In San Francisco some of the finest restaurants are in some unlikely places. No exception, Coi is located in the shadow of the Transamerica Pyramid, just up the street from the so blue bay, and a few doors down from the strip joints on Broadway.
Coi is nestled in an unobtrusive small building that hardly prepares one for the special ambience inside, and recently became the country’s newest Michelin three-star establishment. Michelin Guide director Michael Ellis declared Coi chef Matthew Kirkley to be “at the summit of his art.” My nine-course meal there was evidence of just that, complemented perfectly by some brilliant wine pairings from Wine Director Courtney Olson.
Diners sit at tables cut from burnished narrow sections of tree trunks, which contribute to the special mood of the dining room with its muted colors. One small interior window affords a view of Kirkley’s kitchen and another narrow window faces the lively street.
The feast begins with a radish tartelette with butter and fleur de sel. Kirkley says he wants to open with a simple pleasure and a classic French touch.
The first real course is quite different. Kirkley designed the mussel cannoli to be “a bit startling” as he put it, after the opener. They are delicious and the classic flavors of parsley and garlic, lemon and bacon are heaven.
This is a prelude to Shigoku oyster with manila clam, sea lettuce from Monterey Bay, California and black truffle. Kirkley “fell in love” with the verdant green sea lettuce which has a faint truffle-like taste of its own. The oyster is served with a 2006 A.R. Lenoble, ‘Cuvee Gentilhomme,’ Blanc de Blancs, French champagne, an ideal choice for the brininess of the oyster.
The loup de mer that follows is a fish the chef “adores,” which he gets from the Mediterranean and stresses there is no comparison with farm-bought fish. He wanted a simple treatment and thought of summer fruit, melon, with sea salt and lime. A touch of caviar completes the dish. Olson served a 2013 Chardonnay ‘Estate’ from Mount Eden Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, because it is “rich but refreshing,” adding that the wine has a melon flavor of its own and complements the salinity of the caviar.
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She stayed with the Chardonnay for the following dish, Dungeness crab. Kirkley had been searching for a new way to approach this traditional favorite and went with grapefruit and bay leaves with a touch of champagne. The result is sensational.
The crab is followed by the first warm dish, stuffed shells. This is really about the wonderful sauce, a layered broth with lobster and bone marrow, enlivened with romaine and rosemary. The sauce is complex and so Olson chose a beautiful 2015 Domaine de Pegau, Blanc, ‘Chateauneuf-du-Pape, from the Rhone Valley in France.
The next course is a signature dish at Coi, turbot with root vegetables and beurre cancalaise, the vegetables arranged atop the fish, almost like scales. The turbot is from the North Sea and tastes completely different from turbot obtained here. Because the sauce on the fish is acidic, Olson paired it with a 2014 Albert Boxler, Gewurztraminer Grand Cru, from Alsace, France. A softer and more supple wine, the Gewurztraminer is classically paired with root vegetables.
The first red wine on the menu is introduced with the black bass, with spot prawn, finocchiona, and cucumber. Kirkley got the idea one day, eating at an Italian specialty shop up the street, to substitute a piece of salami for the skin of the fish. It goes perfectly with a 2012 Pinot Noir, “Joli Coeur” from the Morlet Family Vineyard on the Sonoma Coast.
For dessert, which can’t be missed, Pastry Chef Riley Redfern does not disappoint. “My two desserts were the Fines Herbes sorbet and the Hazelnut Praline dish, as well as the mignardises (tiny sweets and pastries),” she says. “The sorbet was suggested to me by Chef Kirkley and I took it on as a challenge because herbs don’t naturally lend themselves to sweet applications. Once I figured out that recipe I paired it with roasted strawberries. The praline dish has been my baby since I started here at Coi. It’s sort of an homage to classic flavors.”
For the Hazelnut Praline dish Olson chose a 2002 Moulin Touchon, Coteaux du Layon, from the Loire Valley. “The wine has a bit of age and a slightly nutty character itself,” she said. “It is a bit lighter than a sauterne and has a medium sweetness.”
The food is remarkable and the service outstanding. General Manager Dan Page explained that coi is an antiquated French word for “peaceful” or “tranquil.” The place is perfectly named.
The meal with wine pairings costs $559.86 per person, including tax and service. But worth it, believe me.
373 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133
Tel: 415 393 9000