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Nov 24, 2008 03:35 AM

In Photos: A Report from Coi, or, The Most Inventive Cuisine in the City?

Full review with photos:

I had two dinners in the Bay Area, and based on menus posted online, decided on Coi for the first night and Manresa for the second (look for that review soon). Here's what we had at Coi:

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
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
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.

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.

I'd say that Coi was the strongest restaurant I've been to in the City. I'm not from the area, but have been to Aqua, Dining Room, Fifth Floor, Gary Danko, Masa's, and Michael Mina. Is there anything else comparable in SF?

Full review with photos:

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  1. Stunning photos ... and great to have some photos of the interior.

    Also many thanks for posting the written part of your review on the board. I absolutely refuse to follow links that say things like, I liked xxx, here's the link to my blog for the review. Most people don't follow links anyway from my experience. Posters need to spark people's interest by posting some content.

    Anyway, terrific review. It is probably one of the best I've ever read.

    373 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

    17 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      Enough of a nudge to make you finally go there for dinner?

      1. re: Paul H

        Moves it way up. Especially the view of the room. I read so many reports of it being dark with seats too close together that I was somewhat put off and it contributed to my dragging my feet. Looking at the photos, the room looks very inviting ... at least for my tastes.

        I also like this because when people ask for a rec, I feel this captures COI so well that people could decide if the portions are too small or creative ... or not creative enough. I'll definately be linking to it for people who might be undecided.

        I've come around about Daniel Patterson. He was just so offensive (to me) about Alice Waters in an interview prior to opening COI that it colored anything about the restaurant.

        These days with fewer and fewer originals, I think these sort of places with single owners and a personal vision need to be embraced ... if they are good.

        I get increasingly tired of the megagroups whose restaurants, despite talented chefs, make me feel like the concept is dreamed up in a corporate board room ... i imagined these discussions around the table plotting the formula feed that would most appeal to the foodies sheep and fatten the owners pockets. I would put Aqua, Waterbar, Roasthaus in that group. Though slightly intrugued by Fifth Floor, I'm dragging my feat there because just how many restaurants can that chef oversee and be effective.

        Then there are the upscale chains like Michael Minna, repeating the menu and formula across the country.

        So Patterson has moved way up on my list.

        1. re: rworange

          I am one of the ones who doesn't like the room. You will have to judge for yourself, but in my opinion OP's photography made the room look quite a bit warmer (and less gray) than I thought it actually was, and the angle somewhat disguises how low that ceiling really is....but then, it was more crowded when I was there than these pictures show (no empty seats), and it was also light out much of the time I was there (in summer); some places look better in the dark....(that could be true of the bar at least; there are no windows in the dining room).

          and then, the OP doesn't make much mention of one of the aspects I found to be a turn-off: the service, which felt rote and somewhat inhospitable to me.....I assume it was fine, or OP would have mentioned it, since I agree that this was a very comprehensive report.

          1. re: susancinsf

            You are right about the room being somewhat cooler than in the photos; I suppose that's just an artifact of my camera. And the ceiling is low, but not to any claustrophobic effect on me. I took the photos late in the evening, shortly before I departed. The room was indeed about 90% full when I arrived, and I found table spacing to be acceptable, though I wouldn't have minded more space.

            As for the service, I found it efficient and gracious, and had no complaints. I could see how one might consider it a bit mechanical though.

            1. re: kevin h

              mechanical is a good description.

