Friday, November 21, 2008

Coi (San Francisco, CA)

373 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133
Fri 11/21/2008, 09:05p-12:10a

Though I'd always known about Coi (pronounced "qua," not "coy"), the restaurant really stepped into my radar screen after its upgrade to a two-star rating in the latest Michelin guide. After examining the menu on the restaurant's web site, I was convinced that I had to give Chef Daniel Patterson's highly-innovative, beautifully-presented contemporary American cuisine a try on my latest trip to the Bay Area.

Coi is located in the Financial District of San Francisco, amid a surprisingly large number of strip clubs and adult video shops.

When we arrived, our table wasn't quite ready, so we were seated in the lounge, a lovely room replete with beautiful burled walnut tables and furry Flokati pillows.

After about ten minutes, we were moved to our table in the main dining room. The space is just as striking as the food, with its low, washi-covered ceilings, Catherine Wagner artwork, and even more of those hirsute pillows.

There was only one menu option available, an 11-course tasting menu at $120, focusing heavily on aromatic ingredients, essential oils, and inventive flavor combinations. Wine pairings can be had for an additional $95. Also pictured is the separate lounge menu. Click for larger versions.

In addition to having a fine wine list, Coi also offers a great selection of alternative beverages. In fact, instead of drinking wine, we decided to pair beer with the meal! Click for larger versions.

I started with the Coi Aperitif [$14.00], a lovely, subtly spicy drink consisting of a long pepper and hibiscus tea infused with cassia (a tree bark used as "cinnamon") and litsea cubeba (a.k.a. "may chang," a plant harvested for its lemony essential oil), finished with Champalou sparkling Vouvray. We then ordered a bottle of the 2007 Gouden Carolus 'Grand Cru of the Emperor' [$28.00], a heady (11% ABV), viscous dark Belgian ale with lovely flavors of cocoa, spice, and dark fruit. The beer is brewed by Brouwerij Het Anker in Mechelen, Belgium once a year on the birthday of Charles V (ruler of the Holy Roman Empire from 1519 to 1556).

Next up was the Kiuchi Brewery Hitachino Nest 'Red Rice' [$9.00] from Naka, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan. It was a very different experience than the Gouden Carolus, showing sweet, fruity notes backed by rice, along with a crisp, light mouth feel. Finally, we had the Fantôme Saison [$32.00], from Brasserie Fantôme in Ardennes, Belgium. This slightly sour, citrusy beer with a touch of herbaceous spice was probably my favorite of the bunch.

The bread was a homemade smoked whole wheat, served with unsalted butter and sea salt. I found the bread rather addictive, and must have gone through six or seven of them!

Amuse Bouche: Milk & Honey
These reminded me of the "spherifications" popularized by Ferran Adrià and his disciples (see the "liquid olives" at The Bazaar). Basically liquid gels encased in thin membranes, they had a very light, initial sweetness followed by a salty finish.

1: Pink Grapefruit
Ginger, Tarragon, Black Pepper. If you look closely on the right side of the plate, you'll see a small dab of liquid. That liquid was Coi's signature scent, a perfume made from pink grapefruit, ginger, black pepper, cognac, and tarragon. We were instructed to dab a bit of the citrusy concoction on our wrists, to complement the flavor of the "sphere." That sphere was composed of an icy center covered by a creamier exterior, and had an initial, dominant taste of grapefruit, backed by a hint of spice and pepper. What was interesting is that its sweet-savory flavor just lingered in my mouth for nearly a minute.

2: Shiny Beets
Citrus Scented Gel, Vadouvan. This wasn't a particularly distinctive dish, as the beets lacked much flavor of their own, and instead relied on the citrus and vadouvan spice mixture. A bit boring perhaps, though my favorite beet was the darkest one, which was also the sweetest. The use of vadouvan gave the dish a somewhat Indian flair, and made me think of David Kinch's (Manresa) crispy mussels dish at this year's Providence 5x5 dinner.

3a: Fromage Blanc Tart
Chicories, Black Olive. The cheese was so delicate, both in flavor and in substance; it was almost airy, and formed a balance with its tough, crumbly crust. The use of chicory was key here, as the leaves provided a much needed foil in taste, but more importantly, in consistency.

3b: Oysters Under Glass
Marin Miyagi Oysters, Yuzu, Radish, Apple, Rau Ram. Also known as Pacific oysters, the Miyagis were slightly sweet, mild, with a bit of minerality. They were delicious on their own, and the use of yuzu, radish, apple, and rau ram (Vietnamese coriander) was akin to a tangy mignonette sauce. What made the dish really unique was the so-called "glass," which added a fantastic textural counterpoint to the soft, tender oysters.

