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Trip Report: Cotogna, Ferry Building, Atelier Crenn, Koi Palace

What else is there to say besides SF has some amazing food and amazing produce. It's been 5 years since moving from the bay area and this weekend reminded me that I need to return more than just once a year.

Cotogna: We had originally made reservations for La Ciccia and even reserved a portion of the famed octopus stew, but multiple flight delays from the severe showers down here in LA rendered that impossible. We ended up at Cotogna with a 1030pm table and that worked out perfectly. It's nice to have such an amazing restaurant that closes late. We started with sunchoke, black trumpet mushroom soup with poached egg which was delicious. The yolk had such amazing flavor it instantly reminded me the level of ingredients available here in SF. Tagliolini pasta with dungeness crab and lemon was a light welcome back to SF. The ramps, guancale, egg pizza was very good although I probably prefer my crust a little softer and chewier these days. The absolute star of the night was the porchetta. I know the porchetta craze has been going strong in SF for at least 4-5 years now and damned if I don't know why LA hasn't caught on yet but this specimen was the epitome of porchetta. The skin was a perfect brown golden color and as crisp and delicious as any pork crackling I've had. The meat/fat napoleon right under the skin was perfection. The center white meat was pink and succulent. No less stunning was the sautéed chard that accompanied the porchetta. The chard was just redolent with chard flavor and essence. Spectacular. I wish, wish, wish I had this option in LA.

Ferry Building: Got there at noon and surprisingly the line for Blue Bottle was only 5-10min. That iced New Orleans style coffee is some good stuff, and I'm not even a coffee drinker. Soft scramble with green onions and crispy pancetta from Rose's was also delicious. Tried to get oysters at Hog Island but they sold out. The tempura asparagus at the stand next to them sold out soon after. Wandering the market I saw beautiful greens, wonderful ramps, and thick stalks of asparagus that begged to be bought and cooked. To temper my jealousy, I consoled myself with bread from Acme, cheese from Cowgirl, and porchetta head cheese and a Mess Piggy from Boccolone. We brought all this over to Wine Merchant and opened up a few bottles of Burgundy and spent the good part of the afternoon catching up with good friends.

Atelier Crenn: What an amazing restaurant. We chose the chef's tasting and had a wonderful time matching the beautiful dishes with the poem representing the menu. I enjoyed myself too much to take pictures and formal notes. The entire meal was remarkable for providing me tastes and textures never experienced before. Several dishes stood out in particular for me. The first was the perfect expression of spring. A chilled mint and pea soup with 2 tiny carrots and carrot purée. The dish was remarkable in that the pea was so sweet and so the essence of pea that it was as if I had tasted peas for the first time. The carrot was also so sweet and so the essence of carrot that it was superior to all other carrots I have ever tasted. My favorite dish of the night. The frozen shaved foie gras with mushrooms was beautiful and resembled logs with mushrooms growing on them. The palate cleanser of eucalyptus ice cream served on a twig of eucalyptus was outstanding and haunting. Dessert served on a "cold hibachi" was visually stunning, delicious, and fun to eat.

Koi Palace: We have plenty of excellent Chinese food down here in LA, some of the best around. But Koi Palace still takes the crown for high end Cantonese food in my opinion. The whole dungeness crab XLB is stellar and surprisingly hasn't increased in price in 5 years. The har gow, scallop dumplings, shui mai, shrimp dumplings topped with XO sauce are all finer than LA's best. The sheer variety also overwhelms what we have in LA.

I need to come visit more often.

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  1. Glad you had a great trip!

    1. Nice. One home-run after another.

      1 Reply
      1. re: steve h.

        It truly was. Still thinking about that porchetta.

      2. Nice. I just got back from SF last night. Agree with you on the porchetta at Cotogna. The best thing I ate all weekend.

          1. re: Porthos

            oh my that makes me want to run there for dinner! i've only been to Cotogna once, just last FRiday, for lunch, and it was wonderful. Glad you had a great trip - love love love Atelier.

            1. You hit some of my favorites, so glad to read you enjoyed. I've not been to Koi Palace--clearly a visit (soon) is in order.

              Thank you for the report!

              1. I've been doing research here and there for the last few days, and my itinerary for a weekend in SF looks like yours minus Koi Palace. Driving up on Friday and going to try to make it in time for Cotogna. Then the Ferry Building on Saturday, and Atelier Crenn at night. Sunday, we're scheduled to go to Bar Tartine. I don't think the SO would take kindly to going to dim sum.

