Old School Rockridge
A Cote, on College Avenue in the heart of the Rockridge area, has been a safe, solid, go-to restaurant for years. Not modern, not chi-chi, no molecular gastronomy. Your basic French food, done well. We went there Saturday night with our friends Mary and Ted.
The front of the house is very dark, trying for intimacy in a dining room sited right on the street with plate glass windows.
If you walk to the back, take a left and a right, follow through a narrow hallway past the bustling kitchen, you arrive in a splendid patio, half of which is under roof and half under open sky or a retractable cover. The street noise gone, the sky was blue, it was like a French garden in the country. Sit in the back if at all possible.
A Cote has a full bar, so Ted and Mary decided to start with Perfect Manhattans, which my parents used to drink when we went out. In the old day they came with maraschino cherries, which my brother and I would fight for. The modern style is some very fancy upscale cherry, and I wrestled Mary for one of hers. I wish more people would order that drink so I could steal the cherries, they were really good.
The menu has plates both small and large, so you can eat communally or not. We did both, starting with an order of corn and chantarelle fritters for all of us to share. Chantarelles, the only mushroom fit to eat.
Corn and Chantarelle Fritter with some white stuff.
The fritters were excellent. The accompanying “remoulade” neither looked nor tasted like it should–it seemed to be mayonnaise and pickle relish. Tartar sauce without the tartar. Fortunately, the wonderful fritters didn’t really need any sauce.
I had the green tomato gazpacho.
I thoroughly enjoyed the cold green tomato and cucumber soup, garnished with avocado. It wasn’t until I looked up the menu to write this article that I realized the little white chunks were scallop ceviche–I thought they were some particularly tasteless cheese curd product. A Cote needs to get more flavor into the scallops or just make the soup vegan.
The restaurant has two signature dishes, and our friends ordered them both. Mussels, and pommes frites (the $8 way to spell fries).
That’s an enormous portion of mussels, which the two of them couldn’t finish. The dish is flavored with Pernod, an anise-flavored apéritif. Dunking your baguette in the liquid is a delight darn near as good as eating the shellfish.
The frites were thin and crispy, just the way Gail likes them. Gail doesn’t believe in ordering fries in a good restaurant, but is willing to try a few if someone else is less constrained.
Gail had a croque monsieur, the French way to say grilled ham and cheese sandwich. If you put a fried egg on it, you have a croque madame. Oh, those wacky French.
I, sadly, had the gnocchi with pesto. Sadly because I had a clear and specific discussion with the waiter that I wanted more gnocchi and less pesto–I absolutely did not want a soupy bowl of sauce with some potato dumplings floating in it.
You know what I got. A bowl of pesto and 8 or 10 gnocchi. The pesto was decent, the gnocchi were soft and boring, the dish was exactly what I was trying to avoid. Since it’s a French joint, I guess I can fairly say C’est la vie.
Service was pretty good, except for the gnocchi incident. Prices are reasonable.
The weather gods were kind, and we had a perfect evening with our friends. If you go to A Cote, sit in the back, have the mussels and don’t go near the gnocchi. Maybe you can bring your own remoulade for the fritters, that would be good.