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In Photos: A Report from Coi, or, The Most Inventive Cuisine in the City?


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In Photos: A Report from Coi, or, The Most Inventive Cuisine in the City?

kevin h | | Nov 24, 2008 03:35 AM

Full review with photos:

I had two dinners in the Bay Area, and based on menus posted online, decided on Coi for the first night and Manresa for the second (look for that review soon). Here's what we had at Coi:

Amuse Bouche: Milk & Honey
These reminded me of the "spherifications" popularized by Ferran Adrià and his disciples (see the "liquid olives" at The Bazaar). Basically liquid gels encased in thin membranes, they had a very light, initial sweetness followed by a salty finish.

1: Pink Grapefruit
Ginger, Tarragon, Black Pepper. If you look closely on the right side of the plate, you'll see a small dab of liquid. That liquid was Coi's signature scent, a perfume made from pink grapefruit, ginger, black pepper, cognac, and tarragon. We were instructed to dab a bit of the citrusy concoction on our wrists, to complement the flavor of the "sphere." That sphere was composed of an icy center covered by a creamier exterior, and had an initial, dominant taste of grapefruit, backed by a hint of spice and pepper. What was interesting is that its sweet-savory flavor just lingered in my mouth for nearly a minute.

2: Shiny Beets
Citrus Scented Gel, Vadouvan. This wasn't a particularly distinctive dish, as the beets lacked much flavor of their own, and instead relied on the citrus and vadouvan spice mixture. A bit boring perhaps, though my favorite beet was the darkest one, which was also the sweetest. The use of vadouvan gave the dish a somewhat Indian flair, and made me think of David Kinch's (Manresa) crispy mussels dish at this year's Providence 5x5 dinner.

3a: Fromage Blanc Tart
Chicories, Black Olive. The cheese was so delicate, both in flavor and in substance; it was almost airy, and formed a balance with its tough, crumbly crust. The use of chicory was key here, as the leaves provided a much needed foil in taste, but more importantly, in consistency.

3b: Oysters Under Glass
Marin Miyagi Oysters, Yuzu, Radish, Apple, Rau Ram. Also known as Pacific oysters, the Miyagis were slightly sweet, mild, with a bit of minerality. They were delicious on their own, and the use of yuzu, radish, apple, and rau ram (Vietnamese coriander) was akin to a tangy mignonette sauce. What made the dish really unique was the so-called "glass," which added a fantastic textural counterpoint to the soft, tender oysters.

4: Triamble Squash Soup
Asian Pear, Pomegranate, Padron Chile Flakes, Mint. Unfortunately, this course was a bit too sweet for me, as tends to be the case for squash soups. The use of Asian pear and pomegranate was genius here, as the fruits added a much needed variation in texture, and also contributed a tartness that offset the sweetness of the squash. The chili and mint served a similar role, but I would've liked their flavors to have been more apparent.

5a: Garden, Late Fall
Root Vegetables, Cocoa, Herbs. This was a somewhat desultory, yet strangely beautiful presentation of vegetables. I appreciated the natural flavor of the veggies here, and surprisingly, the use of cocoa powder actually worked rather well, adding a gritty consistency and contrasting bitter/sweet/savory notes.

5b: Roasted Cauliflower
Smoked Bone Marrow, Pickled Red Onion, Oregano. I'm generally a fan of cauliflower, and it didn't disappoint here. I loved it by itself, with its delicious smoky-burnt flavor that worked well with the onion and oregano. I wasn't as convinced about the foam however, as it distracted slightly from the cauliflower.

6: Earth and Sea
Steamed Tofu Mousseline, Yuba, Fresh Seaweeds, Mushroom Dashi. I thought this was a very Japanese-inspired dish. The mushroom dashi broth provided a rich base on which the delicate flavors of tofu and seaweed could interact. I'm not usually a fan of yuba, but here it was the key; it didn't have much flavor, but its consistency really made the dish. My dining companion mentioned that the broth was reminiscent of a shark's fin soup.