4: Triamble Squash Soup
Asian Pear, Pomegranate, Padron Chile Flakes, Mint. Unfortunately, this course was a bit too sweet for me, as tends to be the case for squash soups. The use of Asian pear and pomegranate was genius here, as the fruits added a much needed variation in texture, and also contributed a tartness that offset the sweetness of the squash. The chili and mint served a similar role, but I would've liked their flavors to have been more apparent.

5a: Garden, Late Fall
Root Vegetables, Cocoa, Herbs. This was a somewhat desultory, yet strangely beautiful presentation of vegetables. I appreciated the natural flavor of the veggies here, and surprisingly, the use of cocoa powder actually worked rather well, adding a gritty consistency and contrasting bitter/sweet/savory notes.

5b: Roasted Cauliflower
Smoked Bone Marrow, Pickled Red Onion, Oregano. I'm generally a fan of cauliflower, and it didn't disappoint here. I loved it by itself, with its delicious smoky-burnt flavor that worked well with the onion and oregano. I wasn't as convinced about the foam however, as it distracted slightly from the cauliflower.

6: Earth and Sea
Steamed Tofu Mousseline, Yuba, Fresh Seaweeds, Mushroom Dashi. I thought this was a very Japanese-inspired dish. The mushroom dashi broth provided a rich base on which the delicate flavors of tofu and seaweed could interact. I'm not usually a fan of yuba, but here it was the key; it didn't have much flavor, but its consistency really made the dish. My dining companion mentioned that the broth was reminiscent of a shark's fin soup.

7a: Sautéed Monterey Bay Abalone
Escarole, Caper Berry-Sea Lettuce Vinaigrette. I've never had abalone quite like this before. Its firmness was halfway in between a raw sushi style and a Chinese braised preparation. The sauce added a tart, subtly bitter, vegetal flavor that went rather well with the soft sweetness of the mollusk.

7b: Matsutake Grilled on the Plancha
Potato-Pine Needle Puree. The matsutakes were delightful, though not as strong as the ones I had at Urasawa. Nevertheless, I enjoyed their earthy aroma, deftly set off by a sprinkle of salt & pepper, crunchy texture, and wanted more! The accompanying sauce was largely unnecessary.

8a: Slow Cooked Farm Egg
Green Farro, Erbette Chard, Brown Butter-Parmesan Sauce. The chard was the ticket here, as its slight bitterness proved to be a wonderful contrast to the rich, mild creaminess of the egg yolk. The farro was also superb, in that it added not much flavor, but rather a delightful risotto-esque consistency to the dish.

8b: Bolinas Goat, Different Forms
Sprouted Beans, Seeds, Nuts, Wheatgrass. This was a surprisingly stimulating dish. The goat itself, served rare as well as braised, had a very distinctive, almost "wild" flavor. It was expertly complemented by the sprouts, with their bracing, vegetal, bitter tang, as well as the seeds and nuts, which contributed their own distinctive flavor and added a nice bit of crunchiness.

Supplement: Country Pork Pâté [$12.00]
Cornichon, Grain Mustard. Since we weren't quite getting full, we decided to supplement the tasting menu with two dishes from the lounge menu. I enjoyed eating the pâté along with the included toast points, but found the mustard and pickles a bit too strong for the pork. This was reminiscent of the pâté I had at Charlie Palmer.

Supplement: Spiny Lobster Ravioli [$16.00]
Tarragon, Brown Butter, Spinach. The raviolis seemed more like dumplings to me. I really had a tough time even identifying this as lobster (could've been shrimp for all I know), as the flavor was lost in the midst of the brown butter and tarragon. Clearly, the dishes on the lounge menu do belong in the lounge. That's not to say they're bad, but they simply lack the finesse and creativity found on the tasting menu.

9: Etude (Soyoung Scanlan)
Peppercress, Fuyu Persimmon, Black Walnuts. The Etude is a semi-hard goat's cheese from Soyoung Scanlan's Andante Dairy in Petaluma, CA (I also had their cheese at Meadowood). The Etude was mildly nutty and quite good on its own, but really benefitted from the sweetness of the persimmon and the smokiness of the walnuts.

Intermezzo: Mutsu Apple and Rose Soda
Mutsu apple, also known as the Crispin, is a Golden Delicious-Indo cross first grown in Japan. The soda had a sharp, intoxicating nose of apple, and this intensity carried over on to my palate. Sour, tart, refreshing: the perfect palate cleanser.

