Coi - what's the latest?
Here is my report from a mid-November visit with two close friends:
Stylistically, the design of the restaurant is warm and inviting, overt with warm brown tones. The entrance brings you to a lounge area - a banquet of booth seating with beautiful cocktails tables made from sliced, polished tree trunks and (regrettably) pillows that were a tad too furry for my taste. A turn around the corner found us in the main dining room. Obviously drawing on the Japanese aesthetic, the various shades of brown -- from the horizontal grass wallpaper to the leaf-laden paper ceiling -- instill a sense of calm and elegance. That calm was soon jolted as the tasting menu was shared amongst the three of us and a barrage of exciting and new flavors were beset upon us...
A glass of bubbly (sadly, name not known) accompanied the first few courses. There was an amuse of fresh roasted pepper and a foam and it was at this point I realized I was going to need to take notes.
The first official course was a pink grapefruit salad, but this was unlike any salad or presentation I had ever experienced. Served in an Oriental, rustic brown bowl was a deceiving mound of mousse. This was served alongside a drop of perfume and instructions were given to rub the oil on your wrists and inhale while consuming the salad. With ginger, black pepper, and three essential oils, at once multiple senses were heightened with aromas in the nose, a smooth and sumptuous mouthfeel, and exquisite layered flavors. This was also when we began to notice the service ware. There has almost become a preponderance of over-sized, Keller-esque white placesettings in haute cuisine restaurants. At Coi, the use of Japanese-inspired earthenware plates and bowls have the tendancy to bring the ethereal offerings down to earth and make them accessible to us mere mortals. Some give the appearance of an abalone shell, rough-hewn and mishapen yet with an inviting glisten in the interior glaze. Brilliant.
Next arrived a three-flavor composed plate with caviar, beet gelee, and fried bone marrow. The immediate reaction was simply the depth of flavor that came about through three seemingly divergent ingredients.
Almost to cleanse the palate - yet brighten it - the next course was a sea bream sashimi with white soy, yuzu, and a scattering of chives. Four bites total but elegant and refined.
At this point the bubbly was finished and we opened a half-bottle of 2002 Etienne Sauzet, Puligny Montrachet - stunning, simply stunning.
At the request of Mr. B, an additional course came out - a potato puree with Kapachi tartare, black truffles, and miniature haricot radish. This dish was all about the potatoes and the concentration of flavors that spoke the terroir of the potato.
This was followed with a soft-poached egg yolk which lied under some parmesan foam. Hidden amongst the yolk was a bacon-onion relish. This dish provided an amazing array of components; first the parmesan foam on top, but as one dug deeper, the bacon and unctuous egg yolk again displayed stunning depth.
A show-stopper arrived shortly thereafter -- Delicata sqaush soup was poured table-side over walnut brittle, cippollini onions, and cocoa mascarpone. The surprise of the walnut brittle juxtaposed with the elegant squash was neither too heavy nor too playful (it was brittle, after all). Just a tease of sweetness with the layered complexity of flavors.
A very odd dish was served next - Yuba 'pappardalle' with coconut milk and curry. Yuba is skin that develops from soy milk. It has an interesting tooth that is similar to pasta but reminded me or canned glutten. It was easily the most experimental dish of the evening and while the flavors melded together enough, the sci-fi nature of the yuba made it a bit difficult to get overly excited.
We were next served a seared scallop with apple jicama, mint, and a Buddha's hand emulsion. This was wildly successful and I would have happily consumed several of these. The citrus emulsion was more than the pure essence of the Buddha's hand but progressed the sweetness of scallop further.
The white wine being close to finishing, I ordered a 2002 Domaine Morey Coffinet Chassagne Montrachet, a soft and supple red from Burgundy.
With one more seafood course, we were presented with a sea bream atop several varieties of braised lettuce with a citrus/saffron sauce. The saffron was handled delicately (as so often it can be over-done and too heavy) and while the sauce was quite elegant, this might have been the one dish that suffered by virtue of the fact that the fish itself did not stand up to the sauce. Here was the first time we detected a lack of the profound depth we had been experiencing from the beginning.
Three "entree" courses were shared amongst the three of us as yet another potato explosion occurred with a pepper-seared shortrib 'steak' with potato foam, baby dandelion greens, and a red wine vinaigrette. While the short-rib steak itself was quite tasty, almost any cut of beef would have sufficed as this dish was all about the potato. It was the full essence and soul of a potato, concentrated and unyielding.
I was most enamored with Guinea hen roasted with Bhutanese red rice. Both Mr. B and I couldn't get enough of the rice but I got to finish the bulk of it. The hen was perfectly rare and moist and I regret that I didn't jot down the components of the seasonings.
Another course served was squab and foie gras with melted endive on a hibiscus reduction. This dish suffered only in that there was too little foie and too much sweet hibiscus. I adored the concept, but would have preferred a more balanced approach.
Finishing the main courses, a pseudo-cheese course was offered with a cheese tart that easily transcended my being. Naming the producer of the cheese, Rolf Beeler gruyere was melted on a simple rectangle of puff pastry so redolent with butter to have almost floated off the plate. Sitting aside some lightly dressed wild arugula, I discovered a new pathway to Nirvana through this simple presentation. Another show-stopper for me.
