tablehopper
table of contents   This week's tablehopper: the curiosity that is Coi.

the chatterbox
the word on the street
fresh meat
new restaurant reviews
the wino
in vino veritas
the socialite
shindigs/feasts/festivals
the starlet
no photos please

 

SEPTEMBER 12, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Jeez, it's about time the sun reappeared; I was rapidly losing my hard-earned tan, criminy. Speaking of reappearances, the wino is back again, this time with guest columnist Duggan McDonnell, writing on one of my favorite additions to a DRANK, bitters. Cheers.

Quick heads up: yours truly has a few dining out pieces in this Wednesday's "Feast" section in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. And I'll be a judge in a tomato cooking competition this weekend at the Ferry Building, fun! Read all about it in the socialite.

And one tech note: you poor Comcast users! Issues of the tablehopper have been blocked for the past three weeks. I hope you receive this week's column—my mailing service provider promised it's fixed. To catch up on past issues, take a look in the archive. Now, let's eat!

Affectionately,
~Marcia

the chatterbox

SEPTEMBER 12, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO This town seems to have baked goods on its mind lately (glad it's not just me): Potrero residents/Dogpatchers are starting their morning with fresh (organic) breakfast pastries and tarts at ~PETITE PATISSERIE~. Rachel Leising is behind this new venture, with over 20 years of baking experience, including working with Fran Gage at La Patisserie Francaise, Elizabeth Falkner at Citizen Cake, and even teaching classes at Tante Marie. The tiny space used to be Scoops, so you just walk up to the counter and order—no room to sit, darlings! They also offer brewed coffee (fair trade, organic) but don't expect decaf, lattes, or cappuccinos—just a cup of nicely brewed Joe, that's it! Cookies and cakes will be coming soon—you can also place custom cake orders. Hours (for now) are 7am-2pm Wed-Sat, and 8am-3pm on Sun. They're currently looking for a counter person and baking assistant, so feel free to get in touch (it also means they'll have longer hours once someone is hired!). 1415 18th St. at Connecticut St., 415-794-0319.

And you gotta love the irony of this one: the former "Daily Method" workout space on Scott St. in the Marina will become ~KARA'S CUPCAKES~ (hopefully) by Halloween. The husband and wife duo of Kara and Michael Lind are working with Montalba Architects on the space, the same folks who did the chic I Dream of Cake "cake atelier" on Grant Street. The cute cupcake space will balance the modern and the feminine; you'll soon be picking out your frosted baby (Meyer lemon buttercream? Or how about chocolate velvet?) from pink glass and white Corian cases and then be able to nibble on it (or scarf it) while sitting on some outside seats. All cupcakes are made with organic ingredients, and they also try to use local ingredients within a 100-mile radius of San Francisco. Kara will also continue to please her catering clients with any birthday and wedding cupcake needs. 3249 Scott St. at Chestnut St.

Some changes at ~CORTEZ~ are happening as of today: although famed for their small plates format, Cortez has decided to add some full portion-sized main courses to the menu. After three years of the small plates format, they've listened to customer comments about the timing, value, and style of this kind of dining, and decided to give diners the choice of small plates or large plates—you'll be able to enjoy the larger mains individually, or you can order them family style for the table. Some new dishes are sautéed Japanese sea bream with sweet onion soubise, roasted chiodini mushrooms, Thai basil, and coconut lime broth ($23); and crispy poached organic poussin and "southern style" crispy legs with caramelized artichokes, white asparagus, and chervil-scented hollandaise ($21).

Some closures to report: ~KELLY'S BURGERS~ at 3141 16th Street in the Mission has closed, in addition to ~LA FELCE~ in North Beach (1570 Stockton St.). Seems lots of folks are interested in the now-vacant space… Another North Beach icon, ~JULIUS' CASTLE~ (1541 Montgomery St.) has been sold—it closed at the end of August, and is now being completely remodeled and renovated by the new owners. More on this as details emerge… Former owner Jeffrey Pollack, who had Julius' Castle for 26 years, is still at Nick's Lighthouse in Fisherman's Wharf, but will be enjoying a return to a more "civilian" life.

Another old-school establishment, ~ALFRED'S STEAKHOUSE~, is going to be serving lunch, with a light menu of pastas, fish, sandwiches, and big salads. The opening for lunch is today, September 12, and will be offered Tue-Fri from 11:30am-3pm. There's also a happy hour from 3pm-6pm with $3-4.50 drinks and $5 small plates.