10: Quince and Huckleberry Parfait
Huckleberry Ice, Almond, Lemon Thyme. The mouth-watering sweetness of the quince and huckleberry was adroitly balanced by the mildness of the cream. The secret here though was the almond brittle, which contributed a fantastic crunch to the dessert. A simple concept, but delicious.

11: Chocolate-Mesquite Cake
Smoked Pepitas Praline, Kabocha Squash Sherbet. Kabocha is a type of sweet Japanese squash, and even in sherbet form, it was intense. It was thus very well tempered by the smokiness of the chocolate and pepitas (squash seeds). A lovely interpretation of the classic ice cream-chocolate cake dessert.

To close out the meal, we had Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles, which were just like cookie dough, but with a delightfully salty finish, as well as Tahitian Vanilla and Olive Oil Milkshakes, which were simply delicious (think of a standard milkshake, but with just a hint of savoriness to make it interesting).

The dinner was a success. Though not every dish was a hit, there were no blatant misses either; it was a cohesive, balanced meal, though perhaps a tad light. As I expected, Coi possessed the novelty I sought out, but without the overt pretension that I was afraid of. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen such a masterful use of the sweet/savory interplay as I saw at Coi. Patterson manages to combine innovation and cutting-edge culinary technique, but without losing sight of taste and edibility, a rare combination indeed. Nicely done.


Blogger FoodDigger said...

As always, amazing pics and post. Now I'm a little upset I didn't join you guys up there! That abalone made my mouth water.


Monday, November 24, 2008 9:42:00 AM  
Blogger Evan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Monday, November 24, 2008 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I accidently removed my post.

Great review. I loved that you had a selection of amazing craft beers with the meal. (Could be a sign of the times?) And no mojito? Whats the deal?

I dont think I would been able to handle the goat salads, "wild" tasting is not one of favorite flavors.

And the lounge dishes seemed as disconncted as you mentioned and belonged more to the nearby W hotel lobby than this spot.

I think the menu missed one major piece de resistance as the last course to take it to the Kevin Eats Top 10. I would have left hungry had I not had the 3 beers and the 6 pieces of bread. !

How was the service and the crowd? Did ithe room fill up on a Friday night?

Monday, November 24, 2008 2:21:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

FoodDigger: Thanks Will! We would've definitely liked to have had you up there.

Evan: Yeah, the goat's flavor was really something that I don't think I'd encountered before, though it wasn't just the meat, but the whole melange of ingredients.

About going with the beer, it was partly due to the irresistable selection, but also to the fact that my dining companion wasn't in the mood for wine. And as for the mojito, well, the Coi Aperitif just sounded so interesting!

I see your point about the "piece de resistance" though, and that's something I struggle with. Is a restaurant better for having all pretty good dishes? Or, can one really great dish save a string of lackluster ones? The meal was light however, and the lounge supplements, though comparatively unrefined, were a great help in that regard.

I found the service expedient and cordial, and had no complaints. When we arrived, the room was about 90% full, with about nine couples, all of whom seemed to be on dates. Age-wise, there was a wide range, from ~30 to ~60.

Monday, November 24, 2008 11:56:00 PM  
Blogger Food, she thought. said...

Wow. I would love to go here. We are just at the tail end of a series of Bay Area visits, and unfortunately do not see going again anytime soon.

Love the spherification trend. Waiting to see how far it goes in terms of high end transferring to mid-range price points to lower end to street and so on....I can see it now. Spherification at Bazaar and Coi, later gastro pubs, then spherification sold from street carts in east LA.

Coi took it to a beautiful level with an accompanying signature fragrance. Were you tempted to lick your wrist?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008 6:28:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Coi is definitely a place to check out on your next visit. And yes, I was tempted to lick. ;)

As far as spherification goes, the process isn't that complex, so I could ostensibly see it trickling down so to speak. But just because you can, should you? Would the street cart vendor really benefit from such a thing?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008 9:44:00 PM  
Anonymous foodie said...

love your reviews.
Those of us that live there, don't consider this the financial district. It's on the border of the red light district.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

That would explain the copious number of adult entertainment venues surrounding the restaurant. But I suppose Financial District sounds better...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010 4:45:00 PM  
Blogger N.P. said...

I want to try Coi out now--but I do believe it is in North Beach (home of strip clubs galore), not the FiDi.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010 10:30:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Kat, I believe Broadway is the dividing line between North Beach and Financial District, so it's right on the border, on the FiDi side.

Monday, September 20, 2010 11:20:00 AM  

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