Coi (SF) – Confused Identity
Daniel Patterson, the executive chef of Coi, fired up the Bay Area dining scene by lambasting the hoards of chefs that merely follow the footsteps of the holiest of figures – Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame. These are also the same people who were up in arms after Michelin gave the Bay Area one three star restaurant – The French Laundry. Does a world class dining experience depend on the ingredients? Absolutely. Do they make the cuisine? Rarely.
Sadly, Patterson is right and Michelin was too. I live in the Bay Area but only spend 1/4 of my dining dollars here – and most of those go to Manresa or Sawa. The Bay Area is a great casual dining area, blessed by impeccable year-round ingredients. However, there’s a severe dearth of world class restaurants – and if you think the Ritz Dining Room, La Folie, Cyrus, Michael Mina, or Gary Danko are world-class, you’re fooling yourself.
Most Bay Area chefs over-rely on the ingredients – no one seems to have the ambition, or skill, to tweak the ingredients and make them even better ala Michel Bras or Manresa.
Would Coi compete on a national level? Could it help fill the creative void left by Daniel Humm of Campton Place?
Unfortunately, the cuisine did not have a cohesiveness. Some dishes were on the minimal side ala Manresa; others crossed into some strange fusion territory; and some were a bit more classical in style. There were also some execution errors but I understand the chef was out of town; however, the tasting menu hasn’t changed much so the kitchen should be proficient with its execution. That said, it’s still one of the better offerings for the city if you want something a touch more than nice vegetables and meats you could buy at the farmer’s market.
The menu reads like WD-50 – ingredients but no preparation cues.
1. Pink Grapefruit, ginger, tarragon, black pepper
This was acidic, but smooth, a decent balance. The pepper/grapefruit was on point; of course, I’ve been dousing my own oranges w/ judicious amounts of pepper lately. The foam (presumably ginger and some grapefruit combination) added some texture. There was a dab of fragrance that was meant to enhance the eating experience – I agree with the theory but I’ve yet to find this executed well. Nonetheless, Patterson has written a book on the matter, unlike most chefs. Very Good.
2. California Osetra Caviar, sautéed bone marrow, beet gelée
A decadent combination – the saltiness of the caviar initially cut the richness of the marrow with the beets cutting it again – I’m assuming they were treated with some acidic ingredient. The brightness of the beets prevented the dish from being perfectly balanced but a nice combination nonetheless. Very Good.
3. Sea Breem Sashimi, white soy, yuzu, chives
Simplicity at its finest – best dish of the night. This was a Manresa-quality dish – perfect fish with the ingredients just ever so slightly elevating the fish without overpowering it. Ironically, this was not your typical SF-ingredients-first experience; this was craftmanship at its finest. Very Good.
4. Soft Cooked Egg Yolk, spicy onion relish, bacon, parmesan foam
It had potential but my egg was severely overcooked on the bottom. Nonetheless, the parmesan foam overpowered much of the dish; a good flavor, but an overpowering one. Ok.
5. Turnip-Apple Soup, black tea, shiso
The flavors were not integrated well – the turnip’s bitterness dominated the dish. This was poured table-side but my dish looked nothing like my friend’s dish. The tiny pieces of apple enhanced the flavor, but the 4 small pieces were not nearly enough. Good.
6. Yuba ‘Papardelle’, coconut milk, curry spices
This was a conflicting dish. The yuba papardelle was expertly done – it still had a noticeable tofu texture but somehow passed off as papardelle when eaten by the fork-ful. For this sensation, I liked it quite a bit. However, it was just served w/ coconut milk and curry spices – rather plain and they did nothing to elevate the dish. As a result, the dish came off as one-dimensional where the coconut milk dominated. Good but it could have been something very special.
7. Hokkaido Scallop wrapped in its Mousseline, butter poached oyster, peppercress sauce
Where the sea bream took on a Manresa minimalism, this dish tried the Gagnaire approach. The mousseline detracted from the delicious scallop (a large fresh specimen that was cooked quite nicely.) Its flavor added nothing and the texture diverted one’s focus from the pristine scallop. The peppercress gave it some dimension but it was yet another flavor thrown into the mix. The oyster would not win any award and it should have been left out. Ok.
8. Roasted Squab endive, sauce of hibiscus, foie gras and vanilla
The sauce had a richness that teased your mouth until the (again, nicely cooked) squab kicked in. There was a chocolate-like taste in the middle that I couldn’t pin down, with the foie looming in the background. The presentation was a mess. Nonetheless, a fine piece of meat. Good.
9. Panna Cotta
No explanation, nutty, quite salty, not too sweet. Very Good.
10. Blood Orange Soda w/ Gin Gelee
Far better than the Cyrus sodas, intense orange taste w/ the salty carbonation but a nice amount of sweetness. Very Good.
11. Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream w/ Kumquats
Good, nothing spectacular.
What is the chef trying to accomplish? The dishes were all over the board from Manresa minimalism to Jean Georges’s sense of fusion. There was no discernable thread that connected all of the dishes – they hop from one style to the next. The food needs an editor – someone to pare down the ingredients and flavors – someone who can pull out the unrealized potential.
Others have liked it more – I would give it another shot but I would make sure the chef knew I was coming.
Official Site: http://www.coirestaurant.com/index.html