image courtesy of Kaitelug.wordpress.com
After several years, I finally got a chance to try Coquette, the French restaurant in Raleigh’s North Hills. Perhaps the main draw of this place is the atmosphere – it’s lovely. Coquette deliberately intends to recreate that quintessential French brasserie, and comes damn close with the look and feel – black and white flooring, marble surfaces, cafe tables and chairs, nice lighting, etc. It’s elegant and refined, and, even if it’s little vast to feel entirely cozy, it’s a beautiful place to come eat. The only place I know in the Triangle that’s even more wonderfully French is Durham’s Vin Rouge.
Unfortunately, the food I tried did not live up to the setting. We went for a late lunch one day, and I was hungry. The menu runs the gamut of French standards – steak frites, moules frites, quiches, crepes, soups, you name it. There are a handful of sandwiches as well, including a $10-$12 hamburger. I started with the gruyere and potato croquettes ($5). These arrived as 2 or 3 oblong balls in a cute tiny pewter-looking chalise. They suffered principally from a very thick fried coating similar to what you’d expect on a cheap frozen fried mozzeralla stick, and were a little overcooked. My wife thought the accompanying garlic aioli tasted like straight up butter. We didn’t finish them. I moved on to a “frisee aux lardons” salad (curly endive, brioche croutons, cider grain mustard vinaigrette, $7). No complaints there. Finally I had the “Parisian Gnocchi” (chicken confit, butternut squash, dried cranberries, spinach, $8.5). This was listed as under “les petits plats” (small dishes), and it wasn’t huge, but, with a salad, was definitely enough for a full meal. The problem was it just wasn’t very good. The gnocchi were a bit dense, but, more than that, it was a rather unappealing, uninspired combination. My wife ordered a croque madame ($8.5), which featured a very runny egg, and came with a huge mountain of slim french fries. She was happy enough with her meal. I tried the fries, and they were ok.
Would I return to Coquette? Yes, for the atmosphere, professional service, and the hopes of a good brunch perhaps. And you feel like you’re in France. But for outstanding French food, I’d probably head elsewhere. My top choice in the area would be Durham’s Rue Cler.