The open kitchen at Cockscomb. Photo: Blake Smith.
A view of the counter and part of the main dining room. Photo: Blake Smith.
“Green Goddess” Little Gems. All photos: © tablehopper.com (except where noted).
Nightly bruschetta (hope for lardo).
Selection of raw oysters.
A half-dozen oysters with ‘nduja and bread crumbs.
Beef heart tartare with crispy potatoes.
Grilled cheese with Taleggio cheese, buckwheat honey, and shaved truffle.
Wood oven-roasted pig’s head.
The “ham” burger.
With so many places to eat at in this town, would you feel impelled to write a review of a place when the chef has blocked you on Twitter (I honestly don’t know why), and once bellowed in your ear when you called for a quick interview? (Come to think of it, the previous chef in this SoMa location hollered at me too.) Eh, it’s not that surprising when it comes from someone who has a salumi line and shop called Boccalone (“big mouth”). And we’re all Italian Americans—I know how we run hot. In the end, my rule of thumb for tablehopper reviews has always been “Would I send a friend there, and what would I tell them to order?” Since the answer, in this case, to the first part of that question is yes, here we are.
Actually, I’m happy for Chris Cosentino and his new restaurant (in partnership with Oliver Wharton, who he has worked with in the past at Nobhill in Vegas and Redwood Park). ~COCKSCOMB~ feels a lot more like who he is than the former mausoleum, Incanto. This SoMa location has always been a beauty—I loved the airy space when it was Cafe Monk, as well as the open kitchen of Zuppa—and now it feels like it has grown into the next iteration of what it needed to be.
It’s a handsome and lofty space, with wood tables (many are comfortable for groups), its industrial style softened with comfy banquette seating, shelves with personal effects (taxidermy abounds), and clever design details. You’ll notice a number of bike references, like the bike chains that suspend the pendant glass globes (Cosentino is an avid cyclist), and you gotta love the liver and alcohol print near the restroom. Good work, Celano Design Studio.
There’s a mellower upstairs (which has a second bar), but my favorite seat in the house has been at the kitchen counter, overlooking a line that hustles hard, all sporting Jacobsen Salt Co. hats. The vibe is energetic, with the Beastie Boys on rotation.
The menu is Cosentino’s salute to San Francisco, and includes a redux of some homegrown local dishes, like a quail (instead of turkey) tetrazzini ($35), a light Green Goddess-inspired salad of Little Gems ($11) amped up with ribbons of fried pig’s ears, and a clever version of celery Victor ($12), made with celery root and chicken skin gribenes.
The extensive menu can seem a bit daunting, and a number of the portions are well designed for groups who want to feast. But I have also enjoyed dining with just one other friend, sharing plates as we went along. Even my hairstylist who isn’t into offal did just fine, and the nightly bruschetta (MP) helped convince him that uni is really good (and it is, especially when it’s uni butter with crab, Aleppo chile, radish, and lardo draped on thick slices of toasty bread). Other bruschetta toppings can range from ricotta and morels to ‘nduja and pickled mussels.
There’s a variety of raw oysters and options (from a half-dozen that usually run $3 per oyster, to a mega plateau for $148, perfect to celebrate your IPO). One night I was really digging the baked half-dozen oysters ($16), plump beauties encased in a huge shell with a gratin-like top of ‘nduja and bread crumbs. I thought I’d be all over “Eggs, Eggs, Eggs” (a soft-boiled chicken egg, duck egg, and salmon roe), but twice the dish left me wanting it to have more punch than the tarragon aioli was delivering. And now it has rotated off the menu, so that’s that. Bwok.
You’ll pick up on a butcher’s bistro vibe with the beef heart tartare ($16), which sounds more hard-core than it actually is—the well-fried potatoes that come with it are a perfect hot and crisp and salty foil for the cool tartare. Another bistro salute is the oyster omelette and a glass of wine ($18), actually a nod to cookbook author Elizabeth David (and not the Hangtown fry). Your dream late-night dish is the grilled cheese ($16), a downright dirty combination of funky Taleggio cheese with buckwheat honey and shaved truffle. Yessss. (Now it’s duck egg, cheese, and honey for $10.)
