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The Tablehopper’s Guide to Dining and Drinking in San Francisco: Find the Right Spot for Every Occasion.

This week's tablehopper: busy, busy.

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Lupini beans at Serpentine.

Oh, excuse me, let me turn this down. Was blaring Blondie’s Rapture a little too loud. Figured it was a good pre-weekend soundtrack, considering Judgment Day is nigh. “Don’t stop, sure shot/Go out to the parking lot/And you get in your car and you drive real far/And you drive all night and then you see a light….”

Not sure what other people expect to be doing at 6pm on Saturday, but I’m going to be up in Marin at this one-of-a-kind event, a fundraiser for the documentary, Swamp Cabbage. There are still some tickets left—you gotta see the menu, full of foraged and wild ingredients! Gonna be a fun one, see you there?

On Sunday, I hope you can tune in to KSFO 560 AM, because I’ll be a guest on the brand-new show, Edible Escapes with Ken & Anthony, from 12pm-12:55pm. The show runs every Sunday from 11am-1pm. Please listen in, and feel free to call in, too!

Today’s fresh meat review is of Cotogna—I kept waiting for the crowds to thin out, but since that’s not happening, I’ve included a few tips about how to get in. Be sure to read to the end of the piece for some exciting news about the restaurant. Have you dined there? You can share your favorite dishes (and read everyone else’s) on Deep Dishing!

Okay, I need to go chop some vegetables and do yet another load of dishes. One week left of the cleanse life, and to quote the inimitable Nina Simone, “And I’m feeeeeeling good.”

Mwah!

Marcia Gagliardi

fresh meat

New Restaurant Reviews (I'm looking for somewhere new to eat)
May 20, 2011

Cotogna

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Housemade ricotta and wild mushroom crostini.

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Fava leaf sformato with Grana Padano fonduta.

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Tagliolini “carbonara” with Dungeness crab.

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Rosemary gnocchi with braised duck.

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Bonet with caramel and amaretti crumble.

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The Jet-setter aperitivo.

Oh yes, let’s just throw another log on ye olde hype fire, shall we? There has been citywide dismay at how hard it is to secure a reservation at the at-capacity ~COTOGNA~, and I could practically write the starlet section based on the star sightings there alone. And then chef-owner Michael Tusk had to go and win a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Pacific. This place is en fuego, baby.

What is it about this restaurant that has an entire city pawing for reservations like the ruthless Russian ladies I once encountered at a Saks Fifth Avenue sale? Well, it kind of has everything you want—and does it well. Since Cotogna is a little sister to its posh and well-manicured big sister Quince next door, you get access to the amazing pastas Tusk is known for, not to mention stellar kitchen technique and ingredient sourcing—but since it’s more casual, the flavorful dishes are simpler and more rustic. Killer kitchen crew—check!—with chef Tim Caspare (previously a sous at Eleven Madison Park) leading the charge.

And then there’s such polished service—that Quince pedigree and refinement shines right through. The 60-seat room is warm and stylish, with tobacco leather bench seats, elm-topped tables, Jerusalem stone floors, a wood slat ceiling, and full-length windows (the light-filled room is lovely at lunch or an early evening dinner, so don’t fret too much over that 5:45pm reservation you got).

To quote Bob Barker, the price is right: the handmade pastas are all $16, and there’s a three-course presso-fisso menu for $24. I adore wine director David Lynch’s list that has 50 Italian wines, all at $10 a glass and $40 for the bottle. Naturally, you can always order off the Quince list, so if you wanna play high-low (say, Barolo and duck bolognese) with your meal, go for it. Certo, the glassware and place settings are well chosen and pleasing to the eye (and hand).

Did I miss anything?

It’s an all-day menu, so while the price tag of $12 for a choice off the list of antipasti gave me a moment of pause at lunchtime, as soon as your spoon scoops through the infinitely smooth fava leaf sformato—picking up a few drops from the pool of Grana Padano fonduta—and then the prickle of salt hits your tongue, you’re like, uhhh, yeah. That dish is not only the same bright green color as a dime bag’s contents—but the effect of said contents is equally mesmerizing. To conclude: the hit is definitely worth $12.

The antipasti change often—a wintertime salad of Monterey Bay squid (grilled on a skewer, so tender with a whiff of smoke and spiciness) has been swapped out for a springtime fritto misto of carrot, spring onion, asparagus, and fava beans (with an oh-so-light coating) that you dunk into a bright green garlic aioli. And then there was the housemade ricotta, a bubbling little hot tub of iniquity, served with wild mushrooms on top and crostini on the side—you just want to grab your glass of vermentino, drop your bathrobe, and slip right in for a couple hours.

The pastas have ranged from the “let me sell my firstborn for another plate” (the decadent tagliolini “carbonara” with Dungeness crab and buttery onion; the flavorful and tender spring lamb cappelletti stuffed with ramps and pecorino) to the slightly flawed (too many pine nuts on some not very supple nettle tortelloni). On three visits, the selection of six-seven pastas has almost completely changed up each time, so don’t get too obsessed with one—like that Italian lover you had one summer, it will eventually say, “Ciao, bella.” (Sadly, the “goodbye” ciao.)

The spit-roasted pork ($24) off the Italian rotisserie and grill has become Ms. Popularity—I decided to give it a second try (on my first visit I found it a bit overcooked), and the second time around is when I could understand its charms: it’s just delicious pork (so juicy) with a well-seasoned exterior that I loved the way I love the browned exterior of prime rib. They have that thing down.

I was also pining for my neighbor’s sardines ($14) with chickpeas—next time, guys. On top of all this, there are also daily specials at the bottom of the menu to tempt you, like periwinkles alla marinara ($16) winking at you, and rabbit ($20) showing some leg (with artichokes and Taggiasche olives). Come hungry.

