Coquine offers very short staycations. At least, that's how I've always felt about a meal at Katy Millard's exceedingly gracious French restaurant, which sits in an unassuming corner space on a quiet stretch of Southeast Belmont Street up on the shady northern slope of Mount Tabor.
The French-trained Millard and her partner, Ksandek Podbielski, have created the most nourishing dining experience in Portland, so far removed from the troubles in the city below as to be transportive. As soon as you begin perusing the drink menu, with its "rare and ancient" pre-phylloxera sherries and well-chosen aperitif vermouths, you've entered a protective bubble in which all will be effortlessly pleasant.
Millard's cooking, like everything about this busy bistro, is deceptive in its simplicity thanks to deft attention to minute detail.
Across the hyper-seasonal menu, she takes great ingredients and gives them room to sing. Examples on a late-summer visit included a salad of arugula and "spicy greens" topped with shaved Parmesan and bee pollen, and a celtuce salad with the fat stems of the Chinese lettuce cut into thin strips and artfully mixed with nectarines, nut butter, a sprinkling of exotic seeds and preserved cherry blossoms. The menu flows naturally into pastas and proteins. The sturdy little orecchiette are highly recommended, and you can trust the plate to be built into something special using nuts, cheese, acid and Millard's uncanny sense of balance.
The signature dish is roasted, pasture-raised chicken, served whole or half, with perfectly moist flesh and crisp skin. The dish evolves every few months, but on our most recent visit it was plated perfectly with charred Padrón peppers and pole beans atop Carolina Gold rice, a cherished heirloom varietal known for its chameleonlike ability to adopt the flavors around it. Coquine is open for breakfast and lunch daily, so the pastry program is also strong, which you'll discover at dessert, where offerings range from pavlova to all-American chocolate chip cookies. But those cookies are unlike any I've had, upping the game with smoked almonds and salted caramel.
Pro tip: Coquine is the only restaurant in our top five that's open for breakfast and lunch. The menu's more casual during the day, with a roasted-beet open face ($10), a rustic halibut stew ($16) and perhaps the best and rarest tea in Portland from Totem teas. Depending on the time of year, another great way to land a table at this tiny restaurant is to call at about 4 pm and ask if the patio is open. If it is, it's open seating and they'll hold your spot for a few minutes.