Say bonjour to Cocotte in Old Saybrook
I think I’m on my third incarnation of reviewing an eatery at the James Pharmacy building in Old Saybrook. The current venue, Cocotte, is a perfect fit for the charming, historic building, and we hope history doesn’t repeat itself because the food is fabulous — and wait until you see the pastry case.
We’ll get the one con over with before listing Cocotte’s many pros: Cocotte must hire more hands to accommodate its growing popularity. Our server during brunch was very amiable and quite pleasant, but too many other tables and customers required her attention at once. She did her best, but I think my brunch at Cocotte was my longest to date. Here’s hoping the owners succeed in their current campaign to get a beer and liquor license, because mimosas definitely would have helped!
In a nod to the name of the restaurant, we naturally had to order one of the “oeufs cocotte” (eggs baked in a dish) options on the menu — among them, eggs with roasted tomatoes; or shiitake mushrooms; or red Burgundy wine sauce; or, our choice, Cocotte Parisienne, eggs baked with bacon ($13.50; served with very tasty lyonnaise potatoes). If anyone is wondering what the cure is for pandemic fatigue during days with less sunlight, it’s Cocotte Parisienne. The dish may appear small at first glance, but once you tuck in, the warm, parbaked eggs plus cream and chives offers a satisfying repast — particularly with the slice of excellent bread and equally topnotch butter served with it. (All the better to dip with, you see.)
It would be hard to pass up oeufs cocotte next time, but I would be more than happy to enjoy Cocotte’s omelet again. I opted for the Omelette aux Fromages, a three-egg dish in which the fromage was Gruyere ($12.75; served with a slice of bread and lyonnaise potatoes). The lovely and delicious golden egg roll-up I received checked all my boxes for what omelets should be: buttery; not browned; and somehow delicate and hearty at the same time.
Now, it isn’t all eggs all the time at Cocotte, and the brunch menu offers a pleasant variety of early-day meals, including tartines (open-face sandwiches), egg-less cocottes, and salads. Our Salade au Chèvre Chaud ($17.50) got raves from everyone and that is what should happen when an expert pairs butter lettuce with thin slices of fresh fennel and mustard vinaigrette and tops it with melted goat cheese toasts. It was a phenomenal, refreshing combination of flavor and texture and you’ve got to love a salad that starts with perfect toast and a goat cheese schmear.
A recent weekly special, Short rib en cocotte ($24.50), illustrates the simple pleasure of “meat and potato” dishes. In this case, it’s baked, tender, rich Angus beef in a piping hot cocotte paired with a heaping dish of pureed potatoes with just a bit of seasoning. Perfect winter fare that was beyond gratifying, and we hereby suggest it remain on the menu permanently.
We’re not sure how we made it past the bakery counter on our way in to brunch, but we behaved and saved the best for last. The pastries are edible art. Period. They are gorgeous delicate confections constructed from mousse, meringue, marzipan, and more. We sampled one item labeled “Caffe” ($10) in the case, and we were stunned by the complexity of flavors and textures: from the rich mound of espresso, chocolate, and ginger-tinged mousse to the delicate wall of meringue that held it all together. Delicious enough to wow my allegedly “not-a-dessert-guy” husband.
But if you prefer to start on more familiar ground, grab a salted baguette, ficele, or ciabatta loaf or a number of other packaged store-made treats. You really can’t go wrong. I’ll just mention that the caramel macarons I later sampled ($2.50 each; approximately six flavors available) were the absolute best I’ve ever tasted: ample and flavorful cream in the middle with pillow-y crisp cookies holding it all together. The wonderful caramel notes provided nuanced flavor that many macarons lack. (Read: They actually tasted like their purported flavor!)
We didn’t make it to the gelato counter, and we’re dying to go back and peruse the shelves of French and Creole provisions available for sale. You can certainly bring home many flavors of France with you, but if you can get a seat for lunch or brunch, you will be hard-pressed to find a better meal anytime soon.
323 Main St., Old Saybrook
Cuisine: French cuisine, plus bakery items including pastries and breads, and gelato
Hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; brunch served Thursday to Sunday, 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Service: Personable but long lags between attention from our server, who, to be fair, was covering all brunch tables and the pastry counter. We recommend Cocotte hire a few more pairs of hands to lighten the load and reduce wait times.
Atmosphere: Charming historic building plus chic bakery equals a very nice place for a meal. Not a lot of tables and you might have to wait to get one. Take a moment to shop around Cocotte's stock of lovely French and Creole foodie imports.
Prices: Pricey, but the quality is definitely there. Some pastries will run you $10 apiece; salads average around $17; oeufs cocotte (eggs baked with delicious things in individual dishes) run from $12.50 to $16.50.
Credit cards: Accepted
Handicapped access: Small, often-packed parking lot; low ceilings and close quarters inside
Reservations: Typically for larger groups only; call ahead.