Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Coi - San Francisco, CA
Let me start out by saying that I did not enjoy my meal at Coi. And as such, I am a barbarian. If you do not like reading words from a Neanderthal, it would behoove you to stop reading, NOW!

Good, you're still here. I enjoy experimental cuisine, and understand that, although not mutually exclusive, tastiness and interestingness are often a tradeoff. But while not everything strikes me as delicious, I do appreciate all the intellectual thoughtfulness (and whimsical rigmarole) that goes into a meal. I enjoyed Alinea greatly; wd-50, not so much. There is just something - perhaps ambition, restlessness - about the genre that keeps me coming back.

Coi is probably as close to that as you'll get in San Francisco. There is just so much fresh produce and happy cows and ambling chickens that the local restaurant scene would rather focus on ingredients; and for good reason. But Coi is very different from the alchemists in Chicago, NY, and Barcelona. Conversely, it takes more of an Ubuntu approach: exploring the full potential of ingredients and their context with some modern techniques. It's more an appreciation for seasonality and locality than a show to turn things into gelees and frozen orbs. Ok; I would say that I get it. Coi had been on my list since I moved to SF, so I was excited about this meal with I and H. However, our meal left much to be desired (say, sustenance).

DSC_0121.JPG
Caramelized pear and root beer

DSC_0125.JPG
Frozen Mandarin Sour - satsuma ice, angostura bitters

Satusuma shaved ice with accents of bitter. Nothing very interesting to note, except maybe, whoa! Flavored shaved ice.

DSC_0127.JPG
Geoduck Clam - black radish, bean sprouts, yuzu, shiso

Comparable to a good omakase first course. Ok.

DSC_0131.JPG
Beet and Goat Cheese Tart (broken, inverted) - rye, dill

A variation of the classic beet and goat cheese combination; good. It is deconstructed! Come on, even Bix was more creative with their beet and goat cheese than this.

DSC_0135.JPG
Sunchoke-Buttermilk Soup, Hot/Cold - Asian pear, cocoa nib, mint

While the soup was actually really good - the pear worked extremely well with the sunchoke - the temperature (the focal point here) was just unpleasant. Cold soup was poured tableside over the hot ingredients, but the combination was unpalatably lukewarm with absolutely no temperature differentiation between the broth and contents. The "hot/cold" was meaningless since we could not detect either.

DSC_0138.JPG
Fall, Pastoral - young carrots roasted in hay, radish powder, soyoung's pecorino

It is indeed a lovely fall evening in San Francisco. The local carrots, per description and taste, are nubile. They were roasted on "a bed of hay", which our server really emphasized, so they taste smoky. Flavorwise, they're not all that different from lowbrow carrots; not sweeter or more complex or anything. But I think I get it. I am eating fresh, local ingredients that are questionably well prepared; all of Fall is embodied in these carrots.

No, I actually don't get it. As non-delusional young adults, we were laughing because this was just silly. Daniel Patterson argues that elite kitchens should challenge the antiquated customs of fine dining; that gilded luxury ingredients do not a good meal make. He believes that chefs should instead revalue and start using previously thought to be lowly ingredients, and subsequently transform them with creative and often deeply personal forms of expression.

This course is what I consider the epitome of a rarefied and inaccessible food movement. This is a $120 tasting menu. It is much more pretentious serving roasted carrots than foie gras at this price point; and to validate it with some preachy food philosophy is downright offensive. Carrots are the new caviar? Give me a break.

DSC_0141.JPG
Monterey Bay Abalone Grilled on the Plancha - nettle-dandelion salsa verde, spicy breadcrumbs, lemon zest

This was the course that we anticipated most. Sweet and crunchy, the abalone was very simply prepared: grilled, sliced, and dressed with lemon zest and breadcrumbs; it was elegant, extremely flavorful, and a great showcase of high-quality ingredients. The course was very good (we each ordered another near the end of our meal because we were still hungry).

