The one where we went out to eat and it felt like the restaurant was making love to my ears. We don’t get to go out very often, mostly because our schedules and taking care of the kids and wanting to hang out at home and cook like fiends ourselves just flat get in the way of finding time to enjoy fine dining out. So, when we do go out, it is generally a splurge (timewise) and always something special, a hopeful time, a time to wish for the best. I am the best cheerleader for a good restaurant.
And that’s why this is tough. I am that proud parent, seated early at every assembly and recital, hoping beyond reason that this time – this time, damnit – he/she won’t sing off key, trip over a robe, bang a sour note during a rest. I cheer for success, even on television when surfing and Toddlers and Tiaras is on featuring trainwreck pageant mothers incapable of seeing how insanity has taken over their choreography. I want the appetizer to be stunning, the entrée to be smokin’ crazy good, and the dessert to sing better than Jeff Buckley testifying in soggy boots by the riverside. I am a believer.
We went to dinner, thanks to my mother-in-law’s visit and management of the monkeyfolk of our home. Thanks, Momma – really. The restaurant, Coquette, in our neighborhood, easily found on the interbunny, well represented in interbunny speak with terrific photography and decent design. I was immediately taken (online) by their bar, the way the polished aluminum cast top appeared continuous, smooth and buffed to a high sheen. It made me want to lie down on it when it’s hot outside and feel the cool of it the way mortuary tables feel only with potable alcohols on the shelf nearby.
Neko Case was playing when we came in, one of the songs from Middle Cyclone, and I thought, hey…this place is sweet. I ordered a dirty vodka martini up with olives and when it arrived, a song from Calexico’s The Black Light began playing and suddenly I wondered if the restaurant decided to make secret love to my ears, having prepared a mix tape after tapping into my computer, secretly invading my music privacy with the intent of wooing a bigger tip.
We were seated next to a prom date couple, the boy crisp in his tuxedo and his date slump-shouldered in a shiny white and black gown. They barely knew each other and hearing them stumble through the first few moments was achingly sweet. Again, I was the cheerleader, wanting to lean in and whisper some tips to the boy on how to flatter his date appropriately, needing for some reason to see their date succeed if only during the portion of their evening involving me as their dining neighbor. They were fine, both of them working it out the way billions of awkward young couples have, none of whom needed my help.
On our other side, a man in his late sixties – dapper, fit, and wealthily appointed - escorted his wife to their table. They were cute, and immediately I placed us in order: youth, early middle age, and late middle age. Before the martini kicked in, I started down some nostalgic line of thought where we were all the same couple, seated in the time warp section, but then the vodka hit my empty stomach and trains of thought turned to hungry thoughts…but enough about surroundings for now.
FOOD REVIEW DISCLAIMER: I ate everything, with the exception of Traci’s entrée and a small block of her appetizer.
Traci ordered a pate special and I ordered their foie gras for appetizers and seafood gnocchi and cassoulet as entrees respectively. My wife’s pate arrived and was a decent terrine but huge and a bit flavorless and greasy – not recommended for anyone except the most hardy carnivore. My foie gras, on the other hand, was amazing. The waiter informed me the geese (specifically, their livers) came from Canada and were indeed unpasteurized. They had been pressed and seared, briefly, cool on the interior and near perfect. Heavenly, and made even more so by the waiter’s thoughtful reminder to have a glass of Sauterne as accompaniment.
Next to us, the kids were getting on well, making typical comments about their food, loosening up and discovering ways to be comfortable with each other. On the other side, the older couple carried on rather dry discussions (yes, I am that guy, the one who overhears what others say and can’t turn that off – I wish I could) of their personal business with their church and policies designed to improve their church. I couldn’t help but notice how the gentleman very nearly dumped salt and pepper on his appetizer, whatever it was.
The gnocchi arrived with the cassoulet and a glass of Cotes du Rhone for moi. To quote a friend’s rating scale for food and all things entertainment related: I’d give it all a bent crumbly thing.
The seafood and sauce were delicious but the gnocchi had a texture less firm than that of storebought cookie dough squeezed from a tube. And the shape – it was uniform the way an extruded product would be, not at all the finger-rolled gnocchi the way I’ve made them and enjoyed them before. The texture and flavor of semi-raw flour in the dough actually made me angry, for my wife, for other customers, for all of Italy.
My cassoulet had a topping of bread crumbs that tasted like the crumbs one would dust off a burned grilled cheese with the back of a butter knife. Other than that, it was delicious. Who puts bread crumbs on top of a cassoulet? Their use of good sausage, moist and tender duck breast meat, and perfectly cooked white beans, combined beautifully with the herbs and seasonings, but only after carefully removing as much of the bread crumbs as possible.
Meanwhile, as my disappointment builds and I just want to run back to the kitchen and buck up the chef with encouragement and advice, our late middle age neighbors’ entrees arrive. This time, I’m watching the old guy like a hawk to see if he tastes his food before a-salting it. I mean, don’t you want to see if the fish has been seasoned properly before blanketing it with salt and pepper? Not this guy. He shook both the salt and pepper shakers until he was red in the face, carrying on a conversation and exerting himself to the extent he had to straighten his glasses between salt and pepper shakings and then again after. I wanted to slap him, sit him down on the floor and explain principles of seasoning prior to cooking food and how a French restaurant would certainly have seasoned his food (at least a little) before cooking it and preparing sauces and various treatments, even in the most pared down version of a dish.
“Maybe dessert will salvage everything, honey.”
My wife knows me. Of course she does. On the recommendation of the waiter (I loved the wait staff!) I had the profiteroles and Traci had their chocolate mousse. Yum. Both were delicious despite the mousse’ presentation that made us think an ice cream scooper dug into a huge pot au chocolat and dumped three huevos of puddin’ on her plate like an old-timey pawnshop logo. Good, but lacking in presentation.
Pricey? Not bad, for all the grub, especially. Atmosphere? Excellent. Terrific interior and incredible musica. Service? A++. Food? It was a near miss. I really want to spend time in their kitchen, but I fear, if the chef reads this we’re gonna’ have some words that don’t involve me giving him my cassoulet recipe.