Everyman’s Michelin: Why Coquine Matters

Ten months after earning our tag as Portland’s Next Rising Star, a bistro on SE Belmont comes into its own.

By Karen Brooks May 24, 2016

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Coquine’s toast with fresh ricotta and berries

Image: Karen Brooks

Sometimes, as a critic, you gamble on a new restaurant, and it can go either way. Shortly after it opened, PoMo named Coquine the city’s next Rising Star, and it turned out to be a good call. Ten months in, Katy Millard (trained in multiple star-spangled kitchens in France) and her wine-savvy husband Ksandek Podbielski have evolved Coquine into Portland’s best “everyday” restaurant. Mornings deliver make-your-day buckwheat biscuits, beautiful salads define lunch, and an evening’s haul might include addictive shrimp toast crowned in pistachio biscotti crumbs or beautifully seared fish, backed by one of the city’s best wine lists.

Gabriel Rucker’s Le Pigeon still reigns as Portland’s premier thrill machine, and Nodoguro is the place for an evening-length sushi swoon or an experimental Japanese tasting menu. These meals put Portland in the national conversation, but they’re also special treats, not minimum daily requirements. Coquine is the place we’ve been missing—that everyman’s Michelin spot. Any neighborhood in the country would be happy to have it.

The food is pretty but not studied, interesting but never trying too hard. Seasoning is not daring, but merely spot-on (a rarity). At Coquine, you can taste the rigor; the palate; the commitment. The only dogma in the house is an old-school sense of deliciousness, smart and fresh to the core. It’s the kind of high-end homey cooking that rarely surfaces in Portland these days, as cooks chase fried chicken blueprints and macho pork dreams.

Here are some excerpts of what I’ve written so far. Scroll down, too, for an updated dinner review:

Portland Monthly Rising Star 2015: “Coquine is best defined by crazy commitment. Here’s what happened today before you even sat down: Podbielski worked 20 contacts for a drinks list that doubles as a directory to Who’s Next in Oregon wines, vermouths, and teas. Millard pondered finds from 10 farms for the day’s menu—perhaps crackling-skinned guinea hen alongside eggplant-apple purée and buzzsaw cuts of cauliflower roasted to the heavens.” (November 2015)

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Image: Karen Brooks

Cookie of the Year: Coquine’s Chocolate Chip
“How do you blow the oven door off a Toll House cookie? Katy Millard figured it out after seven years of recipe tweaking and $4,000 worth of chocolate tastings.” Find them on the counter, punctuated with smoky almonds and deep toffee flavor. (November 2015)

Best Sandwich 2015: Coquine’s Porchetta
“What makes it sing is the lean, luscious meat, the chopped cabbage slaw punctuated with crackly bits of pig skin, and the brilliant idea to hollow-out—and toast—a ciabatta roll, leaving only the best part behind, the crispy shell.” (December 2015) 

Portland’s Granola Power Ranking: No 1. Coquine’s Hazelnut and Cocoa Nib Granola “The Jon Snow of the granola world. The oats are roasted to brooding darkness. Chocolate-bitter cacao nibs and roasty hazelnuts ripple throughout. On top: buttery pear compote. The sheep’s milk yogurt embodies tanginess; fresh fennel sprigs are a surprise gift. Verdict: The granola you want to marry.” (March 2016) 

Coquine, Revisited 

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Halibut with licorice, seaweed, morels and and turnips

Image: Karen Brooks

When people ask, “Where should I go for dinner tonight?” the answer is pure and simple: Coquine. When it first opened, dinners were nice to very nice, with a limited menu. Sometimes, they were boring (in a nice way). This was food you’d be happy to introduce to your parents. Now, Millard has found her stride: each night brings a dozen or so options, showing more range, ideas and complexity, one more appealing than the next. The wine list has also grown, impressively. Throw a dart and you’ll land on a good bottle.

I could feast off the starters ($3–$8) alone. Gary Okazaki (aka “Gary the Foodie” aka  “Portland’s Most Famous Eater”) ate 20 of the aforementioned shrimp toast in one sitting. Millard’s chicken liver mousse is a full-on luxury, creamy and backed by crackling, paper-thin pecan-raisin toasts and concentrated, barely sweet rhubarb jam. Soups are a Coquine signature (carrot puree bordered by clumps of sweet Dungeness crab is as good as any in memory), and the kitchen’s pasta dishes are increasingly a draw. I’m still thinking about the elongated curls of strozzapreti, flinty cheese, and lemony, brown-butter bread crumbs.

Fish, often the saddest, blandest moment of a menu, is exactly what you’d hope for—cooked just right; super moist, delicate, surprising. A recent halibut dish wore a quiet but fetching cape of powdered licorice and seaweed, the whole thing perched over buttery little turnips and earthy morels. It tasted like something lost and found again: just good, smart cooking. (May 2016)

6839 SE Belmont St.
Small breakfast and lunch menu daily
Dinner Wednesday–Sunday

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