High On Adventure - Featuring Photojournalist Larry Turner

Thursday, January 12, 2023

A taste of Europe in Downtown Ashland



A taste of Europe in Downtown Ashland

Story by Leslee Ryerson

Photography by Dale Robinette


This is a true story of love, romance, and following your dreams….

The dream of opening a restaurant – actually this very restaurant – was a long time in the making. This tale of true love and perseverance started when French native Nat Borsi was a child. Born of Italian and French heritage, Nat was raised in France on the border of Italy. Growing up he very much enjoyed traditionally prepared family dinners. His dad’s Bolognese was a twice a week meal and roast chicken on Sundays became inspiration. Nat learned to love cooking so much that he attended culinary school and worked in fine dining. Chef Nat eventually left France and in a roundabout way made it to Seattle. Cooking at Tom Douglas’ restaurant, Lola, he met the love of his life (and now wife) Grace. Both loving their work, they started dreaming of owning their own French, but not too French, restaurant which they would name “Cocorico.” Literally meaning cock-a-doodle-do, it’s a tongue in cheek nod to being French but not pretentious. They just didn’t know where Cocorico would actually be. Working for others over a number of years, they saved, traveled, got married, and explored (enough for another entire article), all while keeping the Cocorico dream alive.

Fast forward to the spring of 2022. Long time restauranteur Erik Brown was retiring and looking for tenants for his restaurant space Amuse in Ashland. Like the Borsi’s it was a match made in heaven! The conveniently located restaurant has an intimate dining room with enough room for around 34 diners. The enclosed (heated) patio has room for 36, making it a cozy place to dine even in the cooler months. Former guests of Amuse will appreciate seeing Ben, a server who was with Amuse from the start and is now happily serving guests at Cocorico.

The Borsi’s love for hospitality is apparent from the moment you step inside. The attention to detail and warm atmosphere radiate from the friendly greeting down to the silverware. Lighted votives in milk glass candle holders and classic French stripe cloth napkins are a simple but beautiful touch. Bottles of chilled water left at the table are convenient and lovely. Le Creuset dinnerware compliments old world, perfectly weighted flatware. Attentive service and quick turnaround make it the perfect place for a pre-theater dinner or a leisurely meal with friends.

While the carefully curated menu isn’t particularly long, it’s filled with so many great choices it’s hard to pick what to order. There are staples that anchor the menu, but the menu changes with the season and markets, making Cocorico a restaurant you need to visit again and again.

When we dined, we started with a bright and fresh endive salad, topped with candied walnuts and cherry tomatoes. The light, crispy and crunchy salad was dressed with a zesty cilantro and red wine vinaigrette, loaded with just enough real blue cheese crumbles to balance the tartness of the dressing.

For a main on the Italian side, we enjoyed a Cocorico staple: Spaghetti Carbonara, made with very thin, fresh house made pasta, loaded with bacon and the perfect amount of delicious sauce.

We also ordered something more French: the roasted chicken. Made with organic, free range non-GMO chicken, stuffed with mascarpone cheese, garlic, and herbs. After it’s roasted, Nat removes the mascarpone and makes an amazing pan sauce by adding cream. It’s served with smashed potatoes and a seasonal vegetable.

When the market allows, you might find steak and potatoes on the menu. We enjoyed a perfectly prepared Riddle Farms ribeye, seared to a touch of crisp on the outside while perfectly tender and pink in the middle, and dressed in a beurre blanc sauce with capers.

Also on the menu the Cocorico burger is a third pound of Box R Beef, pressed into two patties that sandwich melty American or blue cheese, on a grilled MIX Bakery ciabatta bun, served with tomato, lettuce, onion, pickles and sriracha aioli. Served with authentic French fries – thinly cut, fresh potatoes that are fried till crispy and hot, then seasoned to perfection. Or try a different side like the fried corn (when in season) served with sriracha aioli and parmesan – it’s just like elote (street corn) that has been freshly taken off the cob.

You can taste the authentic Italian influence in the Spaghetti and Meatballs, made with veal, pork, Box R Beef, San Marzano tomatos, ricotta, and parmesan, served over fresh house made pasta.

The most popular dish right now is the Braised Lamb Shank served with rose harissa, preserved lemon, Israeli couscous, mint, and sultanas. Nat braises the lamb shank for almost four hours – a labor of love that is apparent in every bite. 

Or try the fish. Depending on what’s best at market, they could be serving sockeye salmon or wild petrale sole. The fish will be perfectly prepared and served with a flavorful side.

You’ll want to save room for dessert. Pastry chef, Coral, makes an amazing chocolate pot de crème served with mascarpone, fleur de sel, and homemade iced animal cookies. You might also find cheesecake with lemon curd, or homemade pie (expect marionberry when stone fruit is not in season.) Or go for the ultimate comfort food: cookies and milk, served with milk or espresso.

A lovely wine list includes some Oregon favorites and some imports. By the glass or by the bottle, it’s all affordably priced. The only bottle over $100 is a bubbly Brut Rosé from France. The rest of the bottle list runs between $39 and $75, with lots of great bottles in between: Abacela, Quady North, and Upper Five, all outstanding local wines, are priced less than $60 per bottle.

The beautiful cocktail list comes straight from Italy with a classic Aperol Spritz. There’s also a Negroni if you prefer, or the any of the classics: Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Rob Roy, Sidecar, and a Paper Plane (Rye, Amaro Nonino, Aperol, and fresh lemon). Their Fancy G & T is made with Wild Roots Cucumber Grapefruit Gin, and a Bourbon Renewal is made with creme de cassis, fresh lemon, and a brandied cherry. To go kind of off script, you can also order a Margarita, an Oregon Mule (made with huckleberry vodka) and even a banana daiquiri – which you know will be delicious. You’ll also find a nice selection of beer, from IPAs to Pilsners to Hefe’s.

To sum it up, Cocorico is French comfort food with an Italian bent, prepared by someone with a great palate, who really loves to cook and serve. It’s casual fine dining that's reasonably priced, in an approachable, very friendly neighborhood eatery. You don’t have to wait for a special occasion to dine at Cocorico. After all, life itself is a very special occasion and should be celebrated every day.



15 N 1st St, Ashland


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