Coi – North Beach, San Francisco

Time: Saturday. July 26, 2014. 6:00 PM. Reservation.
Address: 373 Broadway St
Website: coirestaurant.com
Cuisine:  American (new)
Party Size:  2 (M&V)
Order:  3 glasses of wine, 2 tasting menu
Cost: $580 [$452 food & drink; $47 tax; $81 service charge]
Verdict:  Heard mixed reviews going in, have positive thoughts going out.

Coi (pronounced KWA, not like the fish) is one of the restaurants that shows up on just about every “best of SF list” that is published.  The chef, Daniel Patterson, is carries a number of prestigious awards (including best new chef and chef of the year, to name a few).  Coi has been awarded two Michelin stars which is not something handed out lightly.  With all these positive indicators from so-called experts, it was a surprise to hear that just about every person who had eaten at Coi had a less than stellar experience. The two didn’t add up. We sided with the critics and made the decision to dine at Coi and I will just start out by saying critics 1; friends 0. From the first step in the door, the Michelin level service begins. Before jumping into the courses, here are the five small touches that made the service stand out:

  • Someone recognized I was headed towards the restroom and jumped ahead to open the door for me
  • Speaking of the restroom, on each trip you come back to a fresh napkin (not your old napkin refolded)
  • I dropped a fork and instinctively picked it up (the room was empty so I thought no one noticed me grab it) and before I could ask for a replacement, a new one was delivered
  • After noticing the service level, I put it to the test. I timed the period between when I finished my first glass of wine to when I would be offered the next: 30 seconds.
  • The waitress who returned the bill/credit slip thanked me by name

So with all that build up, on to the experience. Coi is situated in a location is that is a sharp contrast to some of its neighboring businesses. Not far from the Columbus/Broadway intersection, you are likely to pass a number of adult entertainment venues en route.  The entrance to Coi has a modern, earthy feel against it’s concrete heavy surroundings. coi_exterior The waiting area is tranquil albeit short lived.  We were escorted to our table almost immediately after a short time away to confirm our reservation details. coi_entrance   The official menu for the night listed eight courses that the chef supplemented with an additional five treats as well as two different house made breads. California Bowl; puffed rice cake, avocado spread coi_puffed_riceThis was a light and airy start to the meal.  With a slightly burnt flavor, it tasted like the best rice cracker of my life Sno-cone; plum ice, black lime coi_sno_cone A palate cleanser – light in flavor and cool on the tongue.   The bowl was chilled to prevent any possibility of melting. California Sturgeon Caviar; smoked egg yolk, creme fraiche, chives coi_caviar_egg   I raved about this the entire meal.  The egg yolk was cooked to a perfect gelatinous center, when broken into no runny center escaped. The smokiness was strong but not overpowering. Seared Spot Prawn; watermelon, cucumber, opal basil coi_prawnThe prawn was almost lobster like in texture.  The basil leaves added a Thai touch. Cherry Tomatoes; puree of grilled zucchini and wheatgrass, herbs and flowers coi_tomatoesIt is no secret that tomatoes are not my favorite, mostly because the store bought variety have little quality.  These little gems were fantastic.  The skin was removed and they were prepared in a tomato vinaigrette.  The flowers added to a lovely presentation.  I wish there were more than six! Chilled, Spiced Eggplant Soup; pole beans, charred okra, fermented chile, flowering cilantro coi_eggplant_soup The eggplant soup was poured over the dish table side.  The spice referenced in the name was curry centric and delicious.  This also received the chilled bowl treatment. Wild King Salmon; crayfish bordelaise, lovage, fennel pollen coi_salmonThe salmon was easy to cut and showed no signed of being about to flake apart. Steamed Shiitake-Potato Dumpling; mushroom dashi, brown butter, tatsoi coi_shitake_dumpling1 coi_shitake_dumpling2 When reviewing the initial menu, this dish caught my attention.  The layering of the potato and mushroom created a delicate flavor balance.  Another dish I could have continued to eat. Emigh Ranch Lamb; chard leaves and stems, garum, rosemary coi_lambThe blurry picture does not do this justice.  The lamb was mouthwatering, from the meat down to the fat.  The greens on the side mixed nicely with the jus (also poured table side). Bread coi_bread1 coi_bread2   The breads were made in house, as was the butter, and is accompanied by some large salt crystals.  The second picture is a sunflower seed loaf. Wine:  Domaine du Clomobier – Cuvee Gaby Crozes-Hermitage 2010 coi_syrahThis Rhone region Syrah from the ‘by the glass’ menu was a treat.  Peppery, spicy and served at cellar temperature.  I am on a mission to track down bottles for myself. Here begins the dessert courses. Coconut Mochi Bun; kiwi, shiso coi_mochi_taco   This unique mochi taco was a fun course.  The mochi was thin and chewy. Ha’ogen Melon; olive oil, holy basil coi_melon Probably my least favorite of the dishes, the melon didn’t carry much flavor.  The sorbet and olive oil were a nice compliment to each other and reminded me of Humphrey Slocombe. Blueberries and Violet; vanilla cake, whipped fromage blanc coi_blueberryA brilliant dessert.  The cake on top was brittle, cracking with the slightest touch.  The blueberries were tart, the blueberry sauce was sweet and the powdered blueberries added some color to the white cake. Frozen Dark Chocolate – Yuzu Marshmallow coi_yuzu_marshmallowBitter dark chocolate mixed with the citrusy marshmallow inside; a nice end to the session. After our evening dining, I wonder why our friends all had such strong and mostly negative things to say about Coi.  We felt the the food quality and service levels were worthy of the hype and awards. Maybe getting into a discussion of perceived value could have an impact on the experience but our favorable experience would put Coi on the list of anyone rolling through the SF fine dining circuit.

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