a grownup." And Millard—who trained at Michelin-starred restaurants in France—definitely dresses her dishes to appeal, in chic, minimalistic ceramic dishware from locally-owned Pigeon Toe Ceramics.
At six weeks old, the pop-up turned restaurant is humming with new-opening gadflies and those lucky enough to live in the neighborhood—one man strolling by stopped to chat with a neighbor. And while the breezy outdoor seating under the shadow of Mt. Tabor remains open to complement the 32-seat indoor space, tables can still be had.
It won't stay that way for long. Coquine is an approachable spot that strays toward upscale, but with a price point that makes it a (nice) weeknight option. During the daytime, the space transforms into the kind of coffee shop perfect for a bite, an iced latte, and a good book. A recent lunchtime open-faced sandwich was topped with red and yellow heirloom tomatoes and arugula on a slice of French bread with chèvre ($8)—it was a study in simplicity and restraint. Leave with a Coquine chocolate-chip cookie, made with smoked almonds and a touch of sea salt ($2).
By meal's end, you'll be full, happy, and surprised by new flavor combinations. Coquine also has some of the friendliest service I've had in years, courtesy of Millard's partner and husband, Ksandek Podbielski (most recently of Roe), and there are the makings of a new classic.
On a recent visit, we ordered the oil-cured Oregon albacore ($14), confit flakes atop a sea of vermillion sorrel-scallion vinaigrette, new potatoes, and cucumber. After finishing up a summer gin and tonic ($8) with cucumber and melon, I was unable to make up my mind between the Dragon's Head Manchurian cider ($6) and the French rosé of Gamay and Mondeuse ($9). The waitress, unprompted, offered a half pour of each. God bless her. Double fisting was the way to go: The wine went perfectly with the fish, while the dry cider actually mellowed the sweetness of the black pepper molasses-lacquered pork short ribs ($22), which were just a shade too sugary, despite Padrón peppers as a counter balance. (I may have been alone in my feelings; several diners around me cleaned their sizeable plates.)
Millard is making hay of the summer harvest with dishes like fried green tomatoes ($5), two thick slices of tart and perfect breaded nightshade, dolloped with a salty, rich anchovy lemon dill sauce. Hopefully the carrot dish ($9), served roasted and raw, makes it through the winter. With mustard greens, caper-berry, sieved duck egg, and rosemary crumbs, the raw carrots are crisply fresh, while their roasted counterparts provide depth and flavor.
While the crispy duck wings ($11) win originality points, they're a bit light on actual meat. Coquine's star is the roasted organic chicken to share ($40). It's an impressive plump half-bird, juicy and seasoned to perfection—Millard here judiciously draws from the East, sprinkling Japanese togarashi spice that provides a unique flavor profile. It's accompanied by thinly sliced summer squash, sunflower seed pesto, shaved chanterelles, and bread crumb for crunch.
A candy tray is like dim sum for the sweet-toothed, offering $2 bites that recently included an olive oil marshmallow and pink peppercorn jelly candy. A figgy play on s'mores ($7), fresh figs with a fig leaf ice cream, a toasted milk chocolate marshmallow, and malted graham put us over the top one night—I had to cancel plans, go home, and don sweatpants. That may not be the kind of "flirtatious" coquine we're talking about here, but I felt pretty good about myself anyway.
Open Wed-Sun 8 am-3 pm and 5-10 pm. Reservations accepted.