first coi dinner – 2007
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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