Colette’s Tour de France

Colette delivers an inclusive, approachable take on French cuisine.
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Raviole du Dauphiné

PHOTOGRAPHY BY CATHERINE VIOX

The first thing you notice upon entering Colette, a busy bistro in in the former Zula space in Over-the-Rhine, is the conviviality. It’s the sort of bright, pleasant, quietly humming restaurant where one feels almost destined to become a regular. The impressionist paintings, digitally rendered in gilt frames, and expressive jazz music help set the mood for what is sure to be a busy dinner service. Even though I walked in right when the restaurant opened at 5 o’clock on my first visit, it filled up fast. Everyone seemed to know the staff from somewhere else. Colette appears to have assembled an all-star team from some of the city’s top restaurants, starting with Chef/Owner Danny Combs.

Colette’s interior is filled with color.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY CATHERINE VIOX

Combs spent years cooking at Sotto and Boca. His chef de cuisine, Evan Hartman, used to work at Pleasantry. Randy Sebastian, who helped launch Colette’s pastry menu and still prepares the restaurant’s buns and rolls, gained local attention with his namesake Sebastian Bakehouse in Mariemont.

Speaking of rolls, any visit to Colette should start with the laminated brioche. According to my server, the crusty, buttery rolls are folded no less than 495 times, giving them a layered texture similar to a croissant. The result is a study in contrasts: a crust so thick you can knock on it, with a soft, flaky interior. Combs’s stated goal to create a simple, tight menu with a focus on technique is certainly on display here. Technique rarely shines more brightly than this.

The layered texture if the laminated brioche.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY CATHERINE VIOX

Many of Colette’s best dishes are decidedly rustic, dialing down the decadence often associated with French fine dining, but not the flavor. While pâté is famous for its smoothness, Colette’s mixture of pork, liver, and pistachio is coarse and barely spreadable, like tartare. Served with toast, two types of mustard, and wonderfully acidic pickles, it’s the perfect refined bar snack to accompany a preliminary glass from the restaurant’s extensive drink menu.

Like the pâté, the brandade de morue is a hearty, comforting dish. As most of the best seemingly simple dishes, it requires a lot of work: The cod soaks overnight to remove most of the salt before getting soaked in milk. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, bread is soaked in cream to form a panade (literally, “bread mash”). After melding with mashed Yukon Gold potatoes, the silky mixture gets hit with garlic, brown butter, and trout roe for an extra dose of brine. The result—spread over toast—is one of the most satisfying dishes I’ve had in a long time.

A colorful beet salad brought several vivid shades of red as well as a contrasting bite of horseradish and the farmhouse flavors of crème fraîche. Like the fresh, acidic carrot salad I enjoyed on my first visit, the beet salad is proof that Combs can work wonders with fresh vegetables.

Chef/owner Danny Combs

PHOTOGRAPHY BY CATHERINE VIOX

For Combs, as with most great chefs, authenticity doesn’t come at the cost of creative exploration. Colette aims to explore not just the cuisine of France itself, but the food of the Francophone world, including such tasty locales as Montreal and Morocco. Of course, French cuisine itself is no stranger to international influence, as even the most ardent purist will admit, and Colette’s menu is a testament to those influences. Take the exquisite raviole du Dauphiné, for instance. France’s centuries-old take on the classic Roman pasta features a more delicate noodle than its Italian counterpart. Combs fills his mini pasta pillows with a combination of Comté (a slightly sweet French cheese) and ricotta and adds plenty of brown butter for an utterly luxurious bite.

For the Icelandic cod entrée, a tender filet of cod is braised in brown butter and then gets some savory crunch from a slice of brioche that is pressed to the top of the fish like skin. Wilted spinach and a buttery, caviar-flecked white wine sauce called beurre blanc enhance the flavor of the tender, bread-backed fish.

More familiar French classics, like steak frites, are simply done very well. At $46, it’s the most expensive steak frites I’ve seen in the area, but it’s also the best. The 8-ounce New York strip is tender and juicy enough to stand on its own, but it benefits from an umami-packed peppercorn sauce. This isn’t the only steak on the menu. When I come back, I hope to get the côte de boeuf, a 36-ounce rib eye meant to be shared.

Steak frites

PHOTOGRAPHY BY CATHERINE VIOX

Desserts were the perfect cap to my meal. The mousse au chocolat—with its velvety meringue, its crunchy chocolate shavings, and its creamy sauce anglaise (a sweet custard sauce that beautifully contrasts the color of the chocolate)—offered a trio of textures and flavors. Likewise, the choux au craquelin, vanilla ice cream filled puffs (called profiteroles) drizzled with chocolate, were delightfully sweet and cold.

Expect Colette’s superb menus to evolve with the seasons (when I spoke to Combs in mid-February, he was particularly excited for the advent of spring produce) and undergo somewhat frequent creative tweaks. A post on the restaurant’s Instagram account reads, “Thinking about some new menu items for spring. Tell us what you want to see in the comments.” If such a democratic approach to menu planning seems delightfully anathema to French fine dining, remember that Colette is “mostly French.” And entirely delicious.


Colette OTR
1400 Race St., Over-the- Rhine, (513) 381-1018, coletteotr.com

Hours
Dinner Tues–Fri 5–10 p.m., Sat 4–10 p.m.

Prices
$4.50 (laminated brioche)–$120 (côte de boeuf)

Credit Cards
All major

The Takeaway
“Mostly French” restaurant breathes new life into the old Zula space.

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