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A New Voice for Californian Cuisine - Review by Avery G | Coi


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A New Voice for Californian Cuisine 4/29/2006

When I first saw mention of Coi in the Gayot SF News section, I was intrigued. Daniel Patterson (of Frisson and Elisabeth Daniel) had thrown down the gauntlet that California Cuisine hadn't fully evolved past what Alice Waters was doing decades ago at Chez Panisse - and to a large part, I agree. The Chez Panisse era of "California Cuisine" took its inspiration from Southern Europe - playing with French and Italian flavors and combining them with the abundant fresh food products available in the Bay Area to create something unique. Since then, this style of cooking has become rote... and boring. In the Bay Area today, flavors are bold and heavily influenced more by Latin and Asian sensibilities than Italian, and you're more likely to find North African infused Spanish than French. When you do find French, chances are it leans more towards Basque than classic Gallic Parisian. As Bob said, "The times, they are a-changin'" and it's time to challenge everybody who thinks that Chez Panisse sits in the center of the Northern Californian solar system. Enter Coi. Tonight was the soft launch of Coi - and I think that my wife and I might have been the only non-industry folks in the restaurant. So, as you read this review, take into consideration that it was their first night of real operation. I spent many an afternoon in Coi back when it was Great Water, but honestly, as I was sitting in the tiny dining room (and I mean tiny - 30 people maximum could fit back there, and it would be really cramped), I couldn't even imagine how that bar (which was unchanged from the older Bierhaus days) could be transformed into something like this. With soft ambient music, rich chocolate walls and an abundance of texture ranging from the horizontal weave of the wall coverings to the beautiful diamond embossed tablecloths, it woke the senses up. Tonight, the choice was simple - the four course tasting menu, which was the only thing available. The meal started with an amuse bouche (whose contents escape me) followed by an exceptional pre-appetizer avocado panna cotta - delicate citrusy avocado served next to creme fraiche and topped with black caviar. The balance of flavor was perfect, and the caviar, which is typically not a favorite of mine, was fantastic. The first of my ordered courses was the Crisp Pig's Feet - which was a cross between southern trotters and a Japanese korokke, or croquette. The flavor was rich and gelatiny, and the accompanying frisee with bacon vinaigrette was just superb, but I am a big fan of bacon vinaigrettes. If you're not into trotters, which can really be an acquired taste, there were two other options. One small detail point, trotters are very hard to make, as they require so much attention to convert all of the connective tissue into tasty gelatin, and occasionally, you'll get a small piece of gristle. In this large appeitzer, I only got one small piece the size of a pin head, which shows the kitchen's skill in preparing the trotters, but if you hate getting any gristle like this in your food, skip this and pick something else. The trotters were followed by the monkfish, served in a beautiful black pepper and yuzu (a Japanese citrus) broth with a little chinese broccoli (like rapini or broccoli rabe). Monkfish can have a funky texture if prepared improperly, but in this case, it was quite exceptional. The third ordered course was quail, deboned, flattened, covered with a "crepinette" and sliced into three long strips. It's hard to imagine it, but you can see that this was certainly a nod of the head towards the great fried poultry dishes of the world ranging from southern fried chicken to Japanese chicken kara-age... and the accompanying roasted endive and olive tapenade were perfect accompanyments. One small point, during the deboning, a small piece of a socket joint was left in the meat, so there was a moment of casual dabbing of the lips and expelling the offending piece into my napkin. Not what I expected, but I'm willing to let slide this once. This was followed by a palate cleanser of ginger sorbet with a rhubarb-mint sauce, topped with cilantro. The experience was just perfect, ranging from the texture of the sorbet, the flavor of the sauce all the way down to the fact that the bowls were chilled to ensure that the sorbet would remain solid while you finished the dish. The dessert I chose was my biggest risk - a date terrine with Vietnamese iced coffee gelato. The risk paid off - a warm spicy cake with a gelato that could stand up to the best in Italy (don't lose that pastry chef)! As we concluded the meal with a press-pot of Cafe Trieste, Daniel himself came out to thank us, as he did with every table. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, the meal was great and the 5th star is certainly within reach. more
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