Like the legendary French fashion designer it’s named after, Coco aims to do the simple things well. Step into the Main Street restaurant that Maura Crawford opened last year, and the exposed brick walls, high ceilings and Eiffel Tower mural conjure up a European salon feel. ¶ That carries over into the menu, which offers a tidy selection of bistro classics. There are salads, pizzas, mussel pots, trout and other entrees, plus daily specials. The tables have brown paper over tablecloth, cloth napkin and tealights lit by the servers. ¶ It’s not a purely retro menu, though. Chef Conor Casey has added a few adventurous New World touches, like the hickory-smoked shrimp appetizer ($11) with “fresh corn and red pepper humita.” (Having looked it up, I can tell you that humita is a sort of steamed corn tamale.)
The dish arrived at the table covered in a glass dome. A puff of hickory smoke escaped when the server removed it, having perfumed the dish and now us.
The showmanship was not a facade; the four shrimp underneath were well-grilled, charred at the tips yet still moist and tender, and touched with sweet barbecue sauce. Underneath them, fresh corn kernels and red bell pepper anchored a cheesy mixture that added heartiness to the shrimp and their topknot of arugula.
Another gamble was a pizza from the specials menu topped with fresh peaches and speck, a lightly smoked ham ($15). It came up aces, with sweet fruit softened by the heat but still tangy, balanced with salty cured pork amid the cheese, more arugula and a touch of garlic. The crust was more chewy than crunchy, but my crust snobbishness failed to spoil my enjoyment.
Complimentary baguette slices were offered with a tastier than usual white bean puree. That was a simple thing done well. We didn’t want to fill up on bread but finished off that stuff with a spoon.
A special cocktail, cucumber soda ($8), reminded me of a more vegetal melonball, cooling and light, punctuated with an aromatic sprig of thyme. The simple syrup was all on the bottom of the glass, but after I stirred it up I savored my sips.
We didn’t order any salads, though a French country salad with lentils, beets and gingered carrots ($10) caught my attention, along with the massaged kale number, which the menu said included mango, strawberries and chevre in its party ($10).
There are seven mussel pots on the menu, ranging from $15 to $18, all served with rosemary frites. I considered the Thai curry, and then the beer and bacon version, before settling on the Portuguese version ($16), with chorizo, garlic, smoked paprika and fennel seed.
When it arrived, the mussel pot was full to the brim, and I set to eating. Most of the shellfish were plump and gritless. The sausage was piquant and, with the garlic and other flavorings, had made a delicious sauce at the pot’s bottom. Unfortunately it could only be reached once the mussels were gone. Or maybe there’s a better way to eat that dish.
The accompanying frites were terrific, crisp and addictive, despite verging on over-salty. The lemony aioli was unusually flavorful and almost light.
For mains, Cat ordered the special of pork porterhouse ($22) with peach agrodolce, gorgonzola polenta and grilled zucchini. I asked for the “Coco” vin, chicken braised in riesling with pearl onions, bacon and fingerling potatoes ($22).
The chicken was cooked well, firm yet tender, and flavorful, Continental comfort food. The smoky jus made me wish for more bread. The potatoes were uneven, some mushy, others crunchy.
The pork chop’s peach chutney provided an excellent sweet-and-sour foil to the pork’s richness. The chop was cooked perfectly, slightly charred at the margins but tender and juicy inside. I think it even had a touch of pink inside, which I prefer, but I’m not sure.
Which brings me to a gripe. Even with the tealight, it was so dark at our table that we needed flashlights to read the menu, and we hauled them out again to appreciate our food. Second gripe: It took more than two hours, in a half-full room. It felt languorous, for a bistro menu.
We didn’t have time for dessert despite intriguing offerings like peach corn cake with lavender cream ($7) and popcorn crunch sundae ($6).
We had a competitively priced, carefully cooked meal of satisfying dishes at Coco. I just wish I could’ve gotten a better look at them and that we’d had time for dessert.
Coco Bar & Bistro: 7 plates (Out of 10) Menu of bistro classics satisfies with fresh twists on old favorites.
WHERE: 888 Main St., cocobuffalo.com, 332-1885
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m. Friday, 5 to 11 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, salads $7-$14; pizzas, mussels $13-$18; entrees $14-$24.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.