**The lounge at Coi will be transformed into dining room seating (tasting menu only) April 1st, 2011.
My love affair with Coi began roughly one year ago, when I stepped into the serene dining room and proceeded to have one of the best meals of my life. That 12 course tasting menu featured some of the most inspired cooking I had ever had the pleasure to devour. So inspiring, in fact, that I was compelled by an unstoppable force to ignore all fiscal responsibilities and go back for that tasting menu two more times within the span of three months. I quickly realized that maintaining such a regular schedule at one of the most notable, and expensive, restaurants in the Bay Area was sheer madness, and a cloud of sadness crept over me. Until I discovered one of San Francisco’s best-kept secrets: the Lounge at Coi.
Although a few major publications have proclaimed that eating in Coi’s lounge is quite simply one of the best deals in this city, it seems as though few have taken the suggestion to heart. As soon as I realized that not only does the lounge offer its own special menu, but that you can also order any item off of the tasting menu, I found myself sitting at one of the tables in under 10 seconds flat. Wouldn’t you if you could get two times as many options from one of the most established, talented chefs in the country? With all plates priced under $20?! I clearly thought it was too good to be true.
Luckily, it’s not too good to be true. It’s real. And my two dining experiences in the lounge have turned into my favorites in a long line of memorable meals. But it was Chef Patterson’s ability to convey a genuine, clear sense of place in every dish that made my most recent visit truly the most impressive.
The Geoduck and Manila Clam was the perfect way to start the meal and a beautiful representation of Chef Patterson’s unique, high-minded approach to cooking. By combining the clam’s hints of subtle sweetness with the geoduck’s fish-fragrant flavor of the ocean, and adding in refreshing bites of bull kelp which suggested the presence of coastal waters, this dish brought the sea to the plate. In one bite I was instantly transported to the shoreline and could almost feel the salty ocean spray on my skin.
The dish that followed, which Chef Patterson entitled “Pasture,” caught me by surprise. Described as “Beets Roasted in Hay, Fresh Cheese, Wild Sprouts, and Flowers” I was expecting a simple, semi-firm roasted beet on a plate. However, what arrived was more of a thick beet purée, with the fresh Andante cheese combined with the mashed red beets to form a soft, creamy puddle on the plate. Simply topped with a smattering of wild sprouts and flowers, I felt like the best fed horse in the history of the world.
This was followed by a taste of the California coastline: a Crab Melt with Steffan’s Lardo and Wheatgrass. The fresh, herbaceous quality of the wheatgrass perfectly cut through the sweet, buttery richness of the sandwich. Then suddenly, I was transported back to the local farms of California with the next dish of our journey, the Farm Egg with Cauliflower and a Nettle-Dandelion Salsa Verde. Again, the egg’s gooey richness, the cauliflower’s firm but succulent flavor, and the freshness of the greens were in perfect harmony and communicated the unique location of these ingredients.
Then came yet another surprise: Savory Chanterelle Porridge with Crisp Root Vegetables, Cress, and Sherry. The last time I saw porridge on the menu was on a visit to the Three Bears’ House, and even though I thought that the bowl I had there was just right, I was wrong. The warm, comforting, coziness of this savory, earthy dish absolutely blew me away. Despite my initial reservations, this was not only my favorite dish of the meal, but one of the most memorable dishes I’ve experienced at Coi.
And although there’s never much meat on Coi’s menu, every time they do it, they do it to perfection. I know I’ve been throwing that term around a lot in this article, but there’s simply no other way to describe the Prather Ranch Beef, with Potato, Coastal Grasses, and Monterey Cypress. The taste of the meat is so pure and clean, with a texture that simply melts in your mouth, that it would almost be unfair to other restaurants if Coi offered multiple meaty selections on the menu. It simply blows them out of the water.
Finally, I was yet again quite surprised when I saw “Grilled Cheese Sandwich” listed on the lounge menu. In my mind putting a grilled cheese sandwich on the menu is taking a big risk. As something that every American has grown up eating, most tend to have strong opinions on the matter. It was almost as if Chef Patterson was saying that he’s so incredible that, not only can he blow diners away with high-minded cuisine, but that he can also blow his customers away with even the most common, well-loved dishes. Although I wanted to pull a Bobby Flay and declare a grilled cheese throw-down on the spot, I instead opted to quietly think to myself, “Okay Patterson. Bring it.” Oh, and he brought it my friends. Oh yes…he brought it. As skeptical as I might have been, that grilled cheese sandwich, with house-made pickles, was just about as close to flawless as a sandwich can get.
I left thinking two things. The first: “Wow. I can’t believe I just fell in love with porridge.” But more seriously, my second thought was that Coi, which I’ve regarded as the best fine-dining restaurant in the Bay Area for some time, is only getting better. Impressive indeed.
San Francisco, CA 94133-4512