              And mechanical can be just fine when all goes well. Unfortunately, in our case we had a special circumstance that could have been very easily addressed if the server was willing to step out of the rote mode for even a few minutes, but he just couldn't or wouldn't, despite multiple pleas from us. (The situation was that my dc and I were planning to eat in the bar, arrived and discovered three of her friends also in the bar. Friends wanted the entire tasting menu, which one can do even in the bar. we didn't, so we sat at the bar table next to them, and conversed as one group, but were a seperate party for ordering purposes. However, one of friends hadn't eaten all day and was anxious to get at least some bread or food right right away. Nonetheless, server took our order first and started bringing out our food first. my dc and I got at least three items before they brought their table *anything*, even though we told server more than once to go ahead and start their service first. You'd think they could have speeded up their service a bit, or at least acknowledged that they couldn't change the order of things and perhaps apologize, but it was like the server didn't even hear us, even after he saw us pointedly handing our food to friend and after, when someone else came over to ask how everything was, we explained the situation. Really annoying and it felt ungracious and unecessary. but of course, had we been strangers, I might not have paid any attention to how the neighboring table was treated and I would have been happier, if not thrilled, with that rote service.)

              and service wouldn't keep me from going back, either. It is just that I wasn't wowed by the food, even though between dc, me and our friends, we tasted almost everything on both the bar and tasting menus. Besides, I hated the dining room. but that's just me. for those who might get claustrophobic, it is worth remembering that the full tasting menu can be ordered in the bar. I definitely would stick to the bar area if I went back.

              1. re: susancinsf

                That was indeed an unfortunate situation to be in. I would have been disappointed as well!

          2. re: rworange

            I definitely like to include interior photos in my reports, and am a fan of Coi's decor personally. It's a small, enclosed room, but really works well with the type of food served within.

            Also, what did Patterson say about Alice Waters? I think I need to revisit Chez Panisse on my next visit up to the Bay Area.

            About Fifth Floor, I would actually put it as the weakest restaurant I've been to in SF. Michael Mina would be near the top actually, as it seems like the flagship SF location is quite a step up from most of his satellite branches.

            1. re: kevin h

              "What did Patterson say about Waters"?

              Google "The Chez Panisse Straitjacket" and follow the link to the NYTs article.

              1. re: Paul H

                Thanks. That was a worthwhile read. I can see Patterson's points, though some of his pronouncements were perhaps a bit overly doom and gloom. The article was written three years ago, so I'd like to see how/if he's changed his tone.

                1. re: kevin h

                  You just had a meal at Coi - I think that is the best indication of Patterson's current thoughts. Great ingredients with a bit of intelligence and playfulness added.

                  In the NYTs article he said "This is not an argument about the validity of organic and sustainably raised ingredients, which I support, nor is it a criticism of Chez Panisse itself, which I admire. This is an argument against the dogma of using those ingredients to create only comfortable home cooking with no particular point of view. [...] We need more chefs like David Kinch of Manresa in Los Gatos, who uses local ingredients, precise technique and a generous helping of imagination to create a modern, innovative and highly personal style of cooking. [...] and a testament to the fact that delicious and different can peacefully coexist. What a revolutionary idea."

                  I don't think he has changed his mind, and I don't think he was saying anything particularly revolutionary three years ago.

              2. re: kevin h

                Thanks for the Michael Minna info. I asked a while ago if there was a difference between restraurants and didn't get much of an answer.

                1. re: kevin h

                  There have been so many changes at Fifth Floor over the years. Have you been there recently (under the Laurent Manrique regime)?

                  I think your post on Coi was great, and it helps me to calibrate what you like about restaurants. I, personally, would not have enjoyed that meal as much as you did: too much Japanese influence, too many "trying hard to be different" ingredients" (or maybe just trying too hard!) for my taste. But then, I don't eat at high end restaurants on a regular basis, so I don't put as much of a premium on innovation or novelty as you appear to.

                2. re: rworange

                  We can take this over to Food Media, but what is it that offended you about the article ?

                  1. re: osho

                    This was discussed once before


                    But I think it would be instructive to have one more go at it.

                    1. re: osho

                      I'm sure my thoughts are still over there are News and Media.

                    2. re: rworange

                      Here's a fun title from for this post,
                      "· Alice Waters Superfan Decides to Forgive Daniel Patterson, Tells Everyone [CH]"

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Damn. I'll never get a reservation now. Two mentions in a few weeks ... I'm going to have to start reading