homage series: michel bras

•March 28, 2010 • 6 Comments

I’ve been trying to go to Mission Street Food for several months now and, for some reason or another, have not been able to make it. However, when they decided to kick off a series as an homage to some of the world’s most influential chefs with Michel Bras, I decided to make it, once and for all.

Michel’s restaurant in Laguiole, France is currently ensconced at seventh place in Restaurant Magazine’s 50 Best Restaurants in the World. His dish, Gargouillou, has inspired current culinary giants like David Kinch of Manresa and Andoni Aduriz of Mugaritz. A version of this dish appears in this homage.

Now what is Mission Street Food? It is a non-profit charitable organization that donates the proceeds to feed the hungry. Anthony Myint takes over Lung Shan restaurant on Thursday and Saturday every week and offer incredibly good food at affordable prices. In fact, they are currently looking for backers so that they can open a full-time charitable restaurant.

Lung Shan

To begin, you make your way into the Mission at 18th Street at this restaurant that can best be described as a Chinese dinette. The walls are plastered with what looks like very colorful Communist propaganda posters. If you happen to be a party of two, you may have to share your 4-top with another couple (which happened to us!). Don’t be alarmed as you may be seated with people who would have the same interests in food that you do and may someday be good dining partners in the future.

Because we made the decision to eat here at 4:30pm (our reservation was at 6:00pm), we didn’t have time to bring wine and partake of the $5 corkage fee. We just went with the cocktails that they offer, which turned out to be quite good.

Thus, we ordered the Grey Album and the Blueberry-Acai Soju cocktail while we wait for our meals. And for our dinner, we ordered EVERYTHING off the menu to share.

The Grey Album

The Grey Album is their version of a Black-and-Tan: one pint of Boddington’s Pub Ale and one pint of Olde English 800 malt liquor mixed into a plastic takeout container. Absolutely surreal. My cocktail of choice, the Blueberry-Acai Soju cocktail, is more in keeping with this homage. But then again, with these surroundings, one can say that the Grey Album served in a plastic container would be the better choice.

Blueberry-Acai Soju Cocktail

The first dish was very promising: creamed egg with beluga lentils, creme fraiche, allium bouillon, and brioche. The allium bouillon mixed with the creamy soft poached egg takes on a wonderful creamy soup.

Creamed Egg

I had to hesitate to order the next dish. First, because it is named after the Chinese dinette that we’re in and because well, it’s vegan. It’s also the one dish that is not part of the Michel Bras homage. I’m glad we ordered it. The Lung Shan Vegetable Delight is a miso soup with dumplings encased in wonderful earthy shiitake and oyster mushrooms.

Lung Shan Vegetable Delight

The next course is the course that has inspired many a chefs, the Gargouillou. Those who know me know that I am a meat kind of person, so it is more than a stretch that this vegetable dish would be something that I would become very passionate about. Thus far, I’ve tried different versions of this vegetable concoction, at Manresa and most notably at Saison here in San Francisco, where we sat in the kitchen as part of the Chef’s table and watch them make a Gargouillou over an hour and a half using over 20 different vegetables. In this version, there are a variety of vegetables beautifully plated with herbs and seeds.

Gargouillou

Three Spoons is exactly that, three spoons each with a different bite-sized treat. This version of another Bras classic includes a spoon for the artichoke puree, one for the fresh scallop with clam essence, and another for aspic made from beef consomme. Yes, that amber filling one spoon is solid and not liquid.

Three Spoons

The Roasted Beet is my second favorite (after the Gargouillou). The roasted beet is served here with goat cheese made personally by the chef, olive soil, and miner’s lettuce. The olive soil was made by frying chopped olives with some sugar to make them look like soil. The crunchiness of the olives combined with some sweetness imparted by the sugar makes for a wonderful combination. The miner’s lettuce, or winter purslane, adds some kick and additional complexity to the beet.

Roasted Beet

At this point, other then a spoonful of the scallop with clam essence, we really have not had what one can call a ‘meat’ dish. In this course, local halibut is poached and served with pearl barley, asparagus, rau ram, and sea urchin foam. I would have to say that the sea urchin foam makes this dish!

Poached Local Halibut

The Seared Foie Gras is served with pickled rhubarb, braised walnuts, and tarragon. A definite winner, but I really wish I had a nice glass of Sauternes to go with this. That would make this one PERFECT!

Seared Foie Gras

For the cheese course, we get two types of cheeses from France: Comte from the Jura mountains and creamy Brillat Savarin from Normandy. These were served with chef-churned butter, local greens, pear, and artisanal bread.

Cheese Course

For dessert, we had Wheat Crisp and Jersey Ricotta with Chestnut Honey, or otherwise known as glorified Rice Krispie Treats. For me, this was the weakest of the lot. They really would’ve earned extra points if they take this homage to the limit and offered a version of the molten chocolate cake, another of Michel Bras’s inventions.

Wheat Crisp and Jersey Ricotta with Chestnut Honey

At the end, I now look forward to Thursdays just to see who Anthony Myint will honor next.

UPDATE: Just got a comment from Anthony Myint, and so I would like to correct some, ahem, misinformation. Thanks, Anthony!

  1. We are not a non-profit. We just run a business and then donate our profits to local hunger related charities (or at least we had been doing so for about 15 months). Currently though, we are turning our profits towards opening a full-time restaurant.
  2. I cook at Mission Street Food, but in some respects, I am more like a producer and food consultant than chef. The backbone of the homage series is Danny Bowien and Ian Muntzert.
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foodie bits: how to get into momofuku ko

•March 11, 2010 • Leave a Comment

David Chang’s Momofuku Ko is arguably one of the best restaurants in the country. It also has the most democratic reservation system. Nobody here has preferential treatment. Everyone is on equal footing when it comes to procuring one of 12 seats at the bar.

So how does their reservation system work? Everything is done online, so you are at the mercy of your internet connection and all who want a reservation are on equal footing, based on how their browser quickly refreshes. Go to their website and sign up for an account. Once you’ve open an account, you are ready to try for the reservation.

There is a very short timeline and reservations open up six days before the day you want. It’s especially difficult for us who live in the West Coast who want to eat there, because we can’t always fly to New York each time we get a reservation at Momofuku Ko.

At any rate, six days before your intended date, go to the Momofuku reservation site at 9:56am ET. It will show you Momofuku’s internal clock. Momofuku opens up the reservations at exactly 10:00am according to its internal clock on a revolving 7-day period, but because you are at the mercy of their clock, you need to stand by at the site at least 4 minutes ahead. At around 9:58am, start clicking on the “press here” button. This will give you practice until the site actually opens up. It will not advance to the next screen until they open up the reservation.

Once you finally get in, you need to immediately decide on either lunch or dinner and the number of people in your party. You can choose between 1, 2 or 4, that’s it! The next screen is the specific time you want. A “check” means it’s available, an “X” means it’s booked. I find that picking either 6:50pm or 10:00pm increases your chances tremendously. Remember that you are competing heavily with other people who are trying to get reservations as well. In fact, while I was making the screen shots for this blog, I was able to get a reservation for 2 at 6:50pm, but had to decline it.

That pretty much is all the knowledge I can impart on you. It just takes perseverance and patience. Once you get a reservation, however, the experience is well worth the effort. Dinner at Momofuku Ko is something you won’t soon forget, even though it is all in memory since they do not allow pictures!

foodie bits: how to get a reservation at french laundry

•March 11, 2010 • 5 Comments

This is the first of my entries where I will give some valuable tips and tidbits in the world we know as foodieplanet!

How to get a reservation at French Laundry

Used to be that the only way you can get into French Laundry was if you know a friend of a friend who knows someone within its hallowed halls. However, this changed with the advent of the online reservation site, opentable.com. Now, us mere mortals can actually have an equal shot at getting a reservation as those with connections. This, however, requires careful planning and an understanding of how the French Laundry reservation system actually works.

French Laundry releases their tables exactly 60 days in advance. So, for example, if you need a reservation for dinner on April 15, you need to contact French Laundry on February 15, either by phone or through Open Table. Chances are, however, that by the time you call or visit the site all the tables have been fully committed.

If you go the Open Table route, there are several things to think about and consider:

  • Only two tables are opened up for Open Table per night.
  • The reservation can only be made for a table of 4.
  • You should like eating at 5:30pm or 9:30pm as those are the only times available through Open Table.

Once you’ve agreed to all these and decided on the date, you then go to the Open Table site exactly 61 days before that date at approximately 11:45pm PT. eHow actually has given the best instructions on what steps to use within Open Table.

While the Open Table route seems easy, there is even an easier way, and it’s fairly painless. Of course, I saved the best and easiest way for last! All this tip requires is an American Express Gold or Platinum card (or a very close friend who owns one!). At any time more than 60 days (it can even be 90 days in advance) from your desired date, call Concierge at American Express and ask them to make a reservation at French Laundry for you. Through this service, you are not limited to the size of your party or to a specific time.

Concierge at American Express actually has a person dedicated to just procuring reservations at French Laundry. They will note the desired date of your reservation into their system and will make the reservation for you exactly 60 days in advance. They will then call you once they have confirmed the reservation. While nothing is guaranteed, I have yet to not get a reservation using this system. So there you have it! Good luck and happy eating!

Upcoming foodie bits:

  • How to get into Momofuku Ko
  • How to increase your chances in the El Bulli lottery
  • Best way to order the roasted chicken at Zuni
  • Cheapest way to have the lobster pot pie at Michael Mina
  • Best way to eat at Sebo

reminiscing el bulli

•March 9, 2010 • 2 Comments

With Ferran Adria’s announcement that he plans to close the venerable El Bulli after the 2011 season, I begin to wax rhapsodic about my dinner there 3 years ago on July 16, 2007.  Just getting reservation there is a feat unto itself, especially one for 6 people.

Every year, two million people try to procure one of approximately 8,000 seats in the restaurant. So getting a reservation in what Restaurant Magazine has deemed “the best restaurant in the world” is indeed a momentous occasion. That we are able to get the reservation on the first try is quite an accomplishment.

As we enter the doors of El Bulli, the maitre d’ welcomes us and asks if we would like to take a tour of kitchen. How on earth can we turn down that offer? He was soon leading us into the stainless steel kitchen that seems out of place in the rustic setting of the restaurant. And there he was: the man who is responsible for this movement now known as “molecular gastronomy.” Ferran Adria was there to greet each and everyone of us and show off this amazing kitchen which looks more like a laboratory than anything else. Frankly, I was too busy taking pictures to even hear what everyone was saying. I was also in awe of that kitchen and of the man himself.

Ferran Adria Talks to Us in the Kitchen

Some friends have accused me that I went into El Bulli already liking the food without having tasted a single morsel. But when you schedule your vacation around a single restaurant reservation and travel halfway around the world just to eat one meal, a lot is at stake! It is one thing to drive an hour up to Napa to eat at French Laundry and not be impressed; it’s another to fly 6,000 miles to Spain in the middle of summer and have a flop of a dinner.

Chefs and Cooks at Work in the Kitchen

If getting to the restaurant would be portents of things to come, then already this dinner was starting to not look good. You see, before we even left from the US, everything had been planned including specific directions to the restaurant itself. While El Bulli is in the town of Roses, the restaurant itself is located 7 kilometers through a winding road within a national park on Cala Montjoi. And if you are not completely sure, after about halfway through the road, you wonder whether you are going the right way. We actually had to go back into town to ask whether this was the right road. Thank goodness we gave enough leeway to get to the restaurant at the appropriate time.

The Dining Room at El Bulli

Back at the restaurant, our party of 6 are soon escorted to our table. We notice that the restaurant can probably seat about 100 people at any one time, but they have thoughtfully given the diners enough breathing room so as not to feel cramped. During Anthony Bourdain’s visit to El Bulli as shown in his show “No Reservation,” it was mentioned that the restaurant seats about 50 diners at any one time, the same number as the cooks/chefs in the kitchen. Truly, a very high customer-to-cook ratio.

Chefs/Cooks at the Kitchen

It was soon very apparent that it is important to have an open mind when dining at El Bulli. This is probably the definitive dinner for the ultimate foodie, so you might as well check your preconceived notions of food at the door. So if you are one of the lucky few per year who were able to get a reservation, it would be to your best interest that you pick the right people to go there with: do not bring French traditionalists; those who do not like small plates; those who don’t like many courses; those who are not open to trying new things; or those not into any sort of fusion cuisine.

Here then is my assessment of our memorable evening at El Bulli, for all 30 courses. Thankfully, I’m happy to say that the experience definitely surpassed all my already high expectations.

Gin Fizz – Dinner begins with a welcome aperitif. For the four of us at the table who drink, we get gin fizz. The two non-drinkers get virgin pina coladas. A gin fizz is a cocktail made of gin, orange water, egg whites, cream, sugar, and lime and lemon juice. In this case, however, the gin is cold while the warm cream mixture of egg whites and cream sits in the middle of the martini glass. Oddly, the cold remains cold and warm cream remains warm until you sip it in your mouth. Really fascinating.

Gin Fizz

Spherical Olives – Our waitress comes to our table with a jar of what looks like olives in olive oil. She then takes these spoons with snubs for a holder and then fishes out orbs of “olives.” You are instructed that these should be taken in one bite. And in one bite, you discover that the “olives” are really olives in liquid form, but not olive oil. The liquid is kept intact by a film, not unlike that which covers an egg yolk.

Spherical Olives

LYO Fruits – LYO is short for lyophilized. What we got are sticks that look like pale French fries. They are in fact lyophilized, or freeze-dried, pineapple sticks.

LYO Fruits

Golden Nuggets – These nuggets that look like they are made of gold are actually parmesan cheese coated with an egg mixture that make them look like gold nuggets. Wonderful!

Golden Nuggets

Beetroot and Yoghurt Meringue – If you don’t like beets, then this probably won’t be the best dish on the menu for you. I, for one, love beets and found these pillows made with beets encased in meringue really fantastic.

Beetroot and Yoghurt Meringue

Salty “Catanias” – Something was probably lost in translation, because the waitress called them chestnuts. They taste like chestnuts dipped in salted chocolate. But the menu had the catalan word for chestnuts, “catanias”, in quotes. Hmmm! Now I wonder if they are really chestnuts.

Salty "Catanias"

Salty Chocolate with Cassis, Yoghurt and Pistachio – This course is interesting, because you would expect the chocolates to be served at the end of the meal. But somehow the salty chocolates, each flavored with cassis, yoghurt and pistachio, work early in the meal.

Salty Chocolates

Tangerine Bonbons, Peanut and Curry Wafers – We were told to eat the bonbons in two bites. These bonbons, each topped with solid gold flakes, are filled with tangerine liquid. The peanut and curry wafers are a bit disconcerting, however. What you would expect to be sweet is really quite savory and taste like something you would expect at a Thai Restaurant.

Tangerine Bonbons, Peanut and Curry Wafers

Pistachio Sponge Cake with Acid Milk Mousse – When we get the next 5 courses, we know that Ferran is really changing our preconceptions on food. Dessert is not in the order it is supposed to be in the menu. Or is this supposed to be dessert? The acid milk mousse looks and tastes like creme fraiche and is spooned on top of a wonderful cupcake-sized pistachio sponge cake.

Pistachio Sponge Cake with Acid Milk Mousse

Yemitas – A yema is a sweet concoction made with milk and egg yolks. These yemitas are small versions of yemas you fish out of a tray of maltodextrin. They taste like sweet creamy hard custard. You know that when a waitress brings out a tray of maltodextrin, you are not in just any restaurant. This is very otherworldly.

Yemitas

Sesame Sponge Cake with Miso – The sesame sponge cake looks like a sea urchin. They are made with black sesame seeds and taste sweet and salty at the same time but are quite light.

Sesame Sponge Cake with Miso

Raspberry Fondant and Raspberry Vinegar – If I were to rate all the courses, this would definitely be in the top five. Raspberries have been freeze-dried and topped with wasabi and dipped in powdered sugar (maltodextrin, perhaps?). They are then served with a spoonful of raspberry vinegar. You are supposed to pop the raspberry in your mouth and then immediately follow it with the vinegar. As soon as the sweet vinegar hits the raspberry, the fruit reconstitutes. The taste is incredible with a combination of sweet, sour, and spicy.

Raspberry Fondant and Raspberry Vinegar

Tiger Nut Milk Flowers – A tigernut, or chufa in Spanish, is a tuber that has a sweet nutty flavor. Here they are served in as tarts and has the consistency and taste of pecan pies.

Tiger Milk Nut Flowers

Mussels with Lemon and Fennel – Eating shellfish in months with no “R” would give some people hesitation, and these are raw mussels we are talking about. But wow! The mussels are fresh as can be and are served with 3 different “sauces”: lemon, orange, and fennel. The “sauce” is actually a small dollop of white liquid served at the top of each mussel.

Mussels with Lemon and Fennel

Haricot Beans with Joselito’s Iberian Pork Fat – Another of one of my favorite dishes. Haricot beans are liquefied and encased in a thin slice of Iberico ham fat. As you bite into the ham fat, the salty flavor of the ham mixes with the bean liquid (yes, liquid!) for an amazingly fresh taste of pork and beans without the heaviness.

Haricot Beans with Joselito's Iberian Pork Fat

Parmesan Frozen Air with Muesli – Then here it is! The style that put Ferran Adria on the culinary map: AIR! I’ve seen it on television and now here it is being served in front of me. The air comes in a styrofoam container the size of a Kleenex box and wrapped in a paper labeled “elBulliaire”. It also comes with a hermetically sealed cellophane envelope filled with “elBullisnacks”, freeze-dried fruits and nuts. When you open the styrofoam container, all you see are bubbles. You then sprinkle the dried fruits and nuts over the bubbles. A warning was also given not to inhale when you put the spoonful of bubbles in your mouth. So what does it taste like? PARMESAN! The pure taste of the parmesan without the calories. Interestingly enough, you start to feel full halfway through the container, even though all you’ve really had is air. Well, air and a bit of the snacks.

Parmesan Frozen Air with Muesli

Mar y Montaña (Anchovy and Ham with Yoghurt Yuba) – Yuba, known as tofu skin or dried beancurd, is the film that results when you boil soy milk on a shallow pan. Here the yuba is made from yoghurt and is served as part of Ferran Adria’s rendition of a Catalan classic, theMar y Montaña, literally Sea and Mountain or Surf and Turf. The anchovy represents the sea and is deboned and fresh; Mountain is represented by Iberico ham that has been pulverized. Why pulverize Iberico ham is beyond me, but I guess it’s because you can!

Mar y Montaña

Gorgonzola Shell, Walnut, Celery, and Apples – I wish I was able to take a picture of this dish after I had cracked the gorgonzola shell. What you get is a deconstructed Waldorf salad presented in a beautiful white dome made from gorgonzola cheese.

Gorgonzola Shell, Walnut, Celery, and Apples

“Risotto” of Citrics – I feel sorry for the intern cook who was given the task of making this “risotto,” another of the quote-unquote foodstuffs in the menu. It really isn’t risotto; it is grapefruit pulp which gives one the impression of pink risotto. So someone was given the task of opening each section of a grapefruit and carefully preserving the pulp so that they are intact and not popped. They are then served with a peanut sauce and yoghurt cream. Very interesting combination.

"Risotto" of Citrics

Gnocchi of Polenta with Coffee and Saffron Yuba – Traditionally, gnocchis are made from potatoes. Of course, that is much too plain and easy, so polenta (cornmeal) takes the place of the potato and are made into these creamy dumplings. They are served with coffee shavings and saffron yuba.

Gnocchi of Polenta with Coffee and Saffron Yuba

Padrón Ravioli – Padrón peppers are small green peppers that come from the town of Padrón in Galicia, Spain. The seeds collected and are used as filling for the raviolis that are made from the peppers.

Padrón Ravioli

Razor Clams with Seaweed – This was the first time I’ve ever tried razor clams. They are served here fresh with sea beans. I love the flavor and the texture of the clams in its purest form, without any flavoring, just the flavor of the sea.

Razor Clams with Seaweed

Snails “a la Llauna” – I had to google what llauna means. It means tin, as in tin can. While a la llauna is the one that is in quotes in the menu, it really should be the word “snails” that should be in quotes. These are really snail EGGS served in a tin container, or snail caviar. Once you get over the fact that they are snail eggs, you will notice that they really taste like caviar with the consistency of very small tapioca pearls.

Snails "a la Llauna"

Sea Cucumbers with “Roes” – Sea Lettuce and Salicornia – This is, down pat, my favorite course out of the 30 courses. The sea cucumbers come white, not at all like the gelatinous sea cucumbers that is a staple at Chinese banquets. For one thing, the consistency is not jelly-like and more meaty. I don’t know how they do it, but the cukes are then stuffed with calyx roe. As you cut into the cucumber, the golden roe spills out onto the plate. With the sea lettuce and salicornia, the taste is just seafood heaven.

Sea Cucumbers with "Roes" - Sea Lettuce and Salicornia

Lamb Tail with Yoghurt, Cantonese Style – The lamb tail is braised and served deboned with yoghurt gelee and yoghurt foam and squash blossoms. The lamb is not at all gamey with delicate flavors which combines with the acidity of the yoghurt.

Lamb Tail with Yoghurt, Cantonese Style

Poached Apple with Hare Jus – Apple is poached and a hunter sauce made from hare is poured over it. Poaching the apple gives it a translucency and with the hare jus, a very earthy taste. Very nice!

Poached Apple with Hare Jus

The Wool 2007 – Because the menu includes the year, I guess that every year there is a different type of wool. In that case, this year, the wool is included in dessert. It is actually cotton candy made from maltodextrin (there goes that maltodextrin again!). Under the wool is dessert made with bananas, cold cream, and coffee sauce. Of all the desserts, this was my favorite. In fact, this dessert was so liked by one member of our table that he finished his plate before the other plates were placed in front of the rest of us. No kidding!

The Wool 2007

Sweet Frost Fruits – Warm blackberries are encased in meringue. This comes with a plastic pipette filled with blackberry liqueur.

Sweet Frost Fruits

Mango with Black Olives and Smoking Tea – A meringue pastry is piped with passionfruit hard sauce and mango cream. A pool of mango sauce with chopped black olives also comes on the dish. Another personal favorite, this dessert is revelatory because who would think that black olives would go well as part of dessert. Fantastic!

Mango with Black Olives and Smoking Tea

Morphings – Morphings come in the form of chocolate wafers, chocolate pyramids, and something called Strawberries and Pearls. Stawberries are dipped in powdered sugar (maltodextrin, perhaps?) and a “pearl” is placed carefully where the stems would be. The “pearl,” like the spherical olives, is soft and is filled with white balsamic vinegar. While in the raspberry fondant, you chase the raspberry with the vinegar. Here, the vinegar comes directly with the bite of the sweet strawberry. What you get is the taste of macerated strawberries without it being cloyingly sweet.

Strawberries and Pearls

Chocolate Wafers

Chocolate Pyramid

So there you have it, our El Bulli experience! Dinner ended at approximately 1am, about 5 hours after it started. One comment though is that with all the sensory overload, the staff does not give you a breather. You really have to ask for it. Halfway through the dinner, we had to force them to give us a break. This was given to us just before the lamb dish, so that we can enjoy the wonderful nighttime and the Mediterranean air.

Restaurant: El Bulli
Address: Cala Montjoi, Roses, Spain
Phone: 972 15 04 57‎
Date of Dinner: July 16, 2007
Other Details: 3 Michelin Stars, 2010 Best Restaurant in the World (Restaurant Magazine)

first coi dinner – 2007

•March 9, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Below is what I wrote about my first dinner at Coi for my birthday in 2007. I left it as it was written 3 years ago.


Coi isn’t a misspelled Japanese fish. Coi, pronounced “kwä,” is actually an archaic French word meaning calm and is the root etymology for the English word “coy.” It is also the latest offering of Daniel Patterson, he of Elisabeth Daniel fame and is the closest San Francisco has gotten to molecular gastronomy.

Coi's Valencia Orange

Located on Broadway and Montgomery, the first impression you get as you walk into the very serene surroundings of the lounge is that it is horribly out of place on Broadway amidst the stripper joints and bars.

Our reservation at Coi was a blessing in disguise and came because Cyrus in Healdsburg cancelled our reservation for my birthday dinner. Be warned not to change the number of your party in your reservation if you have one at Cyrus. Because a couple of friends cancelled, Cyrus cancelled our reservation instead of just reducing the number claiming that they need my table of 6 for someone else. Oh well! So within 2 days of the date, I was left scrambling for a reservation for another restaurant of that kind.

Thank Heavens we got into Coi! After having eaten at El Bulli, looking at a regular menu now leaves a lot to be desired. However, Coi’s menu is just as innovative and exciting as El Bulli’s, albeit at a smaller scale.

Daniel Patterson’s technique has often been described as aromatherapy. In fact, while he was the inaugural chef at Frisson, he wrote a book called “Aroma: The Magic of Essential Oils in Food and Fragrance.” He has not abandoned that technique here. In fact, Coi sells its own bottle of perfume. We’ll go back to that in a minute.

The restaurant itself is very small, maybe around 6 tables or so. Only slightly larger than the pocket-sized Elisabeth Daniel. However, the food is big! Not in portions, but in flavor.

There are two versions of the menu: an 11-course degustation menu for $115 and a 4-course menu for $85 where the courses have bigger portions. A friend at our party detests small plates, so thank God that they offer the latter option or I would never hear the end of it. Now everyone is happy.

So for our dinner of four, two had the bigger menu while the other two opted for the 4 course meal (traditionalists!). This way, we were able to order all 15 courses on the menu.

So this is how our evening went.

Valencia Orange (green olive sorbet, pink peppercorn, litsea cubeba) – Now I’m not sure whether litsea cubeba was used on the foam which surrounds the sorbet and oranges or if it was used on the perfume. I do know for sure that this was my favorite course of the night. The very refreshing green olive sorbet and valencia oranges enveloped by beautiful white foam which tastes very citric was a great start for the dinner. The ball of foam and sorbet comes in a bowl and a saucer with a small dollop of liquid (see picture at the top of the page!). You are instructed to take that liquid and smear it on your pulse points. This is the perfume I alluded to earlier. Interestingly enough, the fresh citrus smell of perfume enhances the taste of the dish. This would be enough proof that smell is important to the dining experience.

Valencia Orange

California Osetra Caviar (slow-cooked farm egg yolk, chives, creme fraiche) – One of the finest dishes in Daniel Patterson’s arsenal of very creative dishes, this is a winner! Even though the caviar holds the title of the dish, it was the egg yolk that brings this dish home. The egg was slow-cooked (perhaps in very warm water) for about an hour until the yolk is somewhere between hard- and soft-boiled. What results is a very creamy egg yolk which was slowly separated from the egg white and topped with creme fraiche and the caviar.

California Osetra Caviar

California Osetra Caviar

Grilled Zucchini Terrine (nicoise olive, saffron, herbs) – A good starting course and a very good vegetarian dish (although I am far from a good vegetarian), this dish had the misfortune of being served next to the Osetra caviar.

Grilled Zucchini Terrine

Grilled Zucchini Terrine

Gazpacho Parfait (dirty girl tomatoes, cumin, mint) – Dirty girl produce is famous for the dry-farmed tomatoes that are as sweet as can be. Here, the tomatoes are used chopped into gazpacho with fresh cumin and mint. The result is sweet and refreshing.

Gazpacho Parfait

Gazpacho Parfait

Kampachi Sashimi (white soy, yuzu, shichimi togarashi) – Kampachi is a fish native to Hawaii and is a cousin to the Japanese hamachi. They are prized for their high 30 percent fat content and thus, high in Omega-3’s. The taste is of a very creamy and buttery fish which is not at all salty. Here it is served with only a small amount of white soy; yuzu, a small Japanese citrus fruit; and shichimi togarashi, a Japanese mixture of 7 spices.

Kampachi Sashimi

Kampachi Sashimi

a return to coi

•March 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The first time and last time I went to COI was for my birthday almost two and a half years ago. I finally made it again and wonder why I waited so long. This time, however, we sat in the lounge where we experienced a different vibe than in the main dining room.

COI Lounge

COI Lounge

A lot less formal than the dining room, the lounge offers heartier fare in its menu, as well as the main room’s tasting menu. We also found that the lounge is a lot less stringent, in that each of the tasting menu can be had a la carte. Something that is not allowed in the main room. They also do not force everyone at the table to get the tasting menu, if one person wanted it. It’s always been a minor pet peeve of mine when the restaurant makes everybody in the table get the tasting menu, even though only one wanted it. This way, everybody can be happy.

We used this to our advantage by ordering one tasting menu and then ordering separately from the lounge menu. This way, we are able to try a lot more dishes than if we had both gotten the same tasting menu.

The lounge was empty when we arrived for dinner at 7pm, and we took our place at the corner table at the front of the lounge. We started with a Kir Royale and the Coi Aperitif of Rimon pomegranate wine and champagne. We settled on ordering the entire tasting menu and several items from the lounge menu and sharing all the dishes. At first, I thought to order the entire lounge menu, but the server advised against it.

We start dinner with an amuse bouche of firethorn berry soda. According to our server, these are made from the juice of firethorn berries that they foraged in the bay area. So, I quickly googled (thank goodness for iPhones!) what these berries are and found that they are bright red pea-sized berries with the taste of dry, mealy apples. Served with soda, the juice tasted more citrus-y than apple-y.

Firethorn Berry Soda

THE TASTING MENU

Frozen Mandarin Sour – The frozen mandarin sour has the consistency of frozen custard and is served with satsuma ice, kumquat, and angostura bitters. It was a very refreshing start for the tasting menu.

Frozen Mandarin Sour

Oysters Rockefeller, California Style – In this version of the Antoine’s classic, the oysters are kept raw and uncooked and all the ingredients are separated in the plate, ready for you to combine with every bite. By the end of the evening, this would become my favorite of all the great dishes that are served to us.

Oysters Rockefeller, California Style

Oysters Rockefeller, California Style

Beet and Goat Cheese Tart (Broken, Inverted) with Rye and Dill – With this course, they literally turned the dish upside down. Roasted beets and goat cheese are served beneath the paper thin tart crust.

Beet and Goat Cheese Tart (Broken, Inverted)

Beet and Goat Cheese Tart (Broken, Inverted)

Dungeness Crab Soup – The dungeness crab soup is rich without being cloying or too overpowering. The aroma of the flavor hits you as they pour the creamy soup on the bits of crab, sea urchin, and pea shoots. Quite amazing, really.

Dungeness Crab Soup

Dungeness Crab Soup

Winter, Pastoral – For this dish, young carrots are roasted in hay and served with sprouts and shaved pecorino. The result: a very earthy “salad” with a very distinct smokey aroma from the hay.

Winter, Pastoral

Winter, Pastoral

Abalone/Asparagus (Raw and Cooked) – I’m not particularly sure which is raw and which is cooked, but if I were a bettin’ man, I’d say that the abalone was cooked and then paired with the asparagus which then wilts (do asparagus wilt?) from the heat of the cooked abalone. Whatever it is, I absolutely loved this course with is served with veal jus, seville orange, and mint.

Abalone/Asparagus (Raw and Cooked)

Abalone/Asparagus (Raw and Cooked)

Savory Wild Mushroom Porridge – Wetter than a risotto but drier than porridge, the strength of this dish comes from the wonderful flavor of the wood sorrel, garlic confit, and brown butter that the rice is cooked with.

Wild Mushroom Porridge

Wild Mushroom Porridge

Slow-Cooked Prather Ranch Pork – Nowadays, whenever I see the words “slow-cooked” referred to meats, I automatically think “sous vide.” However way the pork was cooked, it turned out beautifully: nicely pink and very tender. The pork is served on a bed of creamy tofu drizzled with miso and topped with seaweed and root vegetables.

Slow-Cooked Prather Ranch Pork

Slow-Cooked Prather Ranch Pork

Comte (Marcel Petite) – For the cheese course, a slice of Marcel Petite Comte cheese is served with chicory salad. This is a 25-month old cow’s milk cheese from Marcel Petite, artisan fromagerie located in the Jura mountains in France.

Comte (Marcel Petite) and Chicory Salad

Comte (Marcel Petite) and Chicory Salad

Lime Curd and Meringue – For our first dessert, we have lime curd tart and shiso meringue with aloe vera. Most notable about this dish is how wonderful the taste of the shiso meringue. Also known as perilla, shiso is a leaf in the mint family and has a mildly bitter taste to it. Usually used in savory dishes, I thought it worked here as a flavor in the meringue and is a great accompaniment to the lime curd.

Lime Curd Tart and Shiso Meringue

Lime Curd Tart and Shiso Meringue

It’s Almost It – This is an homage to “It’s It,” that Bay Area institution of a vanilla ice cream sandwich between two oameal cookies and dipped in chocolate. In this version, a cube of chocolate ice cream and a thin square of oatmeal cookie is encased in chocolate. As garnish, they added orange slices and fennel.

It's Almost It

It's Almost It

THE LOUNGE MENU

Duck Rillette – The minute the first lounge menu is served, you will quickly notice that it is a lot heartier and more substantial than the main menu. And this number is RICH! Like most rillettes, I would suspect that duck legs were probably slowly cooked in duck fat until it falls off the bone. Here, the rillette is served with toast points, whole grain mustard, and cornichons.

Duck Rillette

Duck Rillette

Cauliflower Soup – Frankly, I don’t get very excited about cauliflower soup. While nice, it pales in comparison to the dungeness crab soup. Here, it is done with broccoli and Marcona almonds.

Cauliflower Soup

Cauliflower Soup

Wild Nettles Ravioli – People in the dining room should be envious of us, because they are not able to order this fantastic pasta dish. Wild nettles are encased in pillows of ravioli and served with asparagus and piquillo peppers. In a word, “yum!”

Wild Nettle Ravioli

Wild Nettle Ravioli

Grilled Artisanal Comte Sandwich – If you are just aching for a quick bite in a two Michelin-starred restaurant that will not bust your budget, you can’t go wrong with this grilled cheese sandwich. At $11, it’s still on the high side as grilled cheese sandwiches go, but what you get is Comte cheese from France grilled between brioche bread that is arguably the best grilled cheese sandwich you can get in the Bay Area.

Grilled Artisanal Comte Sandwich

Grilled Artisanal Comte Sandwich

Udon Ramen – The server warned us that ordering the udon would be too much food already. But I really wanted to try the udon, so as a compromise, she got us half an order. I’m glad I did, because a full order would’ve been overkill and the soup is quite good with mushroom dashi, vegetables and tofu. I’m just glad I didn’t push for the beef dish.

Udon Ramen

Udon Ramen

Mignardise – The meal comes full circle when we receive firethorn berry jellies as nice happy ending to this fabulous meal.

Firethorn Berry Jellies

Firethorn Berry Jellies

I will soon post my review from my first visit to COI, so watch out for that so you can compare the differences between then and now.

Restaurant: COI
Address: 373 Broadway, San Francisco, CA
Phone: (415) 393-9000‎
Date of Dinner: March 3, 2010
Other Details: 2 Michelin Stars

adventures in foodspotting

•March 6, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Foodspotting.cFoodspotting Appom is a site I came across in February, when they partnered with 7×7 Magazine to record the magazine’s “The Big Eat 2010 Scavenger Hunt,” a race for those who choose to take a challenge, on who can prove to have eaten what the magazine describes as the “100 Things to Eat and Drink in San Francisco Before You Die.”

The idea behind foodspotting.com and its iPhone app is simple: spot food, instead of restaurants. The result is a website chock full of pictures of food from around the world. While it’s still in “beta” form, there are still much to be improved with the site (I’ll blog about that in another time!).

While I did not win the challenge (Michael M. did!), I quickly got an affinity for this site. I have always taken pictures of food for as long as I can remember. Now, I have a way of sharing each and every cupcake, chicken wing, pork belly, martini, and cuisine I’ve ever tried. I then went through my flickr.com account and thumbed through over 32,000 pictures and uploaded all the food pics into the site.

By the end of February, I had become the All-Time Foodspotter! While I came about the site because of the Food Hunt, I stayed for the sake of foodspotting.