Now, with this bounty of choices, I have to admit pizza isn’t the first thing that catches my fancy. But, pizza hounds, you can partake with your choice from three pies from the wood-burning oven for $15. In the beginning, there was an uni pizza (of course I had to order it), with the tiniest florets of cauliflower and flakes of peperoncino. The crust was chewy (in a good way), and while it had perfect ingredient dispersion (I loved this briny combination) and the crust had good flavor, I would ultimately choose pasta over pizza here—they’re more memorable.

A vegetarian could have a field day with the sides ($6), from the sweet and deeply colored roasted carrots drizzled with honey from Quince’s rooftop beehive, to a bright salad of shaved spring vegetables and lettuces with sliced green almonds. Gorgeous produce.

Besides the custardy bonet (a Piemontese dessert) with caramel and amaretti crumble, the desserts ($8) haven’t quite filled my sails like the antipasti and primi do. Example: a very minimalist napoleon of dates, walnut, and mandarins disappeared in four tempered bites (clocking in at $2 a bite). Then again, after chowing down on so many savory courses (yeah, just try to not over-order here), I don’t exactly need an ice cream sundae at the end.

Now, I don’t know if you’re a cocktailing type, but I highly recommend starting your meal with an aperitif from Jason “Buffalo” LoGrasso, who is holding it down at the copper-topped bar. In particular, try the Jet-setter ($9), a spot-on combination of house “cardamaro” and Dolin Gran Classico. My Cydonia Fizz ($10, apple brandy, quince, almond, lemon, meringue, seltzer), was another champ, balanced and with a pleasing texture. I felt like I had to order a cocktail with the namesake quince in it (cotogna means “quince” in Italian).

The crowd offers great people watching: the usual tony diners (toting their luxe bags) at Quince come here to let their hair down, plus you’ll see plenty of business casual lunches, date nights, and, to be expected, ladies who lunch. Since the tables are so close together, you’ll be able to quickly figure out what kind of date is happening next to you.

So, how the hell are you going to get a table? Well, some folks have had luck slipping in on the later side (the communal table and bar seats are left open for walk-ins, and they’re open until midnight Fri-Sat), and you could try your luck on the earlier side at Saturday brunch before the hordes descend for lunch (I think their farm egg raviolo with brown butter at 11:30am sounds delightful). And then there’s always take-out—you can go sit outside in your car and have the rosemary gnocchi with braised duck all to yourself.

Note: A fantastic bit of news: Cotogna is going to open for brunch and supper on Sundays in mid-June. Brunch will be served continuously until dinner, which will be a three-course Sunday supper served family style. The idea is that it will be like the Italian Sunday meals anyone who has traveled to Italy knows well (and loves). And I hear the bistecca fiorentina should be making an appearance.

Cotogna - 490 Pacific Ave. San Francisco - 415-775-8508

707 scout

Wine Country Buzz (it’s what happens there)
May 20, 2011

Haute Japanese for the People

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Counter service and ultra luxe retail ingredients at Morimoto’s new Market; photo by Deirdre Bourdet.

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Snag a seat among the vines in Morimoto’s front room; photo by Deirdre Bourdet.

By 707 correspondent, Deirdre Bourdet.

Last week ~MORIMOTO NAPA~ opened its long-awaited Market in the restaurant’s front room. In addition to the premium Wagyu beef and pristine sashimi-grade fish we expected to see, the retail case is stocked with duck and quail eggs; premium soy sauces; marinated, ready-to-cook “angry chicken” from the restaurant menu; and a couple of pre-packed entrées ready for the picnic basket.

There’s also a full café menu for daytime dining in the sunny front room. Four salads, three soups, and four original banh mi sandwiches (tuna sashimi, angry chicken, pork belly, or Korean BBQ steak) offer some tasty variety in the $8-$12 range, but you can also get a classic sushi combo plate for $15. Housemade yuzuade, sparking pomegranate juice, ginger apple soda, and Morimoto green tea give designated drivers and working stiffs a good selection of beverages to wash down the lunchtime grub. For dessert check out the buttermilk cupcake filled with yuzu curd and topped with coconut buttercream, or the nutty rice bran shortbread cookies with matcha-white chocolate drizzle.

The Market is now open every day from 10am-6pm. 610 Main St. at 5th St., Napa, 707-252-1600.

Healdsburg’s ~SHIMO MODERN STEAK~ has also devised some budget-friendly changes to its high-end concept. Chefs Doug Keane and Kolin Vazzoler introduced ramen and soba noodle bowls to the bar menu in late April, and the huge public response prompted a permanent shift this month. As of Friday May 13th, Shimo is officially a noodle house.

The $7.95 base model includes ramen or soba noodles in your choice of broth, with nori, scallions, and bean and bamboo shoots. Tack on some extras like pork chashu ($4.50), shrimp ($4.75), kimchee ($1.50), or slow-cooked egg ($3), and you’re really in business. Shimo’s marbled modern steaks will still be available, though in smaller and more attainably priced forms like a six-ounce filet mignon for $25, a 42-hour shortrib for $18, or prime rib tonkatsu for $15.

The restaurant’s exploratory lunch service is also apparently going to stick around for while. Wednesday through Sunday, the noodle bowls and a handful of other small dishes (e.g. chilled soba salad, hamachi sashimi, Japanese yam pancake) are available for dining in or to go from 12pm-2pm.

Kudos to Doug Keane for adapting his original vision to fit the times, and giving H-burg its first modern noodle house. 241 Healdsburg Ave. at W. Matheson, Healdsburg, 707-433-6000.

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