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Dec 30, 2009 01:35 PM

Last minute: Coi or Ame?

I've been sick as a dog all week and am just starting to feel better. A friend called just now and offered to take me out to an early dinner tomorrow night to perk me up because I will not be hitting any parties under the circumstances. I can get a table at Coi or Ame--have never been to either. In fact, while I like to dine big on vacation, I pretty much stick to low-key, low-cost places when I'm here at home. We both like all kinds of food, from adventurous fare to tried-and-true comfort dishes.

Does anyone have any strong opinions one way or the other? Anything I should know about either restaurant?

Thanks in advance for advice/opinions!

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  1. Ame is very good. Coi is outstanding.

    Coi is the only two-star Michelin restaurant in San Francisco, and they are making changes, shooting for that third star. Coi is an eleven-course tasting menu of smallish plates. I personally don't think the wine pairings are worth the extra $$, just buy a bottle or two off the list or ask for an abbreviated pairing by the glass.

    I have found Ame's dishes to be inconsistent: stick with the seafood and the sashimi and you'll be happy.

    Both are "creative" If the notion of delighting the mind as much as the palate appeals to you, go to Coi. If you find that off-putting, avoid Coi. If you are looking for comfort food, find someplace else to eat other than Ame or Coi.

    Most people would probably prefer the surroundings at Ame - they seem more expensive and are certainly more expansive. However, I find Coi to be very pleasant in a hidden-treaure oriental sort of way (kind of how the kinkajuki temple is an amazing oasis in the middle of ugly bustling Kyoto).

    8 Replies
    1. re: Paul H

      Thank you. Coi it is! I'll save Ame for next time.

      1. re: Leely2

        I'm the total opposite; I have only had mediocre meals at Coi, finding it too precious and without soul. You can do a search to see my last review (last Fall) and how disappointed I was, but I would be hard-pressed to want to return. The setting is in a cave, dark and dismal. The service is clipped and cold. And there is so much in the use of the bells-and-whistles of molecular gastronomy as to feel like a guinea pig in an experiment.

        I'd go to Ame.

        1. re: CarrieWas218

          Molecular gastronomy @ Coi? Have you ever eaten at Alinea or WD-50? Coi is much more Chez Panisse than it is El Builli.

          Please give examples of molecular gastronomy dishes that annoyed you at Coi. My only complaint with Coi is that it isn't adventurous enough. But what can they do, they're in San Francisco, the place where Winterland folded for lack of business.

          1. re: Paul H

            I will grant this is not El Bulli or WD-50, but it is the most MG restaurant we have in the city, don't you think? Kinch at Manresa is the only other chef doing more MG but Patterson is certainly experimenting with MG moreso than anyone else around.

            I went back to my review of last May so it was not anything specifically MG that annoyed me as much as the general failing of presenting a cohesive meal. Too many "tricks" (like frozen peas in a soup) which just didn't work for me:

            Amuse. Milk & Honey. A mouthful of concentrated milk flavor and honey flavors. Lovely.

            1. Pink Grapefruit. This is the opening dish, served with the essential oil and paired with the Coi Cocktail. No change and still a nice palate cleanser for what is to come.

            2. Earth and Sea. New harvest potatoes, cucumber, borage, sea beans, ice plant flowers. Served with Domaine de la Fruitiere Muscadet, France 2006. An interesting dish which was colored with squid ink. Creamy potatoes and grassy greens were brightened with the ice plant. Fabulous wine, but I'm not sure it did anything for the dish.

            3. Inverted Andante Dairy Goat Cheese Start with black olive, vadouvan, preserved lemon, and wild arugula. Served with Gutzler Blac de Noir, Germany 2008. This was a beautifully-prepared dish and exciting to eat. The vadouvan was barely detectable as the goat cheese predominated in flavors. Creamy and well-complemented with the tang of the preserved lemon, the paper-think black olive start provided an exciting crunch. The wine pairing was too strident to work well with the goat cheese.

            4. Winter Into Spring. Chilled English pea soup with buttermilk snow and mint. Pired with Ostatu Rioja Blanco, Spin, 2007. Heralding spring, what could be better than a bright green, clean pea soup? The soup itself was delightful but it was studded with almost frozen fresh peas. I thought it distracting and masking the flavor of the peas. They did "pop" in the mouth, which I imagine is what Chef Patterson was striving for, but I think it shut down the flavor of the peas. The buttermilk snow added a nice tang and was light enough to not fight the creaminess of the soup.

            5. Fried Chicken Consommé. With artichokes, fava beans, radish, and green garlic. Paired with Coenobium Blanco, Italy, 2007. This was a very odd dish; four round fried "fritters" which I can only assume was aspic. Breaking one open, I half expected it to be liquid on the inside, but it was not. Not a very memorable dish for me and the wine pairing made the entire dish taste a lot more earthy than I believe was intended.

