French chef makes local farm goods sing
Ashland has a new restaurant to crow about.
Cocorico opened in August in the former Amuse location downtown. The French name translates in English to “cock-a-doodle-doo.” And the cuisine, indeed, is a joyful farm-to-table refrain at one of the most affordable price points and approachable formats in Southern Oregon.
The region’s restaurant aficionados had their eyes on this development since March when Amuse chef and co-owner Erik Brown announced his retirement and the restaurant’s closure. Word quickly spread that Cocorico would replace Amuse at 15 N. First St.
Cocorico is helmed by Nathaniel Borsi, a native of France’s Hautes-Alpes department where he trained as a chef. His wife, Grace, grew up in Seattle, where the two met working at the much-lauded Lola.
In March 2020, the Borsis created Cocorico at the Green Springs Inn & Cabins. The business’s survival in such an isolated location during the early days of the pandemic is nothing short of remarkable. I had Cocorico on my list of must-try establishments and then, for some time, assumed it must have foundered.
Hardly. The Borsis spent months making plans and giving the former Amuse space a colorful, more casual makeover. Perfectly suited for the setting, the menu is a refined take on comfort food classics of American, French and Italian cuisine, with entree prices from $18 for the locally raised beef burger to $38 for beef ribeye with Rogue Creamery blue cheese, greens and potatoes.
I limit my beef consumption to once or twice per year, but I am so over the $60 dinnerhouse steak. So I can only imagine how onerous restaurants’ sky-high beef prices have become for those who regularly indulge. Cocorico’s is a departure that Ashland and the region desperately need.
Given the choice between beef and lamb, I choose the latter every time. But with a home freezer full of lamb, I somewhat reluctantly passed on one of Cocorico’s more worldly preparations: braised lamb with rose harissa, preserved lemon, Israeli couscous, mint and sultanas ($32).
A pasta lover, I thrilled at the promise of house-made noodles: spaghetti, bucatini and campanelle. Although carbonara ($18) is a guilty pleasure, the bacon-laden, egg-enriched dish couldn’t compete with “summer campanelle" ($19) and its riot of fresh seasonal produce: zucchini, chard, corn, cherry tomatoes and arugula. My partner, however, had his eye on the same pasta, so we negotiated a second dish to share.
Wild-caught salmon listed on a previous menu would have been irresistible to my partner. But as the fish was no longer available, we regrouped to the organic roast chicken ($29) with plum chutney, smashed potatoes and braised greens.
But first a salad ($11) of mixed greens from Wandering Roots Farm near Gold Hill. Although toasted fennel yogurt, shaved fennel and bulgur put a Levantine spin on roasted beets ($10), that salad sounded a bit heavy for the hot evening. And Belgian endive ($10) with candied walnuts and blue cheese seemed even more a cold-weather dish.
Sharing a salad left room for another starter, of which deviled eggs ($7) were the obvious choice over warm olives. The appetizer and salad actually arrived together, but we weren’t fussy and heartily dug into the duo of dishes, each reminiscent of eating at Mom’s dinner table — if Mom could cook like a French-born, classically trained chef.
Playfully garnished with scallions and watermelon radish, liberally dusted with smoked paprika and perched atop crumbled Tim’s potato chips, the deviled eggs were faultlessly executed, wholly satisfying bites. I’d never tire of ordering these.
The salad’s whole lettuce leaves ensured peak flavor and impeccable texture. Diced avocado, halved cherry tomatoes and pickled red onion harmonized on the plate as rich and acidic elements, mingled with house-made buttermilk ranch.
More acid would have brightened the pasta’s decidedly vegetal flavor. And its corn puree spiked with Aleppo pepper wasn’t as generous as I anticipated, implying the noodles could use more sauce. But the dish was a clean, wholesome representation of farmers’ bounty.
Wandering Roots also supplied Cocorico’s potatoes, fried to crispy perfection and perched alongside juicy pieces of chicken breast and leg. Although dense and irregularly shaped, the potatoes put us so in mind of French fries that we asked — somewhat sheepishly — if the kitchen had any ketchup. Grace Borsi reassured us that we weren’t heathens to request the mundane condiment, standard with Cocorico’s burger.
Another summer standard, peach pie ($10), eclipsed Cocorico’s other dessert options of cheesecake, chocolate pot de creme and a banana-dulce de leche confection. We didn’t need the sales pitch for Rolling Hills peaches, which I buy at the farmers market and know to be superior. We confirmed we’d like the pie warmed.
Slightly underbaked to accommodate heating by the slice for service, the pie’s pastry fell just short on flakiness and butteriness. The peaches also played more like preserves on the palate, rather than individual slices. But paired with vanilla ice cream, crowned with a fresh Marionberry, the dessert capped off one of our favorite restaurant meals so far this year.
Cocorico is open from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, until 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. See cocoricorestaurant.com. While reservations are not required, they are accepted only online or in person.
Reach features editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4494 or firstname.lastname@example.org