Every year, Oregon takes a few steps closer to total Northwest domination, as evidenced by our state’s 18 James Beard Award semi-finalists, announced February 17. Best New Restaurant: Coquine
Portland highlights? Dinner at Coquine – where we had one of the most fragrant and subtle soups I’ve ever experienced. Really. Its haunting flavor drifted through my dreams last night. The main theme was matsutake (they’re everywhere in the Northwest at the moment), with pear – a brilliant combination. Just the right note of sweet crunch. But what made this memorable were little pearls of finger lime, adding tiny, tantalizing citric pops with each spoonful of soup. Music in the mouth.
Given its serene surroundings, coupled with the gentle pricing, Coquine feels like a hidden gem (for now anyway, until word spreads). Millard’s cooking is rooted in French techniques, but it’s also influenced by global cuisine. In her porchetta sandwich, the rich meat and cracklings are balanced by refreshing lemon, mint and basil. The confit duck wings are quickly fried, then bathed in a bracing lemon and Calabrian chili sauce. And don’t forget to save room for the addictive chocolate chip cookies, studded with artisanal chocolate, sea salt and smoked almonds.
Katy Millard is petite and doe-eyed, with a smile that zaps you like a ray gun. Don’t be fooled: She’s a kitchen beast. The girl requested artichokes for her grade-school birthdays and survived the fiery trenches of multiple star-spangled kitchens in France before earning “second in command” stripes at California’s famed Coi. Her wine-savvy husband, Ksandek Podbielski, is a host supreme and a logistics dynamo—Batman’s butler Alfred has nothing on him. In mid-July, they planted their first food flag on, of all places, a sleepy residential corner beneath idyllic Mt Tabor Park.
BEST NEW RESTAURANT
Earlier this year, all signs pointed to pedigree-loaded Italian spot Renata as a sure bet for best new restaurant -- so much so that a certain old-school paper in town named it such after two weeks, raising the hype to a degree that didn’t even allow the kitchen to work out its kinks. Renata’s doing fine, but amid all the hullabaloo, Coquine snuck in out at the base of Tabor and managed to become the city’s new darling not via hype, but by quietly making some of the city’s best food.
Coquine Is a French-Infused, Lady-Helmed Gem on Mt. Tabor
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.