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Cotogna review [San Francisco]

A friend from out of town specifically asked to go to Cotogna, so we went last night. My overall impression was very good. The dishes were all good, and the gnocchi were the best I've ever had.

We started with the house made ricotta with wild mushroom crostini. The ricotta was to die for. My companion ended up wiping out every little last bit with his finger, because it was too good not to. How did they do it? Special high fat producing cows? Where has this ricotta been all my life? It was nicely complimented by the mushrooms and bread.

Then we had the rosemary gnocchi with braised duck. The best gnocchi ever. They were so pillowy, you wanted to take them home and sleep on them. The accompanying simple duck sauce was great with them. We like this dish so much, we considered ordering another round, but (barely) managed to contain ourselves.

Next up was the garganelli with rabbit, chanterelles & artichokes. This was a very nice pasta dish, with a nice sauce. In another meal, it might have been a stand out, because it really was quite good, but we were so smitten with the ricotta and the gnocchi, it was hard to get our attention.

However, the spit roasted pork with wild fennel & hot pepper managed to grab us. It was again a question of how did they do it? How did they manage to get all that fennel flavor to perfectly blend into the pork? Did they feed not only the pig itself, but its mother and several generations of pigs back solely on fennel? And how did they know that fennel and pork go perfectly together? There was not one thing wrong with this dish. I want to eat it again right now.

Some restaurants don't really seem to get dessert. It's just an afterthought for them. The bònet with caramel & amaretti crumble was OK, but why not just call it almond flan, and get on with your day? They were already out of the panna cotta by 8:30, and the gelato of the day was vanilla. So, Cotogna, some work could be done in this department.

Generally, really good, though! Two thumbs up!

490 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

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  1. Thanks for the report. Did you have a reservation?

    2 Replies
    1. re: steve h.

      Yes, we had a reservation, which I made a couple weeks earlier.

      1. re: kzukor

        David Lynch is the wine guy at Quince. I knew his work at Babbo, other Batali places. How was the wine selection?

    2. I loved the bonet. It's a traditional Piemontese dessert that you rarely see here and their version of it was pretty good, and pretty traditional in its flavors. I suppose they could add an explanation of what it was, but calling it almond flan is calling it something that is different from what it is. I note that a lot of the menu uses either Italian or Piemontese dialect without explanation/translation, so my dining partner asked me for clarification on some of the dishes, including the bonet.

      I agree about the ricotta - it was a terrific dish. I also recommend the sformato and the halibut tartare. Next time I'm going to try some of the pastas.

        1. Cotogna is pretty special.

          Deb and I walked in last Friday without reservation. We liked Quince at their old shop and wanted to try Cotogna because we are fans of the Tusk family of foods.

          We walked in early, sometime near 5 p.m. and were led to the bar on the right. There are two bars: one in front of the wood-fired oven on the left and the proper bar on the right. The barkeep was charming and built me two martinis over time that were head-and-shoulders above the usual Bombay/Hendricks stuff. Well done. Deb liked the Di Gresy Nebbiolo. Wine steward Lynch has assembled a menu of bottles at $40. It's a decent list.

          Dinner service proper (pizza is always available) starts at 5:30 p.m.We shared the sformato, a raviolo and a little veal. These were wonderful dishes. Panna cotta to finish, maybe the best I've had in San Francisco. Grappa selection is quite good, espresso is good, too.

          We like Cotogna and what the Tusks and Lynch have built. My only regret is that I won't be able to just walk in after word gets out on this place. Yes, it really is that good. Especially on cold, wet evenings.

          490 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

          1. Thanks for the post. I was looking at the menu prior to doing a search on CH and was wondering if the pork tasted as good as it sounds. Not only did you answer my question you had me chuckling over what you wrote.

            1. anyone know if their lunch menu is the same as dinner or are there some different mid-day options?

              1 Reply
              1. re: selectiveomnivore

                They have separate lunch and dinner menus, but they're very similar: http://www.cotognasf.com/menus.html

              2. Walked in a little after 11pm, the place was still maybe half full.

                The star for me was the pizza with guanciale, ramps, egg, and pecorino. Wow. Spinach sformato, fritto misto with baby fava pods (I'm not sure I knew you could eat those), spring onions, and carrots, escarole with Calabrian chiles, chittarini neri with squid & chili, grilled sardines with garbanzos, all good. I could nitpick (e.g. some thin slices of lemon would have improved the fritto misto), but no real complaints.

