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Bravo Coco!

Coco500 recently reached its first anniversary. There are plenty of reasons to celebrate. The restaurant manages to balance top-notch food with a friendly, let’s-not-take-ourselves-too-seriously attitude. The interior is inviting, filled with warm earthy wood tones, contemporary paintings and minimalist light fixtures. The patrons are a portrait of San Francisco hipsters, from young to aging and a few in between.

The menu focuses on local and seasonal ingredients cooked with a California-Mediterranean sensibility and is divided into the usual categories, small plates and large plates, but also “leaf” for salads, “California dirt” for vegetable sides, “imbibe” for drinks and “sober” for, you guessed it, non-alcoholic beverages. Speaking of which, the by-the-glass wine list is printed on each menu; why doesn’t every restaurant do this? The cocktails are particularly inspired with premium ingredients such as organic gin, bitters and infused vodkas, and there is a nice selection of beer, but wines by the glass and bottle are marked up quite a bit. The least expensive bottle of wine is about $40.

We waited a full half hour beyond our reservation for a table, yet it was hard to complain; the service was so friendly that we never felt neglected and enjoyed a complimentary drink while we waited. The bar scene is so comfortable one is tempted to just eat there, which many seem to do. Other than a longer than normal wait, the only other damper to the evening was the noise level which is very high when the restaurant is full.

Because of the aforementioned anniversary, the restaurant offered all patrons a glass of bubbly and an amuse -- a “taco”, more like a large chip, topped with luscious beef cheek and a dab of guacamole and cilantro leaf. No doubt this results in more orders for beef cheek, something the kitchen excels at cooking. We enjoyed a few small plates, the roasted beef marrowbones with salt and salad, the brandade and one of the restaurant's signature dishes, tempura green beans with a garlicky aioli (sauce changes nightly). The perfectly tempura-style fried green beans are a must. Do not skip them.

The brandade was delicious, but the fennel crackers were a bit salty to go with the already salty salt cod; still, with a beer this would be a perfect starter or snack. The marrowbones, showing up on more and more menus these days, were very popular as well, and the unctuous marrow was paired with the crunch of toasted baguette and a little salad I’m still not convinced was parsley even after the waitress confirmed that it was.

The beef cheeks ($15), of course, were a favorite, surrounded by a slightly crunchy crumb crust, served with a drizzle of horseradish sauce and a mound of watercress. The bite of the cress and horseradish, the contrasting richness of the meat, freshness of the greens and cool of the sauce makes this dish a knock-out.

The special "catch" of the evening was octopus cooked in a wood-burning oven, in a bouillabaisse style with potatoes and artichokes. It was tender and flavorful but a bit pricey at $19 for a not very large portion.

The least successful dish was a side of carrots and peas, which also came with roasted boiling onions. The dish would have been perfect, except that the peas were a bit starchy. Conversely, the gigante white beans ($5) with a crust of parmesan were great and would make any vegetarian happy.

Desserts are another area where the options abound; they feature fresh fruit, chocolate, ice creams and sorbet. If you don’t want anything more than a bite, there are several “noncommittal” items such as biscotti, peanut butter cups and even chocolate dipped frozen bananas, each in the $2-3 range; a sweet ending to a sweet meal.

Californian, Mediterranean

Reservations Essential? Yes