A first look at uptown’s new French-inspired restaurant.
by Krisha Chachra | photographs by Justin Driscoll
True to its name, Charlotte’s new uptown restaurant Coquette — which in French means playful, coy woman — flirts with combining modern French cuisine, exotic spices and southern flavors.
Mornings at Coquette begin with delightful pastries, quiches and coffees. By afternoon, the patisserie introduces charcuterie, cheeses and sandwiches. Once the cocktails and wine start flowing, the restaurant transforms from a classic French café to an upscale dining experience featuring mussels, oysters, coq au vin and duck-fat fried chicken, showcasing ingredients from all over the world.
Open since late August, Coquette is another feather in the cap of Mother Earth Group, created by Jill Marcus, which also operates nearby Mariposa at the Mint Museum, vegan eatery Fern and catering company Something Classic.
Located in the heart of Charlotte’s business district, Coquette’s décor turns heads with a blend of Parisian and French country design elements. The interior stands out with floor-to-ceiling windows, marble tables, elegant chandeliers, rustic stonework and colorful wallpaper that gives the illusion of stained glass you might find inside European cathedrals.
Left: Mushroom Tart with raclette fondue, truffle vinaigrette and harissa. Middle: Executive Chef Cristian Medrano. Right: Interior photo courtesy Plaid Penguin
Executive Chef Cristian Medrano — who originally is from Peru but worked in Florida restaurants before landing prestigious appointments with two Michelin-starred kitchens in Washington D.C. — presents classic French food in a reimagined way.
Take for instance the Foie Gras French Toast, a perfect blend of southern comfort food served with sherry maple syrup, sweet potato and melt-in-your-mouth, fatty foie gras dusted with Middle Eastern spices.
The Jardiniere de Thon Crudo (Tuna Crudo) is a nod to Medrano’s Peruvian roots, with pomegranate consommé poured tableside and accompanied by lime salt, serrano oil and sesame sprinkled over delicate tuna cubes. Pomegranate seeds burst in your mouth adding texture, sweetness and a new flavor to what could be a one-note dish.
Make sure to lap up the peppery gravy with bread ends after hollowing out the Smoked Bone Marrow complete with bacon peppercorn jam.
Left: Foie Gras French Toast with apple butter, sweet potato, pistachio and sherry-maple syrup. Middle: Madame le Brun. Right: Coq au Vin Blanc (roasted chicken with mushrooms, vegetables, bacon, Riesling and lemon confit).
The dinner menu also features a delightful trio of hors d’oeuvres — Croissant au Escargot, Potato Beignets and Gougère au Truffe. For something lighter, the vegetable crudité comes with homemade “Franch” (a French spin on ranch dressing).
“I think sharing this craft with other chefs, mentoring them and introducing each other to new ingredients is like a ‘job journey,’” Medrano says. “My team and I are taking this journey together to experiment with new dishes and elevate the delicious food scene in Charlotte.” Medrano and his team test new menu items every few weeks. Next on the horizon is duck a l’orange, he says.
A balance of creative freedom and collaboration drew him to Marcus, who believes “combining different people and cultures in one space to talk food unites us all.” Marcus, a former tennis star at Davidson College, fell in love with travel and exploring new flavors while studying abroad in Brittany, France.
She gives Medrano and his team room to stretch their imaginations. That vision plays out in a signature dish served at both lunch and dinner: the Moules au Beurre de Vadouvan Fume (mussels with French curry butter). Mussels are soaked in the spicy butter, which is first smoked over an edible charcoal. Toulouse sausage — along with a dusting of garlic — is added to the dish, which is served with a petite baguette on the side.
Left: Moules au Beurre De Vadouvan Fume (mussels with Vadouvan butter, Toulouse sausage and fennel). Right: Salade de Melon et Jambon de Parme (sliced cured ham, melon, yogurt, date molasses)
“I’ve seen customers pick up the bowl and drink the broth down,” server Kelly Rosario says. “It’s that good.”
When it comes to drinks (other than broth), General Manager Patrick Denetre notes that while pairing a nice wine with your meal is typically French, guests shouldn’t overlook Coquette’s craft cocktail menu. Try the Madame Le Brun with Courvoisier, lemon, lavender syrup and lichi. Or the gin-based Classic 75 with lemon juice, simple syrup and Champagne.
Finally, to complement your classic crème brulee for dessert, order a spiced espresso martini or a dulce de leche martini with vanilla vodka and espresso liquor. After a few sips, and a full meal at Coquette, you might feel a little flirty yourself. SP
Coquette is open for lunch Tues.-Fri., dinner Tues.-Sat. and weekend brunch Sat.-Sun. The patisserie and café is open Tues.-Sat. 8 a.m.- 4 p.m. Coquette offers a monthly wine class hosted by sommelier Fabien Boudart, who shares stories about the history of the wine, tasting notes and recipes. Tickets can be purchased online for $45 per person and include light fare and charcuterie. 400 South Tyron St., coquetteclt.com