            Intercourse - Tofu Mousseline with Mushroom dashi, yuba, kelp, pickled daikon, and ginger. Paired with Hitachino Nest White Ale. The last time I had Chef Patterson's yuba, I was not that thrilled as it was a bit too thick and gummy. He has certainly got it down significantly better, but I found the dish a bit overall too salty. There was barely any detectable ginger and I never did find any tofu mousseline. The pairing was spot on and made me chuckle a bit; the only other time I've had this ale was at a pairing at Bin 8945, by David Haskell.

            6. Sautéed Monterey Bay Abalone. With Escarole, caper berry-sea lettuce vinaigrette. Paired with Domaine Tariquet, France 2007. My dining companions made a point of saying that Chef Patterson Twittered about getting the abalone that day so they were excited about the dish. I found it intensely mediocre; chewy and unbalanced, it tasted incredibly salty and almost unfresh in its overt "bottom-of-the-ocean" flavor.

            7. Morels with burnt rice, ash, smoke, and pine. Paired with Louis Latour Marsannay, France 2006. I was most excited by this dish as I am quite the mushroom fan. And, sadly, it was the most disappointing dish of the evening (with the abalone a close second). In an opportunity to showcase morels in their whole, glorious state, they were chopped up in to small bits. The rest of the ingredients provided no color so the dish was muddy looking. The texture was pasty and many at the table indicated that the dish was too reminiscent of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup -- thick and gloppy. Great wine though!

            8. Marin Sun Farms Goat in Different Forms with sprouted seeds, nuts, beans, and wheatgrass. Paired with Chateau Rayas 'La Pialade' France, 2005. Very well executed protein; rare and tender, showcasing the gamy quality of the goat. Quite frankly, though, I'm not sure how preparing the meat four different ways really showed off Chef Patterson's talent or the ingredient, as they were all piled together on the plate. We had no way of knowing which piece was prepared in which fashion.

            9. Comte (Marcel Petite) with spring lettuces.

            10. Olive Oil Shortcake with strawberry rhubarb, lemon balm, and long pepper, paired with Elvio Tintero Moscato d'Asti Sori Gramella, Italy, 2008. I could eat TONS of this cake. Moist, light and delightful.

            11. White Chocolate, semi-frozen with Brooks cherry, lime, and thyme. Paired with Mas Amiel, France, 2006. I would like to think that even those who are not white chocolate fans would appreciate this dish. Creamy and rich without being too cloying, it lied on a bed of "crumbles" which were mostly indeterminable, but added a nice crunch. The wine pairing worked with the cherry elements in the dessert.

            Vanilla Milkshake -- I guess this has replaced the much-loved warm malt drink. The new offering is topped with olive oil which made for a very bright mouthfeel.

            Petit Fours - Chocolate truffles with finely ground cookie crust. I could eat these all day.

            Now, reflecting on this meal a few days later, I am more unimpressed than impressed. It is the mediocrity of the abalone and the morels that I am remembering more than the successes (which, quite frankly, were the desserts). By and large the meal was too heavily salted and a bit ponderous in its seriousness. There seemed no attempt at levity in the intent of showcasing fresh, raw ingredients; uncooked items were mere garnishes or -- in the case of the peas -- frozen as a "trick." Too many bells and whistles without letting the ingredients speak for themselves.

            1. re: CarrieWas218

              It's too bad you didn't enjoy your meal more, but the only remotely MG items are the frozen peas (which you didn't like), the buttermilk snow (from Noma - which you liked) and the olive-oil cake (which you adored). Given you description of the dishes, it's a place I would rush to, if I hadn't been there yet.

              I hope the OP will report back on the New Year's Eve meal. While not what I would call molecular gastronomy, Coi is certainly doing something different than all of the pizza, Italian, and Northern-California taste-alike places in the area. The range of reactions for an evening at Coi seem to be almost as wide as for Zuni! :-)

          2. re: CarrieWas218

            although I have not tried Ame, I would definitely try it before returning to Coi. However, while I agree with your assessment of the setting and of the service (well, actually, in our case I thought the service was more just clueless than it was cold, but it was definitelly annoying) reason is not so much the use of bells and whistles, but the fact that the bells didn't ring and the whistles didn't sound. I didn't feel like a guinea pig, I just felt that the food didn't live up to the hype: I kept thinking: this really isn't all that interesting, and what is the point of mg if it isn't exciting or thought provoking? (other than provoking me to wonder how something that was supposed to be innovative was so, well, run of the mill).

            1. re: susancinsf

              These sort of disappointed expectations are somewhat fueled by people describing Coi as a molecular-gastronomy restaurant, when it is not.

