San Francisco (last visit: May 2008).
Coi is known for its experimental dishes, and its multi course tasting menu.
The tasting menu changes daily. Their web site says that "we use local, organically grown and sustainably raised ingredients." In the lounge, one can get the tasting menu, or order any items desired from the tasting menu, or order other informal lounge food.
I ate in the lounge. There were seven small (2 seat) tables, with a combination of soft chairs and sofa bench seating. The walls and ceiling were light tan; the floor was distressed hardwood. Lighting was low, although a large amount of glass let in lots of light until sundown. Medium soft music played in the background.
Servers and the hostess wore black pinstripe suits, but acted in an informal manner; they were relaxed and friendly.
I chose the tasting menu:
Milk and Honey. An amuse bouche started things off. It consisted of, well, milk and honey. The interesting thing was that it was formed into a sphere the size of a small marble. The server told me how this was done, but I failed to write it down. Another interesting touch: before eating it, I was given a wildflower to smell.
Pink Grapefruit. A simple start, more like another amuse bouche. It was flavored with ginger, tarragon and black pepper.
Kampachi Sashimi with White Soy, Yuzu and Shishimi Togarashi (a Japanese blend of spices). The fish was buttery smooth, with good flavor as well.
Andante Dairy Fresh Goat Cheese Tart, with Beets, Dill and Caraway. Mild, slightly acid, with a caraway seed crust providing an almost burnt tang. It was OK, but the flavor was weak.
Chilled English Pea-Nasturtium Soup with Creamy Ricotta and Lemon. The soup was bright green, with red Nasturtiums providing contrast. Tiny, crunchy peas provided texture. The flavor was difficult to describe - exotic comes to mind. Very good; one of the better courses.
Grilled Artichokes with Carolina Gold Rice, Fava Beans and Leaves, Green Garlic and Mint. Another winner. The rice was prepared almost as a risotto, with a strong garlic taste. Grilled baby artichokes were delicious. This was my favorite course.
Abalone in its Natural Habitat, with Mushroom Dashi Noodles, Lime Zest and Fresh Seaweeds. Very tender abalone was accompanied by several kinds of seaweed. The "noodles" tasted like solid soup, with a slightly pleasant briny flavor. Overall, good but not outstanding.
Anson Mills Farro-Chard Agnolotti, with Parmesan Broth, McEvoy Olive Oil, Lemon and Thyme. Intriguing. Served in a large bowl, with a tiny bit in the bottom, the strong flavors were interesting. It was good, but nothing made it memorable.
Slow Cooked Soul Food Egg, with Morels, Pea Shoots and Chive Blossoms. Served in a large soup bowl, the egg was lightly poached. All in all, OK, but the flavors didn't complement each other. I've had similar preparations elsewhere that were much better.
Cantal (Herve Mons) with Peppercress Sprouts. Moderately firm cheese; moderately strong flavor; smooth texture. I liked it a lot, but it reminds me of something else and I'm going crazy trying to figure out what.
Intermezzo: Mandarin Orange Soda.
Carrot Cake with Carrot Ganache and Celery Sorbet. Celery sorbet was very interesting. It had a leafy taste and was refreshing. The cake was just like dense pound cake - good enough, but plain and uninteresting.
Michel Cluizel "Los Alcones" Ganache, with Albion Strawberries, and Wild Licorice Anglaise. Good, dense ganache.
This was a perfectly acceptable meal. It was good. I'd go so far as to say very good. The chef certainly tried to come up with interesting combinations. There were bold aromas, bright colors and, sometimes, interesting contrasts. However, at this price level, I expect excellence - which I didn't get. Coi's strength is presentation. Its weakness is food that is good but not memorable, despite all the attempts at novelty. There were a few winners, but mostly the dishes were unsatisfying. I'd be more inclined to go back to the lounge for a course or two, rather than a full meal.
The tasting menu was $120, plus drinks, tax and tip.
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