10 Best Meals of 2008 – Meal #2

Coi 373 Broadway Street, San Francisco, CA, USA Phone 415.393.9000 Two Michelin Stars I was startled when I walked into Coi. Was there another dining room? No. Just nine tables in an understated, beige Zen-scape. The staff were reserved, but knew their stuff. For example, our server was able to identify the olive oil in an extraordinary little olive oil milkshake as coming from McEvoy. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Your only choice here is a tasting menu (unless you eat in the bar, which is more like the resto’s vestibule). There were 11 courses; four with a choice between two dishes – and in that case, Paul and I opted for one of each. Grand total: 15 dishes, plus four extra treats from the kitchen. Coi is a bit notorious for the dish (above) they serve with a dot of their signature perfumed herbal oil that you’re supposed to apply to your wrist and sniff while eating. Yes, it’s a little gimmicky, but I really enjoyed the scent, whiffing it as I nibbled a blend of pink grapefruit, tarragon and black pepper. Chef Daniel Patterson is known as an obsessive workaholic, and it was clear that each dish was perfectly designed, orchestrated with just the right plate or bowl – many of them Japanese. There were Asian influences in a number of preparations, with ingredients like Buddha’s hand, long pepper (in both a champagne cocktail and savory course), yuzu, Matsutake mushrooms and vadouvan. And, yes, some molecular gastronomy alchemy, including the “milk and honey” amuse-bouche of encapsulated liquid. I particularly appreciated the focus on beautiful seasonal and local ingredients. It was November, so jewel-toned root vegetables were in abundance. The “Oysters Under Glass” made for a stunning presentation, with fresh Miyagis visible through a delicate “window” of citrus gelee. The Kabocha squash soup had a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds – something I’m going to try at home. Monterey Bay abalone was amazingly tender, and an unassuming-looking dish of steamed tofu mousseline, fresh seaweeds and mushroom dashi had an astonishing depth of flavors. One of my favorite dishes was the “Slow-Cooked Farm Egg” nestled in brown-butter/parmesan foam with green farro. The yolk burst and melded perfectly frothy sauce and al dente farro – a great blend of textures. We shared one of the wine parings, interesting choices all. But in this case, the pairings included some ale and sake. I just don’t find it pleasant to jump back and forth between wine and beer; sake is less jarring. On request, the sommelier graciously substituted a wine for one of the beer offerings. I was amused when, between the cheese course (a slice of Etude, crafted by Soyung Scanlan) and the first of two dessert courses, our waiter inquired if we felt we’d had enough to eat. (The result of complaints from manly men on expense accounts who should have eaten at Ruth’s Chris instead?) “Yes!” I instantly replied. Paul pondered a moment and asked what more they might have to offer. “Well,” the server responded, “you’ve tasted all the dishes on the menu. But, we can bring you another serving of something if you’re still hungry.” Paul finally decided he would be topped-off just fine after devouring the desserts. Good choice. Two of the most memorable items weren’t even on the menu, appearing as a finale. The tiny olive oil shake and the “inside out” chocolate chip cookies, which resembled a truffle, with a crisp cookie shell surrounding warm, melted chocolate on the interior. To see the entire parade of dishes in this 3½-hour meal, go here.
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