                14 Replies
                1. re: andytseng

                  What kind of SO doesn't like dim sum?!? ;)

                  Haven't been to Bar Tartine under this current chef but consider Commonwealth.

                  1. re: Porthos

                    unless it was dim sum stuffed with foie gras and caviar, i'm pretty sure she'd say that it tastes better at home, or it's not that much better that it would warrant spending one of our few sf meals on.

                    1. re: andytseng

                      Not foie and caviar but dungeness crab XLB and steamed lobster dumplings! Dim sum at Koi Palace is superior to dim sum at either Elite or Sea Harbor. Way more varieties and the quality is just as high if not higher.

                      Anyways you know best. But do take a look at Commonwealth too. I really enjoyed it last year. High quality, inventive Cal cuisine at a ridiculously reasonable price point. It'd be like Gjelina with the technique and skill seen in the appetizers at Red Medicine.

                      1. re: Porthos

                        I found dim sum at Koi Palace hit and miss compared with Yank Sing, and dinner was more so.

                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5843...

                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7096...

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          I have never been impressed with Yank Sing. Someone from LA will likely take umbrage at the prices there and unlike Koi Palace, I would not say the quality at Yank Sing is as good as Elite or Sea Harbor in LA.

                          1. re: Porthos

                            Maybe the problem at Koi Palace is consistency. If I'd had only the best dishes they served me I would have been impressed.

                            Their prices for traditional dim sum items aren't much lower than Yank Sing's.

                        2. re: Porthos

                          The Sunday lunch is still up in the air. I was also tossing around the idea of trying Canteen. Actually, when I was reading about Commonwealth in my initial research, it didn't seem like something up my alley. I think it's because so many people kept mentioning that it was a solid meal w/ a great value. I'm not super concerned about value and I don't eat too much (portion-wise). It reminds me of what people say about Nook Bistro (sorry SF people... LA reference), which I'm not a particular fan of.

                          I'll definitely keep it in my rotation of stuff to research though.

                          Thanks for the tip!

                          1. re: andytseng

                            Value aside, Commonwealth is just straight up better than most of our mid-tier restaurants here in LA. Just check out the menu.

                            Below is a link to my Sept 2010 trip report. Oops, guess it was almost 2 years ago and not a year ago! Time sure does fly.

                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/732686

                            Which reminds me, you could always do the famous Zuni roasted chicken if lunch is still available Sunday (takes 1 hour to cook).

                            1. re: Porthos

                              The menu does look intriguing...

                              Just noticed that they're only open in the evening. We'll only have 2 dinners during our trip, so I guess the question is Cotogna or Commonwealth? I originally chose Cotogna in case we arrived late.

                              I've read a few mixed things about Zuni, and I fear the "This just tastes like Costco chicken" response to roasted chicken.

                              1. re: andytseng

                                That's absurd. It does not taste like Costo chicken. It is much better than the dry roast chicken Spice Table was doing at half the size and the same price. The bread salad soaked in juices is almost as good as the chicken itself.

                                I thought Cotogna was Friday night, Atelier Crenn was Saturday, and you were doing Bar Tartine I assumed for Sunday night which is why I recommended Commonwealth for Sunday night.

                                Just stick with Cotogna. Have a great trip!

                                1. re: Porthos

                                  Didn't mean to disrespect Zuni's chicken. The SO has just never been impressed with chicken, particularly roasted chicken, including the version from Bouchon, so I try to steer clear of anything of the sort.

                                  Unfortunately, we're driving up and back. I'm trying to talk myself into grabbing an early dinner at 5:30 before hitting the road, but we probably wouldn't get back until after midnight.

                                2. re: andytseng

                                  definitely Cotogna over Commonwealth.

                                  Zuni chicken is nothing like a Costco chicken, but it's not all it's cracked up to be either. To me. I prefer Range's chicken.

                                3. re: Porthos

                                  Providing a different perspective. While I think a debate could rage on whether the more innovative mid-priced restaurants in LA, compete with the more innovative mid-priced restaurants in SF, I don't think there is a debate that there is a lacking of good, innovative vibrant Italian cuisine in LA??? And we have it in spades right now in the Bay Area?

                                  Granted, I don't live there anymore, so I am somewhat out of the loop (though do still visit), I can't even think of good places outside of Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza. (And not hushed white tablecloths a la Valentino)

                                  1. re: goldangl95

                                    I think Angelini Osteria is considered one of the better joints, and I've been going to maximilliano in highland park recently, but I believe you're right in saying that Italian in SF is on another plane. Word is that a place like Torrisi (from NY) is in the works