                The wine pricing (all glasses $10, all bottles $40) is kind of odd. I was in the mood for Lambrusco, but I couldn't bring myself to pay that much for a bottle of Barbolini. Instead had a bottle of Freisa and a glass of Lagrein, both excellent.

                This is definitely one of the better places in the A16 vein of Cal-Italian.

                490 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

                2 Replies
                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Just enjoyed a great late afternoon early diinner there. Walked in around quarter to 5 - the bar is open, but they don't start the menu until 5:30. We sat, enjoyed a glass of wine, and watched the staff prep for the Saturday night dinner.

                  The copper bar where we sat was comfortable, and afforded a great perspective on the space. I'm sure it's loud when at full capacity, but the simple (yet tasteful) furniture sat glowing in the late afternoon sun, and the brick walls made the place feel warm, cozy, and special.

                  Once dinner service began, we enjoyed: sausage and padrone pepper pizza, summer succotash, tortellini al a amatriciana. The pizza was great - the crust had great flavor, and while I would have preferred a more crispy crust, it was definitely impressive. What impressed me most was the restraint of toppings. It was an excellent balance of heat, sauce, savory meat, and spicy green arugula. It was a great example of how less is more.

                  The succotash was the real star. Grilled corn, wax beans, and cherry tomatoes. It was simple, breathtaking,and evocative of so many great summer meals. I loved this side. PLEASE order this if it's on the menu.

                  The tortellini reminded me why I always made sure I order a pasta course when I go to Quince. These folks know how to do pasta. The tortellini is stuffed with the typical amatriciana ingredients, and the sauce itself? Pretty much just butter. But that's a good thing. It was an elegant, hedonistic, and super satisfying dish. My husband and I split it, which I think was good. A person tackling this dish alone may feel overwhelmed (albeit happily so).

                  Long story short, this place is great and I will come back again - probably later in service when the energy level is higher. Its quality and creativity is special.

                  1. re: Absonot

                    I forgot to post about the tortelloni all'amatriciana. Great dish, fusion of a sort, tortelloni are from Bologna and amatriciana is Roman.

                2. Cotogna's doing daily sandwiches to go, $12 including a salad and cookie. This week:

                  Monday Leg of lamb with fig mostarda & pain de zuchero

                  Tuesday Eggplant with burrata, gypsy peppers & smoked tomato salsa

                  Wednesday "PLT" Pancetta, little gem lettuce & dry farm tomato

                  Thursday Shrimp po' boy with green cherry tomatoes & remoulade

                  Friday Tuscan fried chicken with roasted Jimmy Nardello peppers

                  490 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Shrimp po' boy with green cherry tomatoes & remoulade?

                    A bold menu item.

                    1. re: steve h.

                      Let's not forget that chef Tusk is a Tulane grad and has certainly eaten his fair share of "real" shrimp poboys.

                  2. Now open all afternoon serving the full menu.

                    Monday-Thursday: 11:30am - 11:00pm
                    Friday-Saturday: 11:30am - 12:00am
                    Sunday: 5:00pm - 9:00pm

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Wow--thanks ever so much for this post. This solves my mid-afternoon chow needs on my day of arrival next week! After a long flight, it will be wonderful to slide into Cotogna at an off-hour and have the entire menu available.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Note the regular menu is not available on Sundays.

                        Here's the Sunday Supper menu for 12/4:
                        First of the season Dungeness crab
                        Buckwheat gnocchi
                        Game hen & wood grilled pork sausage

                        $48 per person

                      2. Had a very nice lunch there 3 days ago. We had great bean soup, octopus salad, gnocchi, pasta nera. Our fave meal in SF, beating out Delfina.
                        But it was sort of expensive, at 75 usd for 2, with 2 starters, 2 mains, no wine. Luckily for once in my life, the exchange rate worked for instead of against me. But, call me petit bourgeoise, is this price point normal for SF? I mean: is a restaurant like Cotogna considered expensive or average in SF?

