Chef-owner Daniel Patterson just keeps fine tuning things at his natural-modern jewel box on Broadway. The last meal I had at the restaurant was almost perfect, each dish its own little study in culinary witchery. The combination of oyster and roasted beet was totally brand new to my palate (and the glacier lettuce added that "rare ingredient" touch I so love from Patterson). Young carrots roasted in hay? Yeah, this is why I eat out: you'll never find me doing these things at home. I was actually sad when the bone marrow, cauliflower, and rye crisp dish came to an end. I also dug the cheese course, so clever and quite pretty to look at, with bite-size pieces of Neal's Yard Montgomery cheddar layered with arugula and other piquant greens, and croutons.
Have you eaten here yet or what? Patterson is one of the most original chefs in the city-get your booty back over there and have foodie card punched, seriously now. If the $125 tasting menu is too dear, at least come by the lounge and order a few dishes off the dining room menu. There's also a more rustic/affordable lounge menu you can tuck into.
No, I am not going to mention "THE ARTICLE"—there's a lot more to talk about than Patterson's New York Times piece, and besides, he has written many other interesting missives since then, on topics like yuba, or about not following recipes to the letter. One thing we will talk about is how to say ~COI~: it's pronounced "kwa," which has even stirred up some controversy on its own. As I was told by the man himself, it's an archaic French word for calm, or tranquil, but some native-speakers have declared otherwise. Well, at least you know how to say it now, and no, it's not related to KOI in NYC, LA, and Bangkok.
Patterson is no stranger to controversy, along with emphatic discussions and observations about his culinary approach and execution. Yeah, you walk a different path when you aren't quite like the others (you know, "The Road Not Taken," and all that jazz)—and certainly set yourself up for comments, not all of them complimentary. But you also may end up creating your own little fan club, and I'm definitely a fan of this chef.
I eat out a great deal (I know, moi?!) and I have always appreciated how his food gives my taste buds a good shaking, sometimes makes me go "huh!" and definitely fires up my curiosity. And in my book, curiosity is really an immense part of what life is all about—it's how you make discoveries, and it's largely why I love to eat out. So if you've been at all curious about this place, I say follow the impulse. You can learn all about litsea cubeba, argan oil, and what huckleberry and black olive taste like together.
This tiny enclave of a restaurant is oddly located in a stretch of seedy Broadway, not far from Déjà vu Showgirls and other girlie action bump-and-grind joints, so Coi definitely qualifies as "destination dining." Don't worry about the dreaded North Beach dearth of parking—valet is only $8. The thoughtful and stylish hostess, Ipe, will warmly greet you (that's a nice switch, no attitude!)—you just might need to sip some Iron Horse bubbly in the lounge for a few moments before your table is ready. (Or not.)
Perhaps you're not headed for the dining room tonight, and are lingering in the casual lounge instead? You'll note an array of organic modern touches, like hand-sanded walnut tables, grass-cloth wallpaper, banquette seating and comfortable high-backed chairs upholstered with a plush boucle fabric, and fluffy Flokati pillows Patterson's girlfriend made for the room.
I dined in the lounge one evening, trying out the a la carte menu that features affordable and more "approachable" rustic dishes, like a curried carrot soup ($6) with a sprinkling of mint chiffonade on top. It packed a deep sweet carrot flavor that got my palate thinking of sweet potato for a moment. Lip-smacking good. The soup was presented in a pleasingly textured ceramic bowl—all of the ensuing ceramic pieces that make an appearance give the overall experience a nice earthy touch. There was also a hearty asparagus-bread salad ($9) with chopped egg and a piquant dousing of McEvoy olive oil (Patterson's a fan)—I wanted to take it on a picnic with me. Since the menu is seasonal, now a tomato bread salad is offered.
I also enjoyed communing with the Niman Ranch pork cheek stew ($15), steaming meaty goodness that arrived in a version of an oversized chawan mushi bowl, ta da! Bright peas, savory carrot, a dollop of Yukon gold potatoes—a custom dish for our chilly SF evenings. There was also a roasted Hoffman chicken on there for $18, and udon for $14. Kids, the lounge prices are the same as places like NOPA—all I can say is check it out. It's an easy place to meet up with a friend for some tasty eats after work when you don't have a reservation anywhere.
To the dining room. The first thing that will strike you is how intimate it is. It's unlike any dining room in the city, really—it's a small and dim room, with no windows. Some have likened it to a tomb or a padded cell, but I think that's a little dramatic. I find it subdued but slick. I feel like it's a U.N. conference room by way of Kyoto, bouncing between 1964 and 2030, with some lighting above the high-backed banquettes casting a glow that feels slightly Kubrickian. On the walls there are also MRIs of fruit, like corn and melon—quirky chilly cool.
The palette is subdued (remember the name of the restaurant)—in fact, there is no real "color" except the bouquet of flowers in the back, or the bright mossy green branches in the recessed "diorama" (one evening, a diner exiting the room wondered aloud where the lizard was). The thick boucle fabric from the lounge is repeated with the banquettes and chairs, but this time in a naturalistic bark-like pattern. (You can check out some pics here.) Funnily enough, the designer, Scott Kester, designed Patterson's previous location, the chic supperclub frisson. Yes, very different animals.