The dessert came with a glass of Sauterne (forgetting to get the exact name). Three desserts were shared and chef Patterson seems to have found a pastry chef with the same sense of adventure and daring. A single spoonful amuse was presented to sweeten our palate and comprised of huckleberry tapioca pearls with Malden sea salt. The juxtaposition of the salt and sweet was a miniature explosion of complex flavors that enticed the taste buds exactly as inspired -- wanting more.
An almost savory Manchego cheesecake with a hint of rosemary was served next to an apple sorbet. A baked Alaska with a gingerbread crust and creme fraiche sorbet was served with butter pears. And a brioche bread pudding was scented with lapsang souchong and served with a sorbet (unfortunately, I can't decipher my notes on the flavor of the sorbet). I enjoyed the baked Alaska tremendously, but found it a tad too sweet. I believe Mr. B prefered the cheesecake as it was decidedly the least sweet. Ms. W and I swooned over the bread pudding as the clear favorite.
In lieu of a mignardise, a final touch was offered in the simplest presentation of a single peanutbutter cookie served alongside a few sips of warm malted milk. This was a stunning culmination to the meal and all were shocked how seriously good and hearty the milk was but how it was so well complimented by the peanutbutter morsel.
The overall impact of the meal is that with very few exceptions, each ingredient is integral to the other ingredients. Nothing is over wrought or unnecessary. There is an intense purity of flavor and the word of the evening became depth. As opposed to a one-off, special occasion meal (as this was intended to be and many of these meals become), I look forward to returning to Coi to experience more of chef Patterson's brilliance.
[NOTE: posted by zin1953's wife.]
The next time I go to Coi (Koi? Soy? Quoi?), I would do the dinner menu, *not* the tasting menu -- too many dishes, too many layers/details, to be able to enjoy each one. Technical perfection, but intellectually overwhelming. I want my dinner to be enjoyable, relaxing, pleasing -- this all felt like it was too much work. Fewer dishes and larger portions would have perhaps allowed for greater relaxation and enjoyment.
The yuzu (yuba?) paparadelle WAS amazing, And the caviar-bone marrow dish was truly exceptional. Other dishes were, I thought, less successful. The sommelier was truly accomodating and ended up waiting on us, because our waiter was such a $#!+.
Were there kinks?
I fondly remember the food served at Elizabeth Daniel's squarish, slightly cramped dining room. It was my favorite restaurant at the time. Coi's space is way smaller, a cozy paper and sea grass den. Regardless of where Daniel serves his food, his experimentation with innovative ingredients and scents are spot on. A good wine list.
I left the restaurant with a dot of perfumed oil on my wrist a reminder of the numerous tiny courses successfully executed with herbs and vegetable fruit reductions.
The amuse bouche was a spoonful of sweet chilled corn soup with delicately spiced salt crystals. A promising tease.
Pink grapefruit with ginger and black pepper - what an appetizer.
California osetra caviar - tiny discs of bone marrow topped with caviar. Sauteed bone marrow is a surprisingly good alternative to foie gras. Beet jelly, a refreshing, clever accompaniment.
Dirty girl farm tomatoes. There it is again. A big dollop of foam. It is like eating flavorful air. Sea salt is used perhaps a wee bit too liberally --- however the food doesn't taste any saltier than it should be. You are only too pleased with the texture of the salt to demand less.
The 3 pieces of mini sashimi is, of course, fresh and perfectly shaped. The topping of vanilla salt provides all the interest. So depending on which part hits your tongue first, it can feel mild to strong. The small portion of fennel-kumquat salad was perfect. I made a note to myself to go home and experiment with what's available in the fridge, say, paper-thin slices of celery, cucumber and orange.
The richly colored chilled spiced ratatouille soup was good enough.
Yuba pappardelle was the best. Yuba is such a flexible ingredient, a protein-rich substitute for pasta. (I have bought some since then at the Tuesday Berkeley farmers' market.) I am partial to wild mushrooms, and the combination of chanterelles, coconut milk and kaffir lime was truly impressive.
I still hadn't filled up yet, but ayu grilled on the plancha was my first minor disappointment. The bed of lemon cucumber and radish was tasty. The shiso embedded in the ayu overpowered the mildly sweet fish and the ayu didn't contribute a whole lot to the whole.
Suckling pig was one of the most satisfying dishes. Barely pink and juicy inside, perfectly cooked and crispy on the outside. The herby spinach cannelloni was good, and plum-tobacco infusion was a novel idea. Approved with gratitude.
Andante dairy goat's milk curd was reason I had little desire to try the cheese dessert. Sure it's tasty, but when it comes to cheese, I tend to go for disconcertingly moldy and aged, as opposed to young and fresh, and I still find this quality lacking among California cheeses. (I don't actually like Cowgirl's Red Hawk, for instance.)
Rhubarb-lavender frappe was a sweet and tart foamy drink served in a shot glass.
Tuna-tomato tartare had a generous bed of exquisitely spiced tartare and intensely flavored raisin-caper sorbet.
Roasted black cod was one of the best dishes. The earthiness of the wonderfully complex spicy tripe chorizo stew reminded me of a good seafood paella broth. The parsley, garlic and salt topping complimented the fish perfectly.
There was veal, there were generous shavings of truffles.
Brown butter and tarragon poached peach crepes were good, no surprises. The licorice ice cream was richer and more complex than the one you get at Gelato Milano.
Warm bittersweet chocolate tart was all right. The tamarind gelee was not all that tart. Lime yogurt poured around (not on) the dessert toned down the sweetness even more, which suited me fine.