Thursday, November 10, 2011

Coi Restaurant - San Francisco Sophistication

So you might have heard that I recently quit my job to bum around go freelance and work on some passion projects. Well, before all that, I decided to reward my newfound unemployment by spending a nice thick wad of cash on travelling. I'm currently in Vegas, but my first stop was San Francisco, so let's start there.

If I've never been to a city, I usually choose 1 "big" meal that is considered one of the city's best, and hopefully represents the place, then bounce around more budget friendly and equally interesting places later. (By places, I mean eating places - it shouldn't surprise that food is my primary concern, right?). Top of my list for San Francisco were Coi and Manresa (thanks Francis Lam). I know Manresa isn't in central SF, but it was going to be on the way - I would be driving down the coast after SF. Unfortunately the day I was driving out was a Monday, so Coi it was. I managed to get a reservation a few weeks ahead on Opentable for a 9pm reservation, and given our jetlagged state, it was perfect.

California Bowl
Clearly, this was an elaborate, multi-course meal. I didn't have it with the wine pairings because I probably would have passed out, but I did order a couple of glasses of wine, and the restaurant also very kindly comped us* a couple of glasses (rose to start, and the amazingly different Komekome-shu sake).

We started with the California Bowl - rice crisps, avocado puree and mung bean sprouts. An apt name for not just this dish, but perhaps the entire meal. Local ingredients are the order of the day.

Kome Kome Shu
Komekome-shu was unlike any other sake I've tasted. It's a light, sweet wine, and if I were to blind taste it, I wouldn't have had a single clue what it was. Extra rice is added to up the sweetness, but on the nose, the rice/sake aromas are distinct. Gotta try and get my hands on some of this.

Beet Rose
Minute coins of beetroot are painstakingly formed into a rose, atop a yogurt cream, and surrounded by rose granita, which I thought had some salty qualities that made it taste like Japanese ume (plum). The freeze and the sourness was refreshing (or shocking) on the senses. Sourness would be a recurring theme throughout the meal.

Terra Levea Assyrtiko, a Greek white

Probably my favourite dish of the night, mostly because the oyster 'juices' or seawater that sits in the shells was made into a soft jelly to go with the oysters (Washington) - at least that's what I thought it was.

An upsided-down "tart" with fromage blanc and a brush of balsamic at the bottom, topped with a buckwheat tuile, with diced fennel and wheatgrass sauce. (Wheatgrass, haha, reminds me of my uni days - "supplements" we used to put in our Boost juices... sorry, a very Melbourne joke.)

Super duper sour apple 'soup' - so much so that it shrouded the other flavours, like the carrot (?) disc in the middle, with pomegranate and a sprinkle of coffee. It was... well... pretty sour!

Bruno Colin Maranges 2009 - Burgundy

This was kind of breakfast-y, with quinoa, popped sorghum and almond. The addition of yogurt (again) kept the acidity thang going, but the flavour and crunch of the toasted grains made it quite enjoyable.

Celtuce, we were told, is an ancient strain of lettuce. It was kind of a mix between lettuce and cabbage, with thicker leaves, more resistant to heat. The cooking style reminded me of teppanyaki, which isn't an issue at all - it works well. But, well, here I go again, could we have had less lemon juice over the top?

Farm Egg
Very slow cooked egg (yolk?), cooked at 65 degrees C (? Or F? I assumed they meant F when they told me because it's America, but that doesn't really make sense does it), breaded to look like it's fried, but not. Taragon egg white emulsion (not yogurt!) and radicchio.

Smokey, supremely tender meat, flavour-packed spinach and mushrooms. The beef was coated in a herb of some sort, I wish I remembered, but it imparted an almost medicinal (think Chinese medicine) flavour.

It would be completely unfair to go nitpicking (as I have) about each dish though. I was here for a good overview of what San Francisco fine dining is like - their views on produce and they chose to use them and so on, and I think Coi does a great job showcasing what the region has to offer. Taste-wise, not everything worked for me (hello, acidity), but it was interesting enough to keep me going. At no point during the meal did I think I'd mentally "had enough". (Physically had enough - yes, that happens no matter how many antacids I have).

Camomile tea
On Twitter, I was asked by @laydeejol whether I meant "interesting" in a Bo Innovation way. Certainly not. The food was much better thought out here, and not the least bit gimmicky. These people love their food.

Since this meal, I've had chicory quite a few times on this trip. I don't know if it's always been top of mind in the US, but I feel like it's one of those things that's making a comeback thanks to farmers markets and so on. Even so, I never thought of it as something that would go with chocolate in a dessert. Nonetheless, this was excellent. Deep flavours without being overpowering, nice crunch of the discs against the creams. I hope chicory stays.

A buttery toffee crisp/shard like petit fours, very cold to the touch, yet slippery between my fingers, with a bit of salt to balance things out.

If only all the dishes were so balanced - but then again, I don't want to complain. Indeed, I found the sour/yogurt strain a little overdone/persistent, but I like what they're doing, and if I were a hippy I'd say I like their vibe.

I also read later that they have 2 Michelin stars. Now, I'm no Michelin inspector, and if the recent New Yorker article was anything to go by, I can see why - the cooking is masterful. If you're talking precise use of techniques, then yes, it's there and then some. By no means is Coi a "concept" restaurant (urgh) but they certainly have a philosophy and it happens to be a great one.

* I later found that Coi's restaurant manager looked me up on LinkedIn - I don't know if that had anything do to with the extra free tastes of alcohol and getting to meet the chef (albeit briefly, and largely unbeknownst to me at the time because I didn't do my research on what the chef looks like! I am on holiday after all!

P.S. I do apologise about the (lack of) white balance. The rest of the photos from the trip should be better given that I can actually sleep at night now.

Coi Restaurant
373 Broadway
San Francisco
California CA 94133
United States of America
+1 415 393 9000
Open: dinner Wed-Sat

View e_ting in San Francisco in a larger map


  1. How out of touch am I? I missed that you had gone freelance and that you were travelling in the US. I was just in Miami, on my way back from Mexico.

    Great piece by the way. look forward to reading about your other Stateside adventures.

  2. I must have missed your tweets... New beginning! Good luck . Wish you success in your new life. Hope you will still be writing on food so we can continue to learn more from you.
    Looking for more posts on LV food. Hope there is more than casinos buffets stuff (I recall a family trip 15 years ago... Fun but no gourmet at all ). Lol