A fellow egg-lovin' tablehopper reader told me about their tasty, albeit slow, breakfast at ~TOAST~, the new BLD (my term for breakfast/lunch/dinner) destination that moved into the old Hungry Joe's space in Noe Valley. The Naser brothers (who also own the Grind in the lower Haight) are behind the space, which just opened last Tuesday. They are serving up scrambles, omelettes, and classics like eggs Benny for breakfast, with sandwiches (like BLTAs), burgers made with Niman Ranch beef, chili, and huge salads for lunch, and dinner will soon have some hearty classics, like meatloaf.

The ~MARINA SPORTS GRILL~ has been bought by the One Industry Group (Mas Sake, Impala). Things are going to pretty much remain status quo until February (so don't worry, you can continue to watch all your football games there), but then they will close for a cosmetic remodel, and reopen in time for March Madness. The space will re-launch with an old-school sports club vibe, with new flat-screen TVs, leather banquettes, and a menu that will offer good steaks (and wine) plus some "wife/girlfriend friendly items" (read: lighter bites) as well. Kerry Simon and Jamaal Taherzadet (of Impala) will help oversee the menu. The casual bar menu will continue to be offered, with hot wings, tater tots, and other eats you'd expect at a sports bar. 2400 Lombard St. at Scott St., 415-440-2000.

~FRISSON~ has a couple new deals geared for early drinkers and late eaters (hey, that's me!), the 5@5 and 10@10. 5@5 features five bar bites (like duck confit and mint empanadas, and crispy pork croquettes) and five drinkie-poos (hello mojito martini, or a boutique label white or red vino) for $5 each from 5-7pm every day in the lounge.

10@10 means guests can sample a variety of fave menu items for $10 each, starting at, you guessed it, 10pm. 10@10 will feature half-entrée portions of chef Sarah Schafer's popular dishes, like miso-glazed Alaskan halibut and the signature foie gras "PB & J," while the ten $10 drinks are all generously portioned, from a glass-and-a-half of wine served in an Erlenmeyer flask, to a flight of cocktails served in test tube beakers, to a martini poured tableside, with leftovers in the shaker. Hic. 10@10 takes place Thursdays through Saturdays throughout the restaurant.

Lastly, feel like digging into some fried chicken or chicken-fried steak tonight? It's ~MAVERICKS'~ monthly Southern Fried Night tonight!

 
the regular

Sol y Lago image

Coi
373 Broadway
Cross: Montgomery St.
San Francisco, CA 94133

415-393-9000
website

Dinner Tue-Sat 6pm-10pm
Lounge Tue-Sat 5:30pm-12am

Tasting Menu $75 or $105
Lounge Menu $6-$19
Desserts $10

 

SEPTEMBER 12, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO 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.

 
the socialite

Duggan McDonnell

SEPTEMBER 12, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Duggan McDonnell opened and launched the acclaimed spirits program at frisson and is currently working as a freelance cocktail consultant while developing 'Cantina,' a culinary cocktail lounge with much Latin funk. (More on this soon, stay tuned.)

WHEN BITTER IS BETTER

Have you noticed the rash (cultural phenom, not skin yuck) of various bitters being used in cocktails of late? Surely you've seen the little bottles your barkeep dashes in cocktails for that extra bit o' sass on the palate. But have you noticed the really great bars and restaurants about town featuring a variety of inspired cocktails with bitter spirits? Like Absinthe with its 'Fruit Cup' made from Punt e Mes, Rye with its 'Honey Delight' which features Fee Brothers orange bitters, and frisson going strong with the 'Pomegranate Manhattan' featuring Cynar.

It's a delight that in the State of California where fruit-forward drinking reigns supreme, the category of 'Bitters' retains its status as terrific underdog.

Cocktail bitters such as Angostura, Peychaud, and Orange all stem from the bar biz here in the States. Sure, Antoine Peychaud was a Southern gentleman, a pharmacist, and the Angostura folks, with their secret formula and secret location, began as a means to cure scurvy or indigestion or whatever the disease du jour was. (Forgive my being a little loose with details, we don't have time for a history lesson, and I ain't an academic.) My point is that bitters would not have become a global staple had they not been embraced by American bartenders. Even today, great bartenders (mixologists?) create specialty bitters of their own by steeping citrus peel, herbs and seasonings in high-octane alcohol to use in signature cocktails of a delicious sort.