The room isn't stuffy, but it's not a bouncy hotspot either. You're here to focus on the food, and your dining partner(s), and not be craning your neck around to see who's who. The downtempo music was well chosen and not all "breathy beach house" like a million other places in town—I liked the elevated volume as well, it wasn't just all backdrop beats.
I was definitely into all the tactile elements: the fabrics, the pottery, the elegant Spiegelau stemware, and the satisfying flatware that feels justly sized. Even when my friend and I were sharing bites, I liked the surprise touch of the unglazed underside of some of the plates.
Soon, the elegant pique tablecloth will be the landing strip for an amuse served in an oversized modern silver spoon—this particular night was a smooth corn custard with saffron, chive, piment d'Espelette, and McEvoy olive oil. I was thrilled with this mouthful of ingredients that pulled from Marcia's list of greatest hits.
Oh, I should back up here: the dining room has two tasting menus, either the $75 four-course menu, or the $105 tasting menu of 11 (or so) dishes. Full disclosure here: although I opted for the four-course menu, I have a friend in the kitchen who kindly sent out some extras from the tasting menu, so I am actually reporting on some dishes from both sides of the menu. (I know, sucks to be me.) And vegetarians, you can happily indulge in the four-course menu—Patterson does wonderful things with vegetables.
Most writers have discussed the pink grapefruit dish, a perky cloud of silky mousse obscuring little segments of grapefruit and torn tarragon at the bottom, dialed up with black pepper, ginger, and cognac. But the talking point is the small swatch of essential oil that arrives next to the mousse—you're instructed to dab it on your wrist, which is designed to heighten and mirror all the flavors in the dish. Remember, chef co-wrote a book called "Aroma: The Magic of Essential Oils in Foods and Fragrance," so this Sephora interlude shouldn't be toooo surprising.
Here were the overall highlights for me: a coin of sautéed bone marrow topped with osetra caviar (hellllllo new favorite luxury!) and accompanied with a curtsey of beet gelée (my sole kvetch is the silverware it was served with—why no mother-of-pearl spoon? I didn't want to eat it all in one bite.); the smooth ratatouille soup that almost looks like yin and yang with the two soups of eggplant and squash butting up against each other (you have to see this, let alone taste it); a tuna tomato tartare made with Early Girl tomatoes that were the essence of summer—it was a fresh spin on this otherwise ubiquitous dish (plus, I'm a slave to harissa, and the caper-raisin sorbet is downright inspired); and the yuba "pappardelle" with chanterelles, coconut milk, and kefir lime that was a texture hootenanny for me—I wanted to bring the bowl to my lips to drink from it like a chalice.
What I noted about so many of these dishes is, for the most part, Patterson likes the smooth, the soft, the silky. There is also the long, lingering finish many of them contain. It's like this gentle whisper on the tongue that slowly, eventually, quietly fades to black. I was calling them flavor sunsets. (And no, I was not tripping on anything. Just high on vadouvan, perhaps.)
A few combinations didn't totally thrill me, like the acidic bitterness of the radicchio that rudely interrupted the sumptuousness of the ocean trout. There were also some textures that didn't do it for me, like the thick chalkiness of the bittersweet chocolate tart that totally coated my mouth, with lime yogurt that offered no respite; or the rubbery suckling pig with an impenetrable seared crust—I have a feeling the kitchen must have flubbed it because I have a friend who adored this dish. My dining partner was challenged by the rhubarb and lavender frappe—she said she felt like she was drinking a bubble bath, and decided in that little number Patterson was trying too hard to make a tongue a nose. (Hilarious. I just had to share her observation with you.)
But for me, while a rhubarb and lavender shake is not something I want to experience every morning with breakfast, I appreciate the playfulness of flavors Patterson puts forth in his dishes, while still exhibiting such visionary intellectualism about his food. I consider it "measured fun"—his combinations and presentations excite me because he truly perceives flavor on another level. His cooking feels so earnest to me. It helps that he knows what the hell he's doing, but his understanding and presentation of flavor exists on such a simultaneously deep yet ethereal level—I mean, really, who else out there is gonna give you flavor sunsets?
A few things to note: an 18% service charge is automatically added, and shared by the entire staff. Don't fret over this—the service is kind, efficient, and present. Also, your choice of water will be offered to you at the beginning of the meal, no charge. Classy. So there you go, another thing you don't have to worry about. As for vino, I placed myself in the very capable hands of Oscar Val Verde (formerly at Hayes and Vine, and the opening sommelier at Bacar, Campton Place) for some fantastic pairings—especially since the dishes have so many elements going on. The 2000 Drappier Brut (Reims) was a superb place to start, and he also brought out some Rieslings that paired delightfully. Cheers. Lastly, there is a private room that seats six-eight people for those who want an extra-intimate experience.