                        Re reservation, we actually walked in around 12:30 and were given a choice of counter seats at the bar or in front of the grill. We chose the latter. Have always liked front row seats for kitchen action. :-)
                        We had not read this thread or other reviews. LOL, we had parked the car across the street and were only looking for change for the parking meter when we wandered into the resto. I liked the look of it and talked DH out of our original lunch plans, which I am too embarrassed to disclose here. Imagine the kind of food that Americans transplanted to Paris would miss. I say no more.
                        Excellent service.

                        10 Replies
                        1. re: Parigi

                          Cotogna's prices are generally similar to those at Incanto, Delfina, and A16.

                          We usually get a mix of small plates, a pasta, and a pizza at Cotogna. I'm not sure we've ever ordered one of the "La Griglia" main courses, and if we did we'd probably share one.

                          Mexican food? Barbecue?

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            "Mexican food? Barbecue?"

                            Is that your guess at what our original lunch plans were? OK I own up: DH wanted a Reuben and I wated a grilled cheese sandwich. Pls don't expel me from chowhound.

                            Btw, I also found the prices at Whole Foods and the Ferry Building farmers' market - two good things that did not exist when I lived in SF (dates me, huh?), - similar in price to Paris. Ditto Delfina. :-) All of which makes Paris bistros quite reasonable.

                            1. re: Parigi

                              Paris prices did remind me of Whole Foods or the Ferry Plaza market, which is to say shockingly high. Mostly I pretended that the exchange rate was €1:$1 instead of €1:$1.40.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                O Robert, you are going to weep. The exchange rate WAS 1:1 when the euro started. Then the former leader of the free world started a war somewhere, and the dollar went on a free fall for years.

                                Mexican, barbecue
                                We used to miss Mexican in Paris, then El Nopal and Candelaria opened.
                                Indeed we love barbecue, but barbecue is now universal, from Paris to Chiangmai. :-)

                                1. re: Parigi

                                  If you want your money to go farther, next time skip SF and do the East Bay.

                                  I lived in Italy when it was $1:₤2000 and traveled in France when it was ₣10:$1, so je ne regrette rien.

                          2. re: Parigi

                            I'd say that's an average price for that area and the kind of restaurant it is.

                            I've never been for lunch, but had dinner there this past weekend and it was around $130 (including tax and tip) for two starters, two pastas, a contorno, two desserts and two glasses of wine.

                            I think the price for my recent dinner was not that much less than what we spent there on one of their Sunday Suppers, considering the difference in alcohol we consumed. I had an aperitivo and wine pairing that time, and my date had an aperitivo and a glass of wine.

                            Great food both visits!

                            I'm always surprised how little I spend at Perbacco considering the location and quality of food.

                            1. re: Leely2

                              The food prices at Barbacco are so low I always feel like it's a loss leader for the drinks (which I think are competitively priced).

                              1. re: Leely2

                                Good to know about Perbacco. Merci.
                                My comment about prices was not a complaint. Am always willing to pay more for good food. And I thoroughly enjoyed Cotogna, ditto Delfina, ditto Ferry Building market, ditto Whole Foods. HIgh priced does not necessarily mean overpriced, right? :-)

                                1. re: Parigi

                                  Depends on whether you can get the same thing elsewhere for less. To my taste, nobody else is serving food like Cotogna's, in fact most of the best mid-priced Italian places in SF have unique styles. Their counterparts in Oakland and Berkeley are cheaper.

                                  Ferry Plaza, on the other hand, in many cases I can buy exactly the same products elsewhere for less. Whole Foods, I can usually get higher quality for less elsewhere.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    anyone been for lunch lately? i can't get the lunch menu online for some reason. going in half hour and am excited and wanted to plan!