              1. re: Paul H

                It is supposed to be innovative, or as you yourself said, "delight[ful] for the mind as much as the palate." If it wasn't "exciting," "thought provoking" or "all that interesting" and was "run of the mill" then I think it's fair to criticize it for not meeting the expectation that it "delight the mind" regardless of whether the expected innovations were literally molecular gastronomy or not.

                BTW, I had a couple of meals at Winterland before it closed, and I thought they were wonderful, yet I've never yet read a description of a meal at Coi that made me want to eat there.

                Finally, to the original poster -- it's probably too late, but if I had been "sick as dog" all week and was "just starting to feel better," I wouldn't sign up for an 11-course tasting menu based on the stamina entailed alone.

      2. Is it ok to ask how in the heck you got last minute openings to those two restaurants? Just random luck or you have an in?

        1 Reply
        1. re: pavlov

          No in, but because I'm getting over a hacking cough/cold, I am more than happy to dine at 6pm.

          Maybe I don't have a reservation and it's some kind of opentable blip? Could be. Stay tuned...I'll report back--unless no dinner happens at all.

        2. If you're recovering from just being sick, Ame might sit better with your stomach

          4 Replies
          1. re: vulber

            I'm curious why you think that Coi might not go well with a recovering stomach? The menu is mostly vegetables, and is the use of spice is very spare. Avoiding Wexler's, Gitane, Incanto or Bocadillos I can almost understand, but Coi?

            1. re: Paul H

              things like smoke and hay; when i'm recoveringt from being sick, i want to eat things familiar to me

              1. re: vulber

                I looked at the NYE menu for Ame and it was somewhat similar to what we had for Christmas Dinner (plus Christmas Eve). That tipped it in favor of Coi, which is decidedly unlike anything I would *ever* cook up in my kitchen.

                Not that I think I could concoct anything Ame-caliber either.

                This is all pretty much of a fluke, but hey, it's New Year's so why not take some risks? I'm still not sure I actually have a reservation (nailbiting) though according to opentable I do.

                Thanks to all for your opinions. Really interesting discussions here.

                1. re: Leely2

                  If you want to double check, just call the restaurant. I find that they're really helpful.

          2. We had a great experience at Coi on New Year's Eve. Eleven courses plus wine pairing--no problem whatsoever and I have a fairly light appetite. I'm afraid I'm not a serious food connoisseur like most of you here, but I’ll give the menu rundown and our reactions.

            Amuse: a shot of caramelized pear root beer. Great start.

            Frozen mandarin sour: Satsuma ice, kumquat, angostura bitters. We loved this, quite refreshing.

            Oysters under glass: Marin Miyagi oysters, yuzu, rau ram. Very good. I’m not usually crazy about oysters but I really enjoyed this. I could have done without the “glass”—flavor was good but I wasn’t crazy about the pairing of this texture (slick) with oyster texture. Though it was a great flavor combination and indeed very pleasing to the eye.

            Beet and goat cheese tart w/rye and dill. Yep, very tasty.

            Dungeness crab soup w/ ginger, makrut lime, sea urchin, pea shoots. One of our favorites of the evening. I am a sucker for crab and sea urchin and this did not disappoint, satisfying my expectations and yet somehow surprising me.

            Fall, pastoral. Carrots roasted in hay with sprouts and shaved pecorino. For some reason that just didn't work for me at all and I love carrots and pecorino (maybe it was the hay or the sprouts that turned me off?). My least favorite. Same with my dining companion.

            Monterey Bay abalone grilled on the plancha w/puntarelle, Meyer lemon, shellfish vinaigrette. Fantastic!

            Savory wild mushroom porridge w/brown butter, garlic confit, wood sorrel. My favorite dish I think of the night. Earthy yet light, great textures. I could have eaten and eaten and eaten this until the kitchen ran out.

            Chicken/egg. Slow-cooked farm egg, crisp chicken skin, chard and faro. Another winner. Approaching the too-rich territory for me (not for my dining companion, though, who thought this was tops), but incredibly tasty and satisfying.

            Minuet w/chicories and medjool date vinaigrette. Just what the doctor ordered at this point in the meal.

            Steamed kabocha squash cake with apple, pomegranate and garam masala. Another winner. We were really impressed with this.

            Bitter chocolate tart with orange, star anise and yogurt. Again, we loved it. Desserts were excellent here, including the little cookie mignardises.

            We were very comfortable in the dining room and thought the service was just right—professional but friendly and gracious. Coi to me seems a terrific value, interesting and fun and *almost* uniformly delicious (darn carrots).

            Thanks to all of you for your opinions. And happy New Year!

            373 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

            1 Reply
            1. re: Leely2

              Thank you for the post. Your self-confessed lack of foodie "seriousness" seems too humble in comparison to this very nice and descriptive report.