Coi – 1/7/11

Coi
373 Broadway
San Francisco, CA 94133

exterior

Coi is currently San Francisco’s only Michelin two-star restaurant (and one of two in the Bay Area, Manresa being the other). It’s been open since 2006, and somehow neither I nor my parents have yet paid a visit. A large part of it is due to my mother’s negative experience at Daniel Patterson’s former venture Elisabeth Daniel. However, it’s consistently received numerous accolades and is considered one of the best restaurants in the city. It was time for a visit.

The 11-course, $145 tasting menu is the only option available in the dining room (a la carte is available in the lounge). Interestingly, the menu is devoid of any of the usual suspects one might expect to find at a restaurant like this; lobster, foie gras, caviar, and truffles are nowhere to be seen. Instead, the restaurant’s focus is largely on local and seasonal produce of the highest quality. Only 3 of our 12 dishes would contain any meat or fish.

bread

Bread and butter were both made in-house. The bread came out nice and hot each time – very good. The butter’s presentation was odd; the rough shards lacked the neatness and deliberateness of the rest of the food.

FROZEN MANDARIN SOUR angostura bitters, kumquat, satsuma ice

mandarin sour

This first course was an apertif of sorts. A vodka mandarin gel was topped with satsuma ice. This was slightly salty and slightly tart; the citrus was definitely strong, and some kumquat/satsuma rind added a little bit of texture.

OYSTERS UNDER GLASS marin miyagi oysters, yuzu, rau ram

oysters

Two large oysters were placed underneath this “glass,” which was a yuzu flavored gelee.  The oyster was good, and the citrus (a classic accompaniment) was applied in the form of this gelee, which had a little bit of an almost al dente texture to it. Pretty interesting.

PASTURE beets roasted in hay, fresh cheese, wild sprouts and flowers

pasture

Colorful presentation here. Beets roasted in hay? Hm, never heard that one before. The beets were mixed in with cheese, creating a slightly sweet, yet savory combination. The sprouts provided just a little bit of welcome texture for this interesting and enjoyable dish.

CRAB MELT, CALIFORNIA STYLE steffan’s lardo, wheatgrass

crab melt

Next was this California style crab melt. Dungeness crab was placed on a thin, crispy piece of toast with some wheatgrass and pea shoots. The crab was tasty and worked well with the earthiness of the pea shoots and wheatgrass, while the toast added just a bit of crunch. However, we stumbled upon 5 pieces of crab shell within 2 of the portions – definitely a problem; this took away a lot from the enjoyment. Nevertheless, this was a delicious dish.

SUPPLEMENTAL DISH olive oil, brussels sprouts, broccoli, fennel, preserved lemon

supplement

Because of the crab shell error, we were given an extra dish here. If you’re ever indecisive about ordering soup or salad, this might be the dish for you. This was kind of a soup/salad combination – various vegetables were placed in a warm, soup-like vinaigrette. The waiter spoke at length about the quality of this olive oil and how it was the first pressed oil of the year. The bold, fruity flavors of the oil were apparent, and I enjoyed the variety of textures from the vegetables – fresh, clean flavors.

FARM EGG cauliflower, nettle-dandelion salsa verde

farm egg

farm egg2

Next up was this dish highlighted by the slow-cooked farm egg. The yolk was beautifully runny and gushed out when broken. It was a tasty egg for sure, and I liked the mini croutons for their texture.

EARTH AND SEA steamed tofu mousseline, mushroom dashi, yuba, fresh seaweed

earth sea

The steamed tofu mousseline was topped with a delicious mushroom-dashi broth that screamed ‘umami.’ The tofu mousseline had ginger and lime overtones, and the custard-like consistency was nicely balanced by the pickled radish and slight chewiness of the yuba.

SAVORY CHANTERELLE PORRIDGE crisp root vegetables, cress, sherry

porridge

root chips

Best dish of the night. This porridge took on a risotto-like consistency with the bold flavor of chanterelles. Absolutely delicious. The cress added a slightly herbaceous quality, while the crispy root vegetables added texture. Superb.

PRATHER RANCH BEEF potato, coastal grasses, monterey cypress

beef

This was the lone meat dish of the night. The beef was perfectly cooked, leaving it tender and rather flavorful for tenderloin. I enjoyed the potato puree accompaniment as well as some of the leafy greens; however, the vinaigrette was a little overbearing with the vinegar.

SALAD wild chicories, aged sherry vinaigrette

salad

We substituted the cheese course for this simple salad. It was fine.

LIME SHERBET frozen yogurt, pomegranate, mint

lime sherbet

This was the first of two desserts. More of a palate cleanser, the lime sherbet was pretty good. I didn’t need the tartness of the frozen yogurt as there was already enough with the lime.

BREAD & CHOCOLATE brioche ice cream, pistachio, tarragon

bread chocolate

The chocolate had good chocolate flavor which paired well with the brioche ice cream and pistachio pudding. The pistachio crumbles were fantastic, adding some nuttiness and texture. The caramelized brioche, like sweet croutons, were another source of texture, and were very good on their own too.

Lastly we were presented with a few petits fours. Pinenut bread with chocolate and firethorn berry jellies were on offer this night. I thought the bread/chocolate combination was a little repetitive given the last course, but the jelly was very good. It had a very supple texture and a gingerish, tangerine-like flavor.

mignardises

Coi put together one of the most interesting and unique menus I’ve had in a while. It’s sure to expand horizons and definitely give anyone something they’ve never had before.  For the most part, the dishes were pretty light and “healthy” feeling – I was waiting for something meaty, rich and filling for much of the meal. However, no one left hungry.

The execution of the dishes was spot on, except for the glaring error of the crab shells. Coi is a very different restaurant from Gary Danko, which is what I feel is the most popular choice for “best restaurant in the city.” Coi is much more innovative and produce-based, while Danko is much more comfortable and meat/fish-heavy. Both are good.

Luce – 12/27/10

Luce
InterContinental Hotel
888 Howard St
San Francisco, CA 94103

One of the chefs I was most highly anticipating at Test Kitchen was Dominique Crenn. Unfortunately, her sole Dec. 5th appearance conflicted with the finale of LudoBites 6.0, which is where I ended up dining. However, I stumbled upon a happy coincidence – BlackboardEats had a 30%-off promotion to Luce (where she is executive chef) just as I would be in town. Score!

Luce was named as one of the best new restaurants in America by Esquire when it opened in 2008, and first garnered a Michelin star in the 2010 guide (which it retained in 2011). With a victory over Michael Symon on Iron Chef America, the buzz surrounding Crenn has never been greater. As a result, she’s opening up her own restaurant (Atelier Crenn) in mid-January, leaving her position at Luce in doubt.

This may be one of the last meals Luce serves with Crenn as executive chef, and it was a strong one. We started with an amuse from the kitchen.

Lobster, Citrus, Beets

I enjoyed the slightly tart citrus (clementines and grapefruit) paired with the sweet lobster – promising start to the meal.

No tasting menus are offered on Sundays or Mondays (something I didn’t see publicized anywhere, not even on the menu), so we opted for a selection from the a la carte menu.

Abalone, Pork Belly, Yuzu Kosho and Enoki

The abalone was cooked perfectly, leaving it quite tender. The pork belly was pretty lean (which I like), yet tender with a crispy exterior. I enjoyed the pork-abalone combination. The broth, with yuzu kosho and enoki mushrooms, was just…in a word…addicting. Excellent dish.

Black Ink Trofiette “Carbonara,” Baby Squid, Smoked Pancetta, Egg

I found this dