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Published: Friday, 8/15/2003

Restaurant review: Cohen/Cooke Restaurant ****

For openers, Cohen and Cooke are not the real names of the proprietors of a new restaurant at 109 South Main St. in Bowling Green. One would not be far wrong, perhaps, to sense that the choice of those names was intended to suggest the cuisine, the d cor - in short, the style of a certain classic age, late Victorian England at the turn of the last century.

Add the distinctive interior, largely done in black and very dark brown, with lighting focused narrowly over each table, and the open kitchen, and then the laid-back atmosphere characteristic not of Saki's beau monde, but today's campus world (true of all the eateries clustered around Bowling Green's Main Street-Wooster Street node), and one witnesses, I believe, the beginnings of a “cult” restaurant.

Whatever it is intended to be in that respect, Cohen/Cooke produces distinctive meals original from the plate up. The proprietors are both chefs, switching roles every other night, and thinking of what dishes yet untried will appeal to their rapidly growing clientele, and to their own restless creativity.

Cohen/Cooke occupies one of those 19th-century storefronts, narrow and quite deep. You have to look for the number.

Grouped in the entry area are comfortable tables at which, depending on who is or is not the hostess of the evening, you are expected to take a menu from the buffet that closes one end of the kitchen and seat yourself.

There are small tables at the far back of the dining area, alongside the kitchen, which is, as I've noted, open. It's fun and reassuring to watch your meal being made.

A dinner customer's first decision is posed after a rapid scan of the menu: Will you subscribe to a five-course or a four-course prix fixe, or order from the a la carte menu? In either case, a Puget Sound oyster poached in tarrago cream on a bed of white cheddar polenta is an amuse-bouche to get the salivary juices flowing.

Because each dinner is crafted when the order is received, there are not many entrees to choose from, and a New York strip or a T-bone is conspicuous by its omission. One evening last week the menu suggested a single meat dish, liver and onions.

A beef-eater's heart may leap to read “fillet mignon” even though the name is attached to wild Alaskan salmon; the tip-off is in the double “l,” for the feature is a firm piece of bright red salmon fillet tightly wrapped in a slice of bacon.

It is a great dinner, served with horseradish mashers, pickled green beans, and pepper sauce. Whatever your first thought, believe me, it works.

Other fish dinners are grilled halibut and amberjack, and opah, a rather exotic choice, barbecued.&tab;

There is more than fish. In a menu revised daily, the proprietors have been able to take the beastly hot weather we've been suffering as a challenge to produce light, refreshing salads to satisfy both taste and hunger. Among several choices, the salad that immediately attracted me combines a handful of grilled asparagus spears with a topping of a creamy chopped-egg salad, the whole held together with three or four pieces of crisp crostini. Do try it if you're in a mood for salad.

Cohen/Cooke, moving leisurely through an original menu, and a young, earnest, and perhaps unevenly trained serving staff - some charming and efficient, others tending to impatience - is for us an adventure in fine eating; dinner should please you immensely in the measure that you are open to the less familiar.



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