500 Brannan St.
Cross: Fourth St.
San Francisco, CA 94107
Small plates $9-$19
27, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO
NOTE: I struggled whether I should place ~COCO500~
in "fresh meat" since a number of people still haven't
checked it out, but then again, it's been open for close to a year,
so into "the regular" it goes.
to hand it to chef/owner Loretta Keller, it's one of the most successful
restaurant reinventions in the city—like a tranny who went
from being known for a continual Liza shtick to suddenly rocking
it as Beyoncé. It does make me wonder if a few others around
town could follow suit (restaurants, not trannies). For those of
you who remember the space as Bizou, it's been cutely situated on
a corner in SoMa since 1993, filled with cheerful light during the
day and offering a somewhat urban view of cars zipping by in the
evening. The building itself has always struck me as tres charmant,
with little planter boxes under the windows, and it's a cozy size.
After the two-month remodel, Keller smartly kept a few Bizou favorites
on the menu so she didn't have a riot of her regulars on her hands,
but overall the look and vibe of the restaurant couldn't be more
different. And the name makes me happy to say it—it sounds
mostly mid-century styled space features a predominance of wood
(did you think I was gonna say velvet?), like teak tables that can
actually hold a fair amount of the small plates you'll be ordering,
comfy and always-sexy Thonet chairs, and a wood-slat divider separating
the bar area from the dining room that looks almost sauna-like.
Tables are nestled close to each other, very close, but this way
you can scope what your neighbors are eating—it's almost impossible
to not chat with them at some point. (Maybe that's just me, though.
Chatty Patty, here.) The artwork works, there are little flashes
of cobalt blue here and there, and the lighting is flattering. It
all feels quite clean and urban, and yay, you're not in IKEA.
eaten here at least three times over the past year, and I have to
say, the food definitely continues to improve. (Prices also seem
to have climbed a few ticks here and there.) Service is mostly responsive
and always friendly, and the restaurant manages to pack in an interesting
and eclectic mix of city folk, from industry peeps dining out on
a night off (and swilling the fab organic cocktails, natch) to hip
homos to MILFs out on the town who want a somewhat chic place for
dinner that is fun but feels more like a restaurant than a bar.
Speaking of, I've heard the bar can get going in the early evening
with SoMa workers after they punch the clock. But in actuality,
it always seems to have a lively vibe, with lots of conversation
sometimes punctuated with a little silliness (again, the cocktails).
a number of folks here when they have the tricky task of pleasing
both carnivores and vegetarians alike, without one or the other
getting shortchanged. The small plates menu of seasonal Cal-Mediterranean
dishes features a nice smattering of vegetarian options, so I took
a veggie pal visiting from L.A. here recently, and she was thrilled.
A can't-miss dish is the signature fried green beans ($6). There's
a reason they are a signature. You'll get a pile of piping hot green
beans fried in a perfectly light batter, with a dipping sauce that
can rotate—I've enjoyed dipping them into a kicky aioli, tasty.
In past visits I also ordered the COCOmole "tacos" ($4),
five petite tortilla chips topped with the famed beef cheeks in
a mole sauce and a dollop of avocado puree on top. Little delectables
custom-built for popping into your mouth, and for $4, sure, bring
you leave the "small starts" section, prices do ramp up
(maybe it's COCO500's zippy name that forces the quick acceleration?)—salads
clock in around $11, so pay attention if you are on a boo-jay. Do
not let the term "small plates" hypnotize you: small plates
rarely equate to cheap (dang!) unless you only order a couple. I
have tried to reconcile with the spring pea ravioli ($13) twice,
but alas, they just don't manage to charm me. Especially since both
times they have shown up lukewarm, and this last time, the unheated
plate did not help the situation. The actual dough is tender and
good, but there's just too much of it for me. Meh. We are through.
here's where things get wicked tasty: the squash blossom flatbread
($9) is beyond scrumptious. I am craving it now. A thoughtful display
of blossoms melted delightfully into the cheese, and the kicker,
a drizzle of some truffle oil. Yes, a total cheap-thrill ingredient,
but man, does it work. Beautifully blistered cheese and crust. (Are
those enough superlatives for you?) Funnily enough, this past week
there has been a battle of the COCO500 flatbreads discussed among
food bloggers —I'll have to come back to meet the contender,
the cured salmon pizza ($13).
advantage to dining with a vegetarian—you eat a lot less,
and much more cheaply. Well, we actually blew our cash on cocktails—more
on those later. We didn't venture in the "a la plancha"
section, which features dishes like roast chicken ($18), or P.E.I.
mussels ($11), all cooked on heavy steel with very little fat. A
dear friend recently wrote to tell me how he was gettin' all crazy
for the beef cheeks ($15) from the "wood oven" section,
but asked me to question the cornmeal-y crust they appeared to be
deep fried in. I have no answers—I was eating vegetables on
this last visit.
my veggie pal and I ordered up some sides, like gigante white beans
($5) and sweet white corn ($6) from the "california dirt"
section. I remember being enthralled with the sweet corn the last
few times I visited, but this time it had some shiitake mushrooms
nestled in there, whose funky musky flavor really overpowered the
corn. It was like a pretty girl on a date with a dirty hippie. The
gigantes were a touch mealy, such is the nature of this beastly
bean, but the Mediterranean flavors of the Davero olive oil and
melted Parmesan cheese on top helped win me over.
seem to vary, but lately, the Greek yogurt ($5.50) with orange blossom
honey has been getting rave reviews, and the night we were there,
we had a strawberry "brûlée" ($7) studded
with a mound of the most exquisite strawberries I've tasted in ages.
Reminded me of little wild berries morphed with my grandma's, which
I remember plucking off bushes on her deck (always be a berry benchmark
as you can see, the food is quite approachable and "safe,"
so you could even bring pickier eaters here and they'll eat well.
(I tend not to dine with picky eaters, but I know they are out there.)
The ingredients are all top-notch, so fresh, and quite balanced.
If you're looking for groundbreaking food, you might want to head
elsewhere. But sometimes you don't need the adventure, and that's
when COCO500 is just right. There are touches of rustic indulgence
for those craving it (veal marrowbones, beef cheeks, cheese), but
overall it's lighter, clean, simple food. It would also be a perf
destination for a fun date, a girl's night out (well, maybe about
four of you, tops—not the best place for large groups), and
I have some pals in the area that dig it for lunch.
and the cocktails, ba-damn. They're made with organic ingredients,
and smaller-production spirits. So, no, they are not cheap. But
they are very very good. The mint julep ($9) packed a serious wallop
(thank you sir, let's do that again) and the COCO500 ($10) with
Thai basil, Kaffir lime vodka, lime, and seltzer is what I'll be
craving on the next warm evening. Actually, a number of the cocktails
are spot-on for that, as rare as those evenings are. (Sigh.) So
the next time you have a first date with a vegetarian or a dinner
with some picky pals, you know exactly where to go (and no, it's