7a: Sautéed Monterey Bay Abalone
Escarole, Caper Berry-Sea Lettuce Vinaigrette. I've never had abalone quite like this before. Its firmness was halfway in between a raw sushi style and a Chinese braised preparation. The sauce added a tart, subtly bitter, vegetal flavor that went rather well with the soft sweetness of the mollusk.

7b: Matsutake Grilled on the Plancha
Potato-Pine Needle Puree. The matsutakes were delightful, though not as strong as the ones I had at Urasawa. Nevertheless, I enjoyed their earthy aroma, deftly set off by a sprinkle of salt & pepper, crunchy texture, and wanted more! The accompanying sauce was largely unnecessary.

8a: Slow Cooked Farm Egg
Green Farro, Erbette Chard, Brown Butter-Parmesan Sauce. The chard was the ticket here, as its slight bitterness proved to be a wonderful contrast to the rich, mild creaminess of the egg yolk. The farro was also superb, in that it added not much flavor, but rather a delightful risotto-esque consistency to the dish.

8b: Bolinas Goat, Different Forms
Sprouted Beans, Seeds, Nuts, Wheatgrass. This was a surprisingly stimulating dish. The goat itself, served rare as well as braised, had a very distinctive, almost "wild" flavor. It was expertly complemented by the sprouts, with their bracing, vegetal, bitter tang, as well as the seeds and nuts, which contributed their own distinctive flavor and added a nice bit of crunchiness.

Supplement: Country Pork Pâté
Cornichon, Grain Mustard. Since we weren't quite getting full, we decided to supplement the tasting menu with two dishes from the lounge menu. I enjoyed eating the pâté along with the included toast points, but found the mustard and pickles a bit too strong for the pork. This was reminiscent of the pâté I had at Charlie Palmer.

Supplement: Spiny Lobster Ravioli
Tarragon, Brown Butter, Spinach. The raviolis seemed more like dumplings to me. I really had a tough time even identifying this as lobster (could've been shrimp for all I know), as the flavor was lost in the midst of the brown butter and tarragon. Clearly, the dishes on the lounge menu do belong in the lounge. That's not to say they're bad, but they simply lack the finesse and creativity found on the tasting menu.

9: Etude (Soyoung Scanlan
)Peppercress, Fuyu Persimmon, Black Walnuts. The Etude is a semi-hard goat's cheese from Soyoung Scanlan's Andante Dairy in Petaluma, CA (I also had their cheese at Meadowood). The Etude was mildly nutty and quite good on its own, but really benefitted from the sweetness of the persimmon and the smokiness of the walnuts.

Intermezzo: Mutsu Apple and Rose Soda
Mutsu apple, also known as the Crispin, is a Golden Delicious-Indo cross first grown in Japan. The soda had a sharp, intoxicating nose of apple, and this intensity carried over on to my palate. Sour, tart, refreshing: the perfect palate cleanser.

10: Quince and Huckleberry Parfait
Huckleberry Ice, Almond, Lemon Thyme. The mouth-watering sweetness of the quince and huckleberry was adroitly balanced by the mildness of the cream. The secret here though was the almond brittle, which contributed a fantastic crunch to the dessert. A simple concept, but delicious.

11: Chocolate-Mesquite Cake
Smoked Pepitas Praline, Kabocha Squash Sherbet. Kabocha is a type of sweet Japanese squash, and even in sherbet form, it was intense. It was thus very well tempered by the smokiness of the chocolate and pepitas (squash seeds). A lovely interpretation of the classic ice cream-chocolate cake dessert.

The dinner was a success. Though not every dish was a hit, there were no blatant misses either; it was a cohesive, balanced meal, though perhaps a tad light. As I expected, Coi possessed the novelty I sought out, but without the overt pretension that I was afraid of. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen such a masterful use of the sweet/savory interplay as I saw at Coi. Patterson manages to combine innovation and cutting-edge culinary technique, but without losing sight of taste and edibility, a rare combination indeed. Nicely done.

I'd say that Coi was the strongest restaurant I've been to in the City. I'm not from the area, but have been to Aqua, Dining Room, Fifth Floor, Gary Danko, Masa's, and Michael Mina. Is there anything else comparable in SF?

Full review with photos: