For two years, chef Katy Millard and her husband/business partner, Ksandek Podbielski, have been taking their Coquine dinners on the road, bringing gorgeous feasts to farms, wineries, and special events around town, and earning a strong, loyal following in the process. Now the duo have finally found a place to settle down: They're taking over the Songbird Cafe at 6839 SE Belmont St.
Once the liquor license is approved, which should take just a few weeks, they'll take ownership of the space and work with a designer to "make it more Coquine," Millard says, hopefully opening by mid-May. "We're not doing any big renovations, so all the permits are already in place."
The cozy, 32-seat spot sports a small bar, plus a sidewalk cafe and patio that will double the seating when the weather allows. In keeping with their homegrown focus, they're working with local artisans whenever possible. "Lisa Jones of Pigeon Toe ceramics is hand-throwing all our plates. And we're working with a local glass-blower for the water carafes."
Millard is known for super-seasonal dishes that straddle the line between refined and rustic, surprising and familiar — things like coffee-roasted carrots; green farro salad; and beef carpaccio garnished with hyssop flowers. She spent five years working her way up through five Michelin-starred kitchens in France, and worked as the sous chef at Daniel Patterson's upscale Coi Restaurant in San Francisco before helping him launch Plum.
But for Coquine, she's aiming for a "neighborhood, casual-upscale restaurant. Playful but sophisticated. Somewhere you can go once a week — or more if you want." So while there will be a four-course prix fixe, with wine pairings from Podbielski ("If he didn't get to do wine pairings, I think he'd shrivel up and die."), there will also be things like rustic wood-grilled whole chicken served family style with seasonal accompaniments.
Podbielski, a hospitality pro and wine expert currently running the wine program and front of the house at Roe, will curate a wine list of local producers, of course, but it will also include favorites from Europe. "We love Spain and France, and there's no reason to leave them out of a well-rounded wine list," says Millard. And instead of the usual spirit-forward craft cocktail programs you find around town, he'll focus on stocking the bar with small producers of aperitifs and digestifs for sipping alone or in low-alcohol cocktails and spritzes. "You can sit outside and have a drink in the sun and not get wasted," she says. "Unless you want to."
Coquine (opening mid-May): 6839 SE Belmont St., Portland