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Dec 28, 2010 11:09 PM

COI [San Francisco]

We finally made it to Coi. This is my new favorite fancy restaurant within the San Francisco city limits, and definitely one of my favorites anywhere. This was the most amazing meal we've had in a long time!

One of the reasons we didn't try Coi earlier is that we're generally not a big fan of tasting menus, so the thought of an 11-course tasting menu put us off. Generally we have two problems with tasting menus: 1) there's too much food, and 2) there's so much going on that it's hard to remember what you had; all the courses start blurring together.

Coi avoided these problems deftly. Each dish and the menu as a whole is constructed very thoughtfully - in a way that the thinking behind it was apparent, but not in a way that compromised the sensual aspects of providing a delicious meal. The dishes were all distinct enough, and the flavor trajectory clear enough, that you could keep everything straight. Every single dish was excellent, and most were thought provoking in terms of individual ingredients or combinations.

The intellectual aspects announced themselves in the very first dish: a "frozen mandarin sour" that explicitly combined sweet, salty, sour, and bitter tastes together. Another great feature of this menu is that it was perhaps the best job of using seasonal December ingredients that I've seen in the area. Citrus, mushrooms, shellfish, and root vegetables all played prominent rolls. Seasonal places will often over-emphasize the root vegetables this time of year, but not here.

The second course, oysters under glass, continued the multi-taste theme of the first dish with the sweet tang of yuzu citrus combined with the saltiness of the oysters, but the presence of the oysters started moving us into less light territory. Shellfish appeared again in the fourth course, the Dungeness crab melt.

I'm not a huge beet fan, but I've found that fancy Bay Area places do wonders with this vegetable. Here the beets were roasted in hay, providing a nice smoky flavor, then chopped fine in combination with fresh cheese, topped with beautiful looking - and tasting - wild sprouts and flowers. This dish was the best match overall with my first wine, a delicious rosé champagne. My wife's glass of prosecco went best with the oysters.

After the crab melt, we moved on to a slow-cooked farm egg with a fabulous nettle-dandelion salsa verde. Then we had too mushroom courses. First was "Earth and Sea", a mushroom dashi with yuba, seaweed, tofu mousseline, and pickled watermelon turnips. This was a high point among a meal of high pints. Next was a chanterelle porridge with root vegetable chips, cress, and a sherry foam (the one foam of the night). The vegetable chips were great either on their own or combined into the porridge.

The largest portion of the night was the Prather Ranch beef done two ways: some exquisitely salted and seasoned tenderloin, and a cheek/oxtail combination with a variety of vegetable purees and garnishes. This was of course a great match with our red wine choices: a Pelerin Syrah and a Sean Thackrey Pleiades blend. My Pleaides also went great with the earlier mushroom courses.

An amazing thing about all these savory dishes is that the dishes nearly all tasted better when eating the ingredients in combination rather than alternation. So many places put tastes together that are nice complements, but cancel each other out a bit when eaten together in one bite. Not here!

For the cheese course, we broke out of the California ingredients for a Reblochon served with mixed chicories that brought out some interesting flavors in the cheese. We then moved to the two dessert courses. The first was a lime sherbet with frozen yogurt, pomegranate seeds, and douglas fir appearing in several accompaniments. The final course, bread and chocolate, had carmelized brioche for the bread. We were a little concerned about the tarragon listed in the ingredients, as we are no fan of the savory dessert trend. However there was just one single tiny leaf to accent the bread and another to accent the chocolate - it worked just great.

I'm sure glad we finally made it to Coi! With the wonders they work with winter produce, we can't wait to see what they do with other seasons, especially late summertime!


373 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

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  1. Great report. Out of curiosity, how full was the dining room?

    I was much happier with Manresa a few months ago on a non-full Tuesday night when they had a (non-eating) party in the back room, so the kitchen seemed less rushed.

    Manresa Restaurant
    320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

    1 Reply
    1. re: bbulkow

      The dining room was full - good for them on a Tuesday night! I didn't check to see how busy the lounge was.


    2. The Chron reports that the lounge will be converted into more dining room and the a la carte menu will be discontinued.