DSC_0147.JPG
Savory Chanterelle Porridge - pig's feet, garlic confit, wood sorrel

At this point in the meal, we're still pretty hungry (I apologize again, I'm a barbarian). You can imagine how excited we were when we saw pig's feet as the next course. We started digging in; cutting a piece of the woodsy chanterelle transparent film (inventive) and wrapping it around each mound of porridge. Texturally, the collagenic porridge and slippery film were mush. We hungrily wondered where the pig's feet was; and it turned out they were minced finely into the porridge. Only subtly flavorful, the porridge was extremely restrained.

DSC_0151.JPG
Chicken/Egg - slow-cooked farm egg, crisp chicken skin, chard, green farro

This was really good, and reminded me of the egg I had at Arzak. Texturally similar, both slow-cooked eggs were topped with crunchy bits; Coi's chicken skin version was more interesting and flavorful, though too agressively salted.

DSC_0153.JPG
Camembert (Herve Mons) - sweet and spicy greens

I was tickled by the meticulous and exacting effort that went into arranging the leaves on the plate.

DSC_0155.JPG
Steamed Kabocha Squash Cake - apple, pomegranate, vadouvan

DSC_0159.JPG
Caramelized White Chocolate Parfait, Semi-Frozen - huckleberries, anise

We left feeling flummoxed, not to mention hungry. Not only is it celebrated by the critics (two-stars), but locally, Coi is surrounded by a lot of hype. We went in expecting to be impressed, if not by taste then by inventiveness; instead, we were confused, even slightly guilty, we did not enjoy our meal. I ultimately concluded that my palate is not refined enough to enjoy this food because I'm a barbarian. This was a caustic comment that someone left on my Alinea post: "Ridiculous - a perfect example of people with more money than sense". I beg to differ on the Alinea experience, but it is awfully fitting and damning here.

$120 - 11 course tasting menu (Nov 2009). 18% service charge automatically added per party.

Coi
373 Broadway
San Francisco, CA 94133-4512
(415) 393-9000

Labels: ,

7 Comments:

Anonymous Aunt Louise of Latvia said...

I can make better shit den dis!

Coi? More like... COIN! Be droppin' some serious coin up in dis bitch.

1/20/2010 6:43 PM  
Blogger Single Guy Ben said...

Oh.My. GAWD. It's like you had the same experience as me, but two years later! I ate at Coi with excitement and while I did enjoy a few dishes, I ended up also very hungry at the end and feeling a bit cheated -- not because of the lack of creativity -- but the portion size to the price tag. I had better and more fulfilling tasting menus in New York and Buenos Aires. I thought I was the only one thinking "um, emperor, nekkid like a blue bird."

1/20/2010 8:53 PM  
Anonymous ChuckEats said...

I don't disagree w/ your review - out of 4 trips - Coi is missing something - a connection perhaps. I try to think of these things like authors - some styles you like, some you don't, but even when you don't, hopefully one can appreciate the thought behind it. My reaction to my first few meals were the same as yours. I once got the chance to speak to Patterson and my reaction to the meal changed - he's quite articulate and he's quite a thinker - but that is lost to most eaters since he obviously can't come out & explain everything to everyone. Which is a shame - b/c my initial feelings returned w/ my latest meal (which was similar to yours.)

1/20/2010 9:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you exchange the "C" in Coi with a "K", then you get Koi, which is an ornamental fish.

Food for thought.

-CC

1/20/2010 9:48 PM  
Blogger han said...

Agreed, HH.

There is more expensive food out there for sure, but Coi just leaves you feeling a little cheated. Sure, you can label it "experimental," but apart from a slow-cooked egg, I didn't really see or taste anything on the menu particularly novel or spectacular. I would characterize my meal there (same menu) as intentionally minimal, and perhaps also "abundant in cold courses," which may have contributed to the post-meal hunger.

ChuckEats, I agree with your analogy of chefs being like authors and perhaps artists in their own right. However, I believe that like art, food should be able to stand on its own, even if understanding the context improves the experience. We don't need Thomas Kellar to explain his food to us any more than we need Thomas Pynchon to analyze his own writing, right?

1/21/2010 1:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i disagree. the food I et was transubstantiation for the
comatose. Culinary diversity is not a concept but an ex-
perience. four stars for coi.

12/26/2010 6:34 PM  
Anonymous pay per head said...

Its so interesting article..Thanks for sharing..

5/12/2012 9:17 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home