This was our final dinner in San Francisco. We'd been in San Francisco, then Napa, then Mendocino for a few relaxing days. This was the last night we'd be on the west coast.
I'd made reservations at Coi (pronounced "quaw" according to the woman who called me to confirm my reservation) and was looking forward to it quite a bit. My husband Tom was not so much in the mood for one more fancy dinner and I erroneously thought that one could get food a la carte in addition to the chef's tasting. Apparently, that's only in the front room and therefore he was not so pleased at the start of the meal.
I can't lie, the meal started off on a rocky note. The amuse bouche, a carmelized pear root beer as well as the first course, pink grapefruit with ginger, black pepper, and tarragon were super super salty. It was very weird. Also, the flavor combinations were so... I don't know. We weren't impressed. The Coi aperitif was what was served with the pink grapefruit. (I can't find the ingredients in the cocktail though). The cocktail was pretty tasty.
Second Course: Raw oysters over roasted beets, and glacier lettuce. This was... troublesome. Now, I eat raw oysters a lot. I like them. I have spent some lovely afternoons and evenings in Welfleet sucking down raw oysters on the half shell and drinking beer. Ah, good times. That said, these oysters hit my gag reflex like crazy. It happened with the first one, I kind of gagged. The oyster tasted fine, I just couldn't get it down without serious effort and gagging that I tried to do quietly. I was weirded out. There was no good reason for this to happen, so I figured I'd take the gelee off the second oyster (sort of lemon scented/flavored) and give it a go for the second one. Yeah, not so good. I didn't get sick or anything but my gagging was noticed by our server that came over to ask if there was a problem. So embarrassing. And afterward, I really didn't feel well. I was afraid that the entire meal was going to be a bust.
The wine pairing for the oysters was DOMAINE DE LA FRUITIERE MUSCADET, FRANCE 2008. Um, it was pretty good.
The next three courses continued to be sort of strange for us- we just weren't getting what the chef was trying to tell us with the food. It was confusing to our senses and palates. (speaking of the chef, it was around this time he started presenting some of our courses) They were:
3. Inverted cauliflower tart with bone marrow, rye, and dill (paired with Coenobium Bianco, Italy 2007)
4. Sunchoke-buttermilk soup, hot/cold with asian pear, cocoa nib and mint (paired with the E. Guigal Cote du Rhone Blanc, France 2007, which was wonderful.)
5. Young carrots roasted in hay, sprouts, pecorino (paired with Domaine des Baumard Savennieres, France 2005.)
I was afraid this meal was going to be a bust. On the positive, the sommelier was very nice and explained each wine as he poured it, and I felt very comfortable with him. All the service was really wonderful.
HOWEVER- then at the 6th course, things began to turn around.
6. Monterey Bay abalone grilled on the plancha with nettle salsa verde, spicy breadcrumbs, and lemon zest, paired with William Fevre Chablis, France 2007. At this point, we were wary of the odd ingredients and were kind of apprehensive about the nettle salsa verde. But the abalone was grilled perfectly and flavored and seasoned wonderfully, and the salsa verde was actually quite delicious. The breadcrumbs provided a really nice textural contrast. It was my first abalone and I loved it. Also, French Chablis is one of my favorite style of wines, so I was starting to perk up.
7. Pan-grilled matsutake mushrooms with potato-pineneedle puree, paired with Joseph Swan Pinot Noir "Saralee's Vineyard" California 2005. Again, we were wary about the pineneedle in the puree, it seemed so precious and daring to be daring (as we sort of thought of the first 5 courses). The dish was delicious. A side note, it was the third time Tom had been served these mushrooms (after Cyrus and The French Laundry). The pinot that accompanied the dish was just lovely.
8. Slow roasted lamb with chard leaves and stems, garum, and rosemary, paired with Bonny Doon "Le Cigare Volant" California 2004. OH MY GOD. Oh my god! So good. Oddly enough, the chard stems might have been my favorite ingredient of the night. The lamb was wonderful as well, but those chard stems just melted in your mouth and had the most amazing flavor.
9. Montgomery cheddar from Neil’s Yard in the UK, with sweet and spicy (raw) greens and little sourdough (??) crisps. An amazing cheese course, one of the best cheeses we'd had on our entire trip. (And we had a lot of great cheese) I had a break from the pairing for this course.
Onto the 2 dessert courses:
10. "PB&J" - Orange Blossom Cake, Niabel grape sorbet, pistachio butter, apple, sorrel, paired with Marenco Pineto Brachetto D'Acqui, Italy 2008. Wow- the Niabel grape sorbet was absolutely amazing. The grape flavor was so fruity and intense.
11. Caramelized white chocolate parfait, semi-frozen with huckleberries and anise, paired with Mas Amiel, France 2006. This was a nice way to end the meal. Though, I'd say that the parfait was actually frozen instead of semi-frozen. Heh.
So, certainly a mixed bag. I would go back though, to sample what was on the menu that night. The chef swung for the fences in every dish- and in our opinion, sometimes he struck out, but he hit it out of the park the rest of the time. While we didn't get what he was doing half the time, there were real strokes of brilliance which was... exciting. The lack of complete perfection maybe made the high points even higher, if that makes any sense. We felt like we interacted with our meals more, by discussing what worked and what didn't, instead of sitting back and appreciating an artistic food experience. I was glad it was at the end of the trip, because I think our food vocabulary was further along than it was when we arrived in San Francisco.
To witness an exciting talent (that IMHO is still finding its footing) I would certainly recommend Coi. (FYI, the location is in the North Beach area and be warned, it's on the next block over from all the nudie bars on Broadway Street, which made for an interesting walk.)
373 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133