      1. As one of the major cities in the States, I find it surprising that San Francisco does not really have any “best” restaurants. The restaurants that many foodies love in the Bay area happen to be located off SF, such as French Laundry, Manresa, and Ubuntu. Gary Danko or Fleur de Lys does not really make the ‘cut’. During my SF trip in 2010, my friend and I made a last minute decision to try something fancy and Coi, located on financial district, was possibly the best choice available (Benu by Corey Lee may have improved SF dining scenes)

        Food (and wine) – 90/100

        Coi does not leave you with any choice on what to eat – only 11-course tasting menu was available. Price wise, it’s not too bad but we knew that each dish will be quite small. The meal here focused on a combination of local aromatic ingredients, inventive flavors and beautiful to gaze upon. Obviously, the kitchen labored very hard to produce the dish. However, what matters is always the palate which is usually very subtle and relatively clean/light here. We did not have any dish that’s outstanding, however there’re a few that we thought nice.

        - the geoduck clam has firm texture, combined with crunchy almond in the background and refreshing cucumber
        - ‘Spring’ dish has beautiful plating, inside we would taste fresh pea soup along with decent butter milk mousse
        - my favorite dish was butter-roasted morels (from Oregon). The morels are flavorful, integrated by tarragon. The fava beans showed some nice contrast
        - it’s hard to go really wrong with slow-cooked farm egg (with runny yolk). The star happened to be the ‘buckwheat soup’ and shiitake, not the egg itself

        The main course (beef tartare) was rather disappointing. The beef, while containing some fat, was rather sour. When I saw roasted young carrots with radish powder and sprouts, they looked beautiful and interesting. However, the carrots were too soft and not that flavorful (I had imagined tasting similar carrots served by Passard, perhaps it’s an unfair comparison as Arpege probably served the best carrots in the world). The dessert was quite pleasant; we got smooth & sweet white chocolate pudding contrast with sour and ‘crunchy’ blueberries and lemon verbena.

        The food served by Chef Daniel Patterson is clearly not for everyone. You need to be able to appreciate the unique ingredients as well as the preparation’s complexity. The chef is probably still fine tuning his cooking and can definitely improve further. The food is in the level of 2-star (90 pts) and I know chef Patterson would work hard to keep these stars. I don’t see him to gain the 3rd one yet in the near future.

        Service (and ambiance) – 91/100

        The décor at Coi, an intimate restaurant with 30 seats, is minimal and modern. It has no window and not-so-high ceiling, generating calm atmosphere (as the name of “Coi” suggests - tranquil). The service is professional with staffs that are competent and diligent, the napkins were always replaced and the water was filled all the time. But they don’t really ‘connect’ to the diners, just doing their jobs – hardly any meaningful conversation. The overall experience here is 90.5/100 and Michelin got it right with the 2-star

        Pictures of the dishes:

        373 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133

        3 Replies
        1. re: Bu Pun Su

          Bu Pun Su, I believe Saison is a "best" restaurant. It's above COI and in the same league as anywhere else.

          1. re: bbulkow

            Thanks for your info bbulkow
            I don't always travel to US, so never heard about Saison
            Do they serve similar food to Coi? I suppose it's your favorite in SF?

          2. re: Bu Pun Su

            I'm not entirely sure of the timing, but your review seems to be of an experience from 2010.

            If I recall, Patterson was in the process of opening 1 or 2 other projects, and about to hand over much of the Coi kitchen oversight to another Chef. I believe he's also closed the kitchen for at least one overhaul/renovation since then. Patterson is known to get bored, and react to food trends, or interests or disinterests. I don't know if any of this effects the overall accuracy of your review, (probably not) but it's worth noting.

            1. We went back a couple weeks ago and Coi was as magnificent as ever. Since they we have gone back in the summer, but I must say I think they do even better in the wintertime! Their use of citrus and root vegetables is really astonishing.

              The frozen mandarin sour and oysters under glass reappeared from two years ago, as wonderful as ever. This time the carrots were roasted in hay - still an exquisite dish - while the beets appeared in a beet and goat cheese inverted tart. Between the beets and the carrots came a Dungeness crab / beef tendon soup with asian pear, finger lime, and cilantro, followed by a brassica dish emphasizing the use of new McEvoy olive oil - pepper city! - with a charred onion broth.

              The last two savory dishes were Monterey Bay abalone with grains, seaweeds, raw turnip, and squid ink sauce, followed by grass-fed veal with chicories, caper berry, and seville orange. Both were delicious, though the veal was a bit simple compared to the delights that preceded.

              The cheese course this time was a tomme dolce with each piece wrapped in a different fruit or vegetable leather. This was followed by one of the highlights of the evening - a frozen lime marshmallow with coal-toasted meringue. This tasted like the apotheosis of the best toasted marshmallow you never had. Absolutely wonderful! The winter fruit salad and spiced baba that followed were fine but not at the same level of memorability as the marshmallow.

              We went with a 1/2 wine pairing that had lots of interesting choices. Some read better on the label than they tasted in the glass (the Gravity Check white blend) but usually the choices both worked well and tasted great.

              I'm usually not the biggest fan of tasting menus, but Coi just reaches me in a way very few Bay Area restaurants have done over the years. I love the combination of the intellectual and the sensual that they do here. And all done without a single foam or sous vide dish, thank goodness!

              Most highly recommended if this looks like the sort of thing you'd like (e.g. don't come here in winter if you don't like citrus).


              6 Replies
              1. re: mdg

                Michael, your report is really compelling, as I am not a fan of tasting menus either. Would you mind sharing what other months you went to come to the conclusion that you prefer Coi's winter offerings? We usually visit in November and April (though may be May this spring), so do you think it would be best to wait till next Nov? Thanks in advance!

                1. re: mdg

                  Coi's menu reads like a shorter and lighter meal than some of the Michelin endurance tests. It was 11 courses total? You didn't feel stuffed at the end?


                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Robert, it was 14 courses in all if you count everything from the amuse at the start (a take on chips and guacamole with the dreamiest avocado puree) to the chocolate truffles at the end. The menu posted today is close to what we had with the addition of the young carrots roasted in hay before the abalone, plus the amuse and chocolates.

                    They added a salted caramel cake to the 14-course listed menu since it was a birthday to make it 15. That was bigger than usual. The food quantity would have been perfect without it, just a tiny bit too much with it. No marathon or tasting fatigue here.

                    Grayelf, I'm pretty sure our summertime visit was in July or August. I would go ahead in try it in spring, which is closer ingredient-wise to winter than it is to summer (fall's the other way around). Plus it's a superb place that you shouldn't wait any longer to try!


                    1. re: mdg

                      Thanks for the additional info. Coi has definitely been on my radar for a while. Just need to get my cheapass head around the price, which I'm sure is good value.

                  2. re: mdg

                    Very glad to hear your positive and current report. I am going this Sunday, but with reservations (mental ones, that is). It seems to get a lot of love from critics and guidebooks, but fair to middling response from various bloggers and food forum participants. Everything in your narrative sounds right up my alley and my enthusiasm level perked up quite a bit. Thanks!

                    1. re: djquinnc

                      Had my dinner at Coi about a week and a half ago. Let me start with the positives: our server (Shannon, I think) was just great. Enthusiastic, warm, and personable. The rest of the FOH staff was on point. The room was quite cozy and easy to settle into after a somewhat crazy travel day. However, despite the mindful composition of each dish, the food was relentlessly salty and sour. The undisputed high point was a crab and beef tendon soup which was remarkably balanced in flavor and texture. But there was so much emphasis on acidity that my mind had to really psych myself up to finish plate after plate of acerbic bites. One minor sticking point, and it’s definitely one of personal taste: I wish that chef’s would stop trying to make wheatgrass happen. It just calls to mind those rare times that I have been at a juice bar and succumbed to the temptation to get that extra boost of health in, only to be treated to a shot of lawn cuttings. Not to keep rambling like a curmudgeon, but the price point is awfully high for what we received. Aside from my contentions with the seasoning, there was very little in the way of “luxury” items in comparison to other similarly priced (and starred) meals.

                      I must report that the antidote was yet another lovely dinner at Commis the following night. No major bells and whistles. Just gorgeous, tasty food that feels like a very good friend. And sitting at the counter is one of the loveliest meditative dining experiences I’ve had. And at almost half the price of Coi. Go figure.