Early in March of 2010, Becky and I rode our tandem up to San Francisco to dine at Coi in North Beach. Coi (pronounced “Kwa”) is one of the nine Bay Area restaurants that have received four out of four stars from the San Francisco Chronicle. Michelin gives Coi two stars in its most recent guide. (There are only 81 Michelin three star restaurants in the world.) Our visit will take a couple of notches off of our bucket list.
We’ve been intrigued by Daniel Patterson’s eatery for some time. Our interest was crystallized when we visited Noma in Copenhagen Denmark last November. While talking about restaurants with Noma’s staff, they asked us whether we had been to Coi in San Francisco. It was with some embarrassment that we had to admit that we had not been to a restaurant that is merely an ambitious bike ride from our house while we were dining at Noma, nearly 6,000 miles away. At least our omission was easy enough to fix.
After a long ride from home, we arrived in San Francisco in the late afternoon and checked into our B&B. Peter and Sylvia met us at the restaurant for dinner.
Aside from dietary adjustments, Coi functions off of a fixed menu. We all added what turned out to be an interesting and well configured “wine” pairing. The pairing, as seems to be the style these days, is mostly wines with a few alternatives, like sake or mixed drinks, added in.
Our meal started and ended with preparations of firethorn as palate cleansers. Firethorn, as we learned, is a red-berried ornamental shrub found in many gardens in the area. It is common knowledge that firethorn berries are poisonous. The common knowledge is incorrect. Though the uncooked berries are irritating to the digestive tract, when cooked, they can be eaten without issue. On their own, the berries are reported to be bitter. Firethorn tasters started and ended our meal. I found that well sweetened firethorn tastes like a cross between a currant and a cranberry, slightly tart and very aromatic. Both Sylvia and Becky reported that both dishes had an unpleasant lingering bitterness.
A play-by-play from the menu:
Frozen Mandarin Sour (Satsuma Ice, Kumquat, Angostura Bitters)
This is a surprisingly savory frozen margarita type of dish. On its own, the dish is somewhat uninteresting but when combined with the pairings Lemon Verbena Cocktail it works quite well.
Oysters Rockefeller, California Style (Bloomsdale Spinach, Vegetable Mignonette, Horseradish)
Becky and I just wished this dish used the Hog Island oysters we had last weekend. The Hog Island Oysters were better though Coi’s condiments were delightful.
“Calcots” (New Onions, Black Breadcrumbs, Hazelnut-Almond Puree)
The gentle sweetness of the onions matched the hazelnut-almond puree. This dish recalled Noma’s signature dish of whole radishes served in a hazelnut mousse.
Early Spring (Our Buttermilk, Cherry Blossoms, First Shoots of Wild Fennel)
The rich buttermilk and the aromatics combined to make an inventive, simple, and comforting dish.
Abalone/Asparagus (Raw & Cooked, Veal Jus, Seville Orange, Mint)
This dish was Becky and my favorite. The distinctive flavor of the perfectly prepared shellfish matched the shaved asparagus to capture both fresh and savory flavors.
Young Carrots, Roasted in Hay (Sprouts, Radish Powder, Shaved Pecorino)
The carrots were roasted sweet and infused with the smoke from the hay. Becky and Sylvia were not fond of the hay smell. To me, there was a little too much smoky flavor for my liking (I couldn’t identify the smoke source as being specifically from hay.). This is an inventive dish.
Savory Wild Mushroom Porridge (Brown Butter, Garlic Confit, Wood Sorrel)
This is a beautiful dish with foraging origins. The savoriness of the creamy porridge is lifted by the light aromatics.
Slow-cooked Prather Ranch Pork (Miso, Tofu, Seaweed)
Though acceptable, I did not find this dish to be particularly notable. Could I have another serving of the abalone?
Comte (Marcel Petite, Wild Greens)
A well done, small cheese course came before the desserts.
Lime Curd and Meringue (Aloe Vera, Shiso) and It’s Almost It (Chocolate, Oatmeal, Orange)
The desserts were not the strong suit at Coi. Neither of these items was particularly interesting. The “It’s Almost It” is a take on an “It’s It,” an ice cream dessert made in San Francisco. Becky and I would have preferred an original It’s It. Coi fit a pattern for us. We usually like either the mains or the desserts much better when we eat at the elite restaurants. It is a rare restaurant where the top and the bottom of the menu have the same appeal.
Overall, we liked our meal at Coi very much. Many of the dishes were unlike anything that we had eaten before. We give high marks for flavor inventiveness. The meal was light and fresh. You could eat Coi’s food daily.
In terms of comparisons, Coi is most similar in style to Noma. Perhaps it is no coincidence, after all, that Coi was well known by the Noma staff. Coi easily ranks with the best restaurants that the Bay Area has to offer.
San Francisco, CA 94133