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Cocottes bistro dishes glazed with charm

Bread and Brew
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT The Poulet en Cocotte features a milk-fed half-chicken with farro risotto, market produce and a poached farm egg on top – one of the favorites served at Northeast Portland's new bistro, Cocotte.

Cocotte is a cozy bistro on Northeast Killingsworth Street with a winning personality and an evocative name. It sounds like coquette, coddle, cuddle, cocoa - in French it can mean a woman of ill repute, and for Julia Child it was a technique for cooking chicken in a snug little casserole.

A version of this dish is Cocotte's specialty, and a sign of the kitchen's love for chicken: it's possible to have a three-course meal here with chicken or eggs, or sometimes both, in every dish.

For an appetizer, there's a luscious chicken liver mousse served with brioche, cherry jam and mustard. The jam is piled on top of the mousse, and overwhelms it with sweetness. It should be served on the side.

Eggs play a double role in the jardinière, a summer salad dressed with chopped hard boiled egg and aioli. Bright summer tomatoes stand out on the plate against a mixture of greens that includes ficoïde glaciale, a recently trendy plant whose name translates as 'ice plant' or 'ice lettuce.' It's a succulent, with pale leaves that have a slightly frosted look and a juicy snap.

Steamed Manila and varnish clams were chewy and would have been unremarkable if not for a really excellent broth. I wanted to chuck the clams and drink the liquid, a lemony blend flavored with white wine, butter and pistou, the French variation of pesto.

Cocotte's menu changes frequently, offering variations on bistro standards such as escargot, trout with lentils, truffled potatoes (with an egg on top), and locally caught salmon, tuna, or sturgeon. There's usually one or two vegetarian options, and one really meaty entrée, like lamb chops or, recently, a thick-cut pork chop. Tender and somewhat fatty, the pork chop was cooked to a perfect subtle pink and served with grits and greens, always a satisfying combination.

Of course someone at the table has to order poulet en cocotte, the anchor of the menu and a magnet that undoubtedly draws repeat business. A free-range chicken is finished with grain that has powdered milk in it, to create creamier meat. It's actually not coddled in a casserole, but split and prepared two ways: the breast is pan roasted and served alongside chicken leg confit that is cooked in its own fat and juices.

This double preparation can create pitfalls: the night I had it, the breast was not heated through. It was moist and savory, though, and glossed over with a poached egg that oozed into a nest of farro prepared with seasonal vegetables.

Getting away with it

Summer is a good time to be at Cocotte. It's at the intersection Northeast 29th and Killingsworth, where restaurants tend to thrive: Beast, Yakuza, D.O.C., Autentica. Rows of French doors at right angles create a lulling cross-breeze. A pale green wall is hung with mirrors and botanical prints, and the floor is dark, well-worn wood.

It's the kind of place that puts you in the mood for a glass of wine - choose a rose from either France or Oregon - or a cocktail. I thought the sazerac was a little off balance, but the Regina was a languorously smooth and well-integrated mix of Aviation gin, Lillet Blanc, the herbal liqueur Farigoule and orange bitters. So charming.

Indeed, Cocotte reminds me of a certain type of person - one you probably know, too. It has some flaws. It coasts a little on charm and good looks. And it totally gets away with it, too.

5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday, 2930 N.E. Killingsworth St., 503-227-2669, www.cocottepdx.com, entrees $17-$25

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