                            2. Fantastic lunch today at Cotogna, my first time there. Every dish sang of Spring. Three of us shared the burrata special with sauteed ramps and crunchy buttery breadcrumbs. light yet rich, the ramps were not as oniony as others i've had, but i still licked the plate clean. Great contrasting textures. Next we split a creamy but light sformata with fried mint leaves, fresh peas, and mint oil - so delicious, we all moaned at first bite. Mains were a dreamy gnocchi dish with nettles - the gnocchi were like little clouds that melted in your mouth; a lamb ragu with pici pasta - incredibly flavorful and lamby, but not overwhelmingly so - vied with the gnocchi for best dish; and a lamb salad - thin rosy, cool slices of lamb topped with arugula, shaved purple asparagus, micro beet greens (nice and peppery, totally different than the pepperiness of the arugula, fennel), and lovely young fava beans. We also shared orange bombolini served with chocolate and acustard to dip in. these were very light and cool - not warm as we'd expected - which was kind of perfect for the end of such a Spring-like meal. I can't wait to go back for dinner.

                              9 Replies
                              1. re: mariacarmen

                                Nice report, agree! I was expecting the dessert to be doughnutty/deep fried but it was still tasty. Think deconstructed éclair. SO enjoyed the cocoa-y Vahlrona choc dipping sauce. We are not in the habit of spending $40 pp at lunch with just one (oyster!) beer but this is a good place to do it. Room is nicely lit in the daytime which is a bonus.

                                1. re: grayelf

                                  the room was gorgeous.

                                  (my pic of the oyster beer simply would not send from my phone!)

                                  1. re: mariacarmen

                                    Sounds (and looks) like you guys had a great time. Cotogna is a keeper.

                                    1. re: mariacarmen

                                      you said it. i want to try dinner next time.

                                  2. re: mariacarmen

                                    Sounds so delicious that I am tempted to try it again. I went when it first opened for dinner and enjoyed everything we ordered, but it was so loud that when I left, my ears rang for an hour. I eat at loud places regularly but this really was extreme. So, I wanted to ask others, has this also been your experience and you tolerate it for the food? I would love so very much to go back but am a bit wary.

                                    1. re: BAnders

                                      I always go after 9:30, it's not so crowded or noisy.

                                      1. re: BAnders

                                        i've only been at lunch, it wasn't that loud then...

                                        1. re: mariacarmen

                                          I'm very noise-averse (tinnitus) and didn't find it at all unpleasant at lunch. We were seated at the very end of the tables by the front window (which is an endo-ed three top) in case that makes a difference.

                                        2. re: BAnders

                                          I've been for dinner, when the restaurant was completely full, with people waiting for tables, and didn't think it was particularly noisy (for a popular SF restaurant). I don't like to eat at restaurants where you have to raise your voice or lean in close to hear someone, no matter how good the food is. I didn't have to do either at Cotogna.

                                        1. I've been wanting to give Cotogna a try for a while, but it's notoriously hard to grab a reservation on short notice, even for some lunch spots.

                                          If I'm walking in with a party of 3-4 - is a weekday lunch at opening time safe to walk in?

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: Jon914

                                            I was there a few weeks ago for lunch on a weekday and it was packed at first but seemed to clear out by the time we left around 2:00. So I think if you went for a latish lunch - 1:30 or so you'd might be OK.

                                            1. re: sunnyside

                                              Thanks for the tip! Got one more question.

                                              For Saturday brunch, do they offer the 3-course prix fixe like they have on a normal lunch/dinner? It doesn't show up online, so it's unclear.

                                              1. re: Jon914

                                                I ended up snagging a last-minute lunch reservation last week. Good thing because a crowd of about 20 people formed around opening time.

                                                We didn't get to try everything we wanted (no sformato or pizzas), but we got a good sampling of starters, pastas and desserts.

                                                - Yellowtail Crudo
                                                - Prix Fixe (Creamy Garlic Soup, Lasagne, Butterscotch Budino)
                                                - Raviolo
                                                - Agnolotti dal Plin
                                                - Apple Tart

                                                Overall, I really enjoyed the meal with the exception of the Lasagne, which was rather salty and heavy, in contrast to everything else which was light. (I wonder if they'll let you sub a different choice for an extra fee? Should have asked.)

                                                The Raviolo and Agnotti were standouts, but everything overall was very solid. I appreciate the restraint that pervades the cooking here - everything's lightly dressed, allowing the ingredients to shine through.

                                                I'll definitely be returning down the road to try out the pizza (which we saw and looked great), the sformato and some string pastas when more of those return to the rotation.