On a mild day, there is no reason to eat anywhere but on Coquine's sociable, spacious sidewalk patio, untroubled by even mild car traffic. Don't worry: You won't be ignored out there. The restaurant has some of the best service in town, attentive but never oversolicitous.
In French, Coquine may be provincial slang for a mischievous young girl, but its chicken doesn't screw around. The whole chicken ($40 and enough for two or three to share) is moist, tender and spiced complexly, on a bed of bulgur and lightly charred trees of broccoli. Chicken has long been the poor relation on fine-dining menus—a sad, rubbery breast as a sop to the joyless—but Coquine joins Trifecta and Imperial in reminding the world that the neglect has been criminal. This chicken—occasionally swapped out for a guinea hen—is revelatory. The leftover thigh and leg were possibly even better the next day, after the Moroccan spices had soaked deeper into the fat.
The rest of the dinner menu is both more delicate and more uneven, a tour of light flavors that ranges far from French fare. Entrees include a classic strip steak punctuated by wasabi, and a tender fillet of black cod ($25) atop airy white beans and sofrito—a dish light enough that the novelty of ice plant was a distraction I left to the side of the plate.
But the heart of the menu is in the little plates and tastes, with unexpected touches like Calabrian-chili crispy duck wings ($11) livened by lemon—essentially waterfowl hot wings that have been cooked in the duck's own fat.
A heartening number of the appetizers are surprisingly inexpensive, encouraging sampling. Three slices of fried green tomato ($5) are a burst of tartness beneath corn breading, made rich by an anchovy-dill sauce. And thickly complex bread topped with the characteristic sour tang of house-cultured butter—one of very few in town—is $3, while the pane fritto ($4) is an upscale version of frybread served up in Bugle-sized bits, blanketed with rosemary-spiked lardo and shards of radicchio remarkably free of bitterness.
Still, a tiny $7 plate of greens consisted, on our visit, only of green and red leaf lettuce. Skip it until the seasonal greens get more interesting. Get the "Many Tomatoes" salad ($11) instead, a rainbow of candy-sweet spheres fostered by this year's hothouse weather, played off against crunchy bits of oil pastry, the pop of pine nuts and a lightly acidic vinegar dressing.
A chilled artichoke-potato soup ($11) had texture thicker than desired for a cold summer soup, but the concert of bitter almond, rich creme fraiche, sweet artichoke and little pickled onions was both understated and terrifically complex. The soup is delivered prettily, with nasturtium petals strewn atop it: Ugly it up immediately to mix up the flavors.
And though the wine list is tempting, and the cider and aperitif list both broad and interesting—including multiple old French ciders and a Sac'Resine drinking vermouth from Hammer and Tongs—get at least one of the fresh-fruit cocktails. A tequila, black cherry and egg white drink will be one of my favorites this year, a dense-flavored marvel of balance that has nonetheless been swapped out for a rye ($10) mixed with fresh-roasted peach.
Amid sorbets, figs and a truly excellent panna cotta ($7), the most novel touch for dessert is a tray of $2 candies. House macarons that were heaven on one visit were oddly dense on another. There's also a lovely cubed Italian-liqueur jelly and a high-class marshmallow tenderized and flavored with Spanish olive oil. You will leave with a light, lingering sweetness, before descending into a city that suddenly seems far too loud.