Coi, San Francisco

by Stevie on February 7, 2011

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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…

welcome to Coi

welcome to Coi

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.

Coi exterior

Coi exterior

earth tones dominate at Coi

earth tones dominate at Coi

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.

frozen mandarin sour

frozen mandarin sour

Geoduck and Manila clam with bull kelp

Geoduck and Manila clam with bull kelp

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.

beets with cheese and wild sprouts and flowers

beets with cheese and wild sprouts and flowers


California style crab melt

California style crab melt

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!

brassica preserved lemon consomme

brassica preserved lemon consomme

farm egg with cauliflower and nettle-dandelion salsa verde

farm egg with cauliflower and nettle-dandelion salsa verde

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.

Earth and Sea  tofu mousseline

Earth and Sea tofu mousseline


foamy savory wild mushroom porridge

foamy savory wild mushroom porridge

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.

grilled cheese

grilled cheese bites

fennel sorbet

fennel sorbet

coffee cake

coffee cake

happy birthday, Heguiberto!

happy birthday, Heguiberto!

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.

Coi kitchen

Coi kitchen


Coi neighbor across the street in the red light district

Coi neighbor across the street in the red light district

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Sharon @ Fun and Life February 7, 2011 at 3:03 am

Haha I like how it’s such an elegant looking restaurant then right across it there’s Showgirls. The food looks very interesting. Fennel sorbet…that’s a new one. The crab melt and coffee cake looks good! At least you still had a good time, even if there was too much white wine 🙂

Shelley February 7, 2011 at 7:33 am

Good to know about the pronunciation- I was thinking it was like the fish as well. I’ve heard a bit about the restaurant but we’ve never been. It sounds like an experience. I love a chef’s menu and wine pairings but I agree it would get a bit monotonous if they just kept bringing glass after glass of white wine- and I like white wine! Looks like Heguiberto had an excellent Birthday!

Faith February 7, 2011 at 2:06 pm

First I have to say thank you so much for stopping by my blog and leaving that sweet comment! And I’m glad you did because it led me to your lovely blog! Great review, I really like the ambiance of this restaurant. The food looks good too — the California style crab melt in particular really caught my eye; it sounds delicious and I love the beautiful presentation!

Suma February 8, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Great and thorough review! I think the stand out beverage pairing for me was the sparkling sake- so tasty and unusual and I usually don’t like sake! However, I kindly disagree about the lack of red wine. I think when one does a wine pairing , one gives up control and lets the chef and the sommelier decide what they think is best pairing for the food. If you want red wine only, then don’t cede control to someone else (i.e. the chef and sommelier) to decide what goes best with the food. One should just order red wine only and get the sommeliers input on what red would pair best and enjoy the meal!!!
I do agree that the second dish was so strong, I could have used a sock to take the seaweedy/ fishy taste out of my mouth. However, the service was immpecable and the company was the best part. Looking forward to more culinary adventures!!!

Stevie February 8, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Of course, in hind-sight, you’re completely right, Suma. The benefit of the wine-frustration experience in my mind is that it highlights a personal bias that I was always aware of but little cognizant of its ramifications. Sommeliers make me a bit anxious, too, which makes me think as a counter-suggestion that restaurants should offer wine flights in white, red or white-and-red for the shy wine-drinker that wants get a bit out of his or her comfort zone without surrendering all control 😉

The sparkling sake was divine! I wonder if we all remember it fondly because it came first, when we were most sober and excited about being at Coi? Actually that’s another point about wine samplers: after a while of drinking, it is hard to tell what you’re getting. I wanted to appreciate all the wines but my nose and taste buds were semi-off-duty by the time the eighth, ninth, etc. glass of whatever arrived at my place.

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