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Coi Restaurant

Pushing the Flavor Envelope

Daniel Patterson hails from the prominent kitchen of Elisabeth Daniel and a short-lived stay at Frisson, but was more recently known for penning the infamous New York Times article, yawning at many California peers for their boring approach to cooking. The food-obsessed world was in horror, but Patterson stood by his words as he stands by his food.

Patterson put his money where his mouth is, opening the eclectic Coi (pronounced “kwah”). The name is old French for tranquility or calm, reinforced by the zen feel of the restaurant’s intimate lounge and 30-seat dining room. Every detail has been considered, from the aquarium display of long mossy twigs to the warm walnut and cream color scheme, harmonized by textural sea grass panels and lighting blurred by rice paper.

On our recent visit, just six weeks after the opening, industry people convened on both sides of us. The square tables are set just enough apart for some privacy, but close enough to hear your neighbor discussing their new restaurant venture. The cool, quiet atmosphere is not uptight, making it fitting for a date or impressing a business client. However, any parties larger than 4 would seemingly cramp the style of this space.

The four-course prix-fixe menu ($75) offers three options within each course. On par with Patterson’s philosophy, there are no tuna tartare cylinders or flavor-infused mashed potatoes -- staples on many other menus. There is also a nine-course chef’s tasting menu ($105), and a limited a la carte lounge menu ($6-$18).

We began with the asparagus salad, dressed with meticulously chopped eggs and teeny-tiny croutons, drizzled with a sauce ravigote, a blend of sherry vinegar and raw and cooked egg. The melding of the flavors and textures was wonderful.

We also tried the sea scallop sashimi, a canvas of six translucent scallops, brushed with olive oil, sel gris, razor thin coins of radish, and blanketed with beautiful ribbons of avocado and orange blossom petals. Though visually stunning, it lacked depth in flavor, and the texture bored the palate quickly. And while noted on the menu, the Meyer lemon, which would have added a different dimension, did not come through at all.

On the other hand, the roasted monkfish was too complex in flavor. The yuzu kosho, a sauce of Japanese citrus, chili and salt, was piercing, fighting the perfectly sautéed fish. The Bellweather Farm baby lamb, however, earned back our interest. Three different cuts of roast lamb were married with artichokes and spring onions. The lavender component was unnoticeable; however, the lamb did well enough without it.

Amuse-bouches between courses were at times more exciting than the main attractions. One highlight was the carrot soup, hinting of ginger and cilantro which eventually revealed pickled matchsticks of mango. The soup was a delicate tease to the palate, so airy it bordered on foam, yet still it maintained some structure.

The smart wine list boldly steers away from California (though a few obscure selections are offered) into regional alternatives such as Loire and Languedoc. A well-rounded selection is offered by the glass ($6-18).

Coi’s quiet theme translates to its impeccable service -- professional yet warm, invisible yet attentive, arriving at exactly the right time to clear our plates or offer more wine.
The restaurant does well in carrying across its tranquil theme from seamless service to the delicate settings and atmosphere to the care taken in presentation of each dish. There is some interesting experimentation bringing disparate flavors together, but some dishes may need fine-tuning to seem not so forced. Especially considering the July 15 closure of Winterland (one of the last bastions of uber-creative cuisine in San Francisco), it will be very exciting and interesting to track the development of Patterson’s envelope-pushing approach at Coi.

North Beach

Reservations Essential? Yes