People know Cosentino for his nose-to-tail use of offal, and if you don’t tread carefully, this meat-heavy menu can take you down faster than a pack of hyenas on a baby wildebeest. After three visits, I learned how to keep an eye on creating a (somewhat) balanced meal—just don’t get all crazy. Eat some vegetables.
There’s a meat pie ($35), whose filling changes, but one night ours was a delicious combination of pork fat, black escargot, and cipollini encased under a rustic pastry lid made with suet (it kept the thick and flavorful broth incredibly hot). I felt like I was having dinner in a village in France. I’d recommend at least a couple of hungry villagers for that one.
While Cosentino has mostly left his Italian dishes behind, hopefully your table enjoys tripe ($14), because the excellent version here uses his grandma Rosalie’s recipe, the thick and tender pieces spiked with chile, tomato, mint, and a heavy hit of orange zest. (I suspect someone in the kitchen got a little enthusiastic with the Microplane, because another friend who loves the dish didn’t notice much orange on his visit.) It’s an example of what can happen here: the seasoning can sometimes be uneven. I described the masculine food to a friend as a bit ham-fisted. Many dishes are primal, smelling of smoke, and meaty, and fatty, and exuberant, and rich. But it’s not the whole story: there’s also a fair amount of seafood, and vegetarians even have a dedicated dish. The quality sourcing is really apparent, from the freshness of the vegetables to the pedigree of the proteins.
Everyone talks about the wood oven-roasted pig’s head ($65)—it’s the carnal showpiece, its snout blinged out with gold foil. Most diners want to try this Lord of the Flies masterpiece and sure as hell want to Instagram that thing, although I’d recommend you have a table of truly hard-core fat lovers with you. After a few bites of the blistered skin and unctuous cheek, I was done, and no side salad could save me. But they sell 12-18 of these heads a night, so people are obviously into it.
Groups should go for the pin-bone steak ($110 for four), a generous and stunning platter that feels like a Viking banquet (Cosentino worked with Niman Ranch on customizing this special cut for more than six months). If you’re not a Viking, there’s a bavette ($33)—now culotte—that was juicy and so tender (thanks, buttermilk tenderization) and had a beautiful crust and kiss of live fire. The five slices disappeared quickly. Quality beef doesn’t come cheap, so dishes like that can tally up your bill quickly. Even though many of the supper dishes are meant to be shared, the cash bleed can happen fast if you don’t pay attention.
The menu is written very simply and somewhat cryptically, so be sure to ask your server for details, like what the nightly butcher’s choice is (the kitchen has fun with it). Otherwise you wouldn’t know the “ham” burger ($15) was actually a pork patty—made from brined shoulder and leg, like a city ham, and then ground—and it’s so good, stacked with melty Gruyère, grilled onions, aioli, and butter lettuce in a brioche bun. The menu changes often—and it’s not just the seasonal vegetables coming out of the wood oven. Shout-out to the friendly staff, who know the menu inside and out, and briskly work the room.
There’s a full bar, and you’ll find more gins than you know what to do with (start with the Chef’s Gin Jams [$11], a dollop of housemade seasonal jam, like citrus or even rhubarb, slipped into a Hendrick’s gin and tonic) or Negroni on tap ($9, hiding at the bottom of the “drafts” list). Consider a bottle of the full-bodied Offal Good cider, a house collaboration with Virtue in Michigan—it pairs well with the richer dishes.
I’d like to see a few more wines by the glass, especially considering how vast the menu is, but an $8 malbec (Diseño, Mendoza, 2013) and $12 pinot noir (Sanford Flor de Campo, Central Coast, 2012) is kind. This bubbles lover is sad that the only BTG choice is Mionetto prosecco. Desserts (all $7) have also left me feeling underwhelmed. At least they weren’t $12. And besides, aren’t you totally stuffed?
It’s the kind of place I recommend you go to with friends who have healthy appetites, love meat, and don’t have to watch their cholesterol too closely, because it’s fun food to get together over and share. It’s also a cool urban spot you’ll want to swing by later in the evening (like, say, for a grilled cheese sandwich), and look at that, there’s a late-night happy hour Monday through Thursday from 10pm to 11pm (as well as the more traditional time of 5pm to 6pm). $1 oysters, you gotta love this town. And based on his menu, you can tell Cosentino really does too.
This review was based on three visits.