The first thing to know about Coi is how to pronounce the name. We’d debated back and forth about it for weeks before finally going. Is it like “kwa” similar to the French word, “quoi,” or more like the fish, “coy.” Turns out that Suma was right all along and in fact you say “kwa.” Now that that’s out of the way…
Coi is really stylish right now. Their site explains that they attempt to create a Northern California menu with a sense of place. They use lots of local ingredients including the-fancy-restaurant-thing-of-the-moment, foraged foods.
This is fine dining without as much pretension as you might see at other places. Here there was no caviar and champagne carts, wild cocktails, ornate gold plated mirrors, soup poured at table from silver kettles, ponderous cheese trays and endless amuse bouche bites. Instead the décor is very restrained and elegantly simple: the walls are covered with a textured grass paper, the seats with a soothing uncomplicated fabric; the art is subdued with an emphasis on stacks of stones. There was no bar at all (Coi is not licensed for spirits). The colors are all sandy earth tones with splashes of dark. The tables had brilliant white cloths, gleaming silver flatware and sparkling stemware but the plates, bowls etc. were all stoneware, contributing to the casual grace. One of us said, “It wasn’t visually stimulating.”
There were five of us the night that we went. We’d notified Coi of our pescatarian diets ahead, which they easily accommodated. The meal was eleven courses. Yes, eleven. One Open Table reviewer described Coi as “a slow, luxurious dining experience.” It certainly was that. We stayed for over three hours.
Everything comes pre fixe. You only have to select your drinks. We opted for the wine paring which some of us later regretted as there were too many whites for our taste. Of the eleven; the first was sparkling sake; the last two were sweet; two were red; and the other six, white. I suppose that’s what everybody always says, writes and thinks: white pairs well with veggies and seafood. These people are simply wrong. If you’re already having some grassy dish, why in the world should the wine be grassy, too? Sadly this lack of red distracted us from the food. John exclaimed afterward as we debriefed at his house over a glass of red, “I wish I had a wool hiking sock in my mouth to wick away the unwanted flavors and abundant white wine.”
S: “John, that’s very bitchy.”
J: “I’m sorry. I’m pissed. I can’t help it.”
White or red, eleven glasses is a lot. I was certainly pissed after this dining extravaganza, and not only because the bill was insane.
Here’s the menu:
Frozen Mandarin Sour with Angostura bitters, kumquat and Satsuma ice. This came with the sparkling sake. The waiter said the dish was like a drink, too, albeit a frozen one. It was surprisingly salty, tangy and refreshing. I liked it.
Next came Geoduck and Manila clam, bull kelp, Meyer lemon and wild fennel accompanied by a muscadet Sevre-et-Maine. This dish was chewy. Suma found it too intensely seafood-y though I enjoyed mine.
Then beets roasted in hay, fresh cheese, wild sprouts and flowers with a German Riesling Kabinett. The table loved this dish, a kind of beet purée mixed with cheese with a charming assortment of tiny greens on top, like a small lawn.
Afterward was the California style crab melt with wheatgrass and pea sprouts. They offered Grüner Veltliner, of course. This was very rich and flavorful. I sopped up the sauce with my tiny dinner roll gladly.
We tried the brassica leaves, stems and flowers, preserved lemon consommé with new McEvoy olive oil accompanied by a dry Vouvray. This had a delightful flavor though Hegui kept muttering that he could produce something similar at home. I hope that he does sometime soon!
A farm egg with cauliflower and nettle-dandelion salsa verde arrived next with a glass of chardonnay. This one had a marvelous flavor but was too squishy for me.
This was followed by the delightful “Earth and Sea;” a bowl of steamed tofu mousseline, mushroom dashi, yuba and fresh seaweed. The menu says that it was to come with an unusual Italian white, 2003 Damijan “Kaplja” but we were getting antsy by then so the waiter offered us a glass of Copain pinot noir. Ah! What a relief.
The savory wild mushroom porridge with crisp root vegetables, cress and sherry was a hit. It was thick and mushroomy. Yum. This offering arrived with a glass of red Burgundy.
Instead of the cheese course, Coi offered mini grilled cheese sandwiches with tomme d’Osseau, rye, onion and pickled daikon. This came with a dark German hefeweissbier but we were delighted to have the option of more red. Hegui and John tried a California syrah and I had the Barolo that the other two drank with their meat course. So I mis-counted: that’s three red courses of eleven.
Last were two sweet courses: fennel sorbet with ruby grapefruit, campari and pomelo then coffee cake with Medjool date, raw milk ice and lime. The first came with a delicate Coteaux du Layon; the second, with a rich Royal Tokaji.
The service was impeccable and almost invisible. The meal was good but not mind-blowing, like we had initially hoped. The restaurant itself is on Broadway right at the edge of all the so-called “gentlemen’s clubs.” That lends a tragicomic air to this otherwise very restrained, Zen-like dining experience.