The real truth – the actual history – is that we who appreciate the delicate balance of bitter upon our palates owe it all to Italy. For centuries, the Italians have been distilling bitter spirits. Here is a petite list: Aperol, Averna, Campari, Cynar, (the ubiquitous) Fernet Branca, Punt e Mes... and on the list could go. All of these brands started out with families distilling and selling their unique formula of booze to the public. And, thankfully, many of them retain their centuries-old integrity by using the very same recipe since its inception.

Fatigued from the phenomenon of Fernet in our fair foggy City, I've turned my attention to Averna, a Sicilian amaro. Akin to Fernet in color and herbal balance, Averna lands more delicately on the tongue, bears a sweeter finish and as a digestivo has one's tummy feeling better right away. As it is somewhat versatile, I've been able to mix Averna with particular success in the 'Sicilia' cocktail. For your amusement and at-home mixing enjoyment, I suggest this recipe:

SICILIA
2 oz. Averna Amaro Siciliano
.5 oz. Ginger Syrup*
Half a lemon, hand-squeezed
8 mint leaves
Ginger Ale

In a glass mixing pint, muddle the mint leaves and ginger syrup together. Add Averna, lemon, and ice. Cap with Boston shaker, and shake vigorously. Strain over ice into a highball glass, adding a splash of ginger ale as you pour. Delish!

Bitter has its place in beverages as much as it does in cuisine. For years now, adventurous California chefs have been using shiso, frisee, daikon, and cardamom in their creations. I'm glad to see that "bar chefs" are following suit, creating cocktails with as much culinary intent as any entrée, while challenging our palates to a full, robust experience.

* Ginger Syrup recipe:
4 cups sugar
4 cups water
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1 medium-size ginger root

Peel and dice ginger root. Set aside. Mix sugar and water in small saucepan. Allow to simmer and fully fuse. Add ginger and lemon juice, and steep on low heat for one hour. Remove from heat, cool, strain and bottle.

 
the starlet

Duggan McDonnell

Tomato Festival
Saturday, September 16, 2006

Ferry Building
San Francisco

9am-noon

free

SEPTEMBER 12, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Tomatoes are in full effecty-wecty, and this weekend you can join CUESA in celebration of the tomato in all its forms. I'll be a judge in the Tomato Cooking Contest at 11am—I'm hoping they don't expect me to throw any tomatoes.

9am-11am: Tomato Tasting
Sample the diverse colors, shapes, and flavors of tomatoes at the peak of their season. Honey Bear, Bloody Butcher, or Hippy Zebra, anyone?

10am-10:45am: Tomato Grower Talk
Ben says toMAYto, Nigel says toMAHto--and they both grow some really tasty ones. Hear Ben Lucero of Lucero Organic Farms and Nigel Walker of Eatwell Farm discuss their experiences growing tomatoes for the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.

11am-noon: Tomato Cooking Contest
Two chefs--Kevin Koebel of Rogue Chefs and Rick Hackett of MarketBar--will face off in an Iron Chef-style cooking competition. Their challenge will be to craft an appetizer and an entree (and an optional dessert) using tomatoes and items from our mystery pantry, in just 45 minutes. Dave Stockdale, CUESA's Executive Director, will act as MC, and our panel of judges will include Jane Tunks of the San Francisco Chronicle Food and Wine sections and Marcia Gagliardi of Tablehopper. Come join the fun, taste the creations, and cast your vote!

These events will take place in the arcade north of the Ferry Building's clock tower in CUESA's Dacor teaching kitchen.

 
the starlet

SEPTEMBER 12, 2006 | SAN FRANCISCO Ashley Judd was seen having lunch at Rose's Café—she was in town for her husband's race at Sonoma. (He's Dario Franchitti, a motor-racing driver.)

Metallica was in at Scott Howard Restaurant. Rock! (Comedian Patton Oswalt was also seen there.)

Kathy Griffin was at the Clift.

Checkity check it: Al Gore and family were dining at The Front Porch! How's that for hip?

Fab Frances McDormand of Fargo fame and her director extraordinaire hubby Joel Coen were seen at Dottie's True Blue Café in the Tenderloin.