Chef Rob Bland may have worked in French restaurants across the world, trained under Guy Savoy, and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, but he lays awake at night, thinking of the opening of Coquette — the first place where he’ll be the boss. “It’s not that I’m worried about the success of the restaurant, but I’m anxious to make it all happen.” The 30 year old, tattoo-laden chef has a deep passion for food, but particularly traditional French food. “It has a certain finesse, which is the same trait I like to see with my cooks,” Bland told me recently. “Coquette will be all about respecting the ingredients, respecting the dishes.”
Most of the menu items are brasserie staples, such as moules frites, gougères, cassoulet and steak au poivre, but some dishes have a slight twist. “We’re serving skate meuniere, rather than with the classic sole, simply because we know we can get better skate at a reasonable price than we can with sole.” Coq au vin won’t be braised for hours, which is required when cooking with a traditional rooster, but it will still retain that deep, full flavor.
Two focal points of the restaurant will be the raw seafood bar, where at least 4 different oysters will always be available, and the bread station, where several types of house-baked classic French breads will be showcased, including baguettes, brioche, pain de mie, pain de campagne (farmhouse bread) and miche (a rye-wheat bread). The bread station will be in the center of the dining room. “We’ll also do pastries, such as croissants, eclairs and others,” Bland stated, reminding me that Coquette will be open for breakfast at 7 AM during the week and for brunch at 11 on Saturdays and 9 on Sundays. “We’ll have a take-out service, so you can swing by and get your croissant to go.”
I asked Bland what item on the menu made him the proudest. “I’m a meat guy and will always favor those dishes. But I’m probably proudest of the fish dishes, as I’ve learned to cook those with tenderness.” Every time I heard Bland talk so preciously, with so much reverence to his craft, I was taken aback, as this is a guy who has a huge butcher knife tatoo on his right forearm. Granted, that butcher knife is accompanied by the words, “mise en place,” but it’s a bitchin’ tattoo nevertheless. Bland is not a salesman or a bullshitter. He just loves cooking, particularly this type of food. He talks about “ideals” and “dedication to the ingredient” and “importance of technique.” He wants to teach, wants everyone to know that he’ll cut no corners at Coquette. “We won’t be buying pre-peeled shallots or garlic. We’ll demand the freshest versions of both, and we’ll create perfect brunoise.” No haphazardly shaped vegetables in this kitchen, I suspect.
The price of the menu items is pretty reasonable. “We were very concerned about setting price points fairly, as this is not intended to be a high-priced, buttoned-down establishment.” The most expensive every-day item is steak au poivre, at $25, whereas out of the eight entrees (or “Plats Principaux” as they’re called on the menu) are under 20 bucks. An order of moules frites will set you back $13. Not bad, not bad at all. Coquette will have a rotation of daily specials, including half a roasted chicken on Saturdays and lamb chops on Thursdays. I’m particularly excited about the tartes flambèes, which are essentially French or Alsation pizzas. I mean, how can you go wrong with one topped with asparagus, ham and an egg?
Bland and Jeremy Sabo, Urban Food Group’s executive chef, are putting the final touches on the menu, but they’ve graciously shared a preliminary copy. “We haven’t proof read it for typos and correct French spellings, but it’s pretty close to completion,” Sabo said. They’ve also been kind enough to share a copy of their menu specifications, which lay out how each dish is prepared, including the time of preparation.
Click here for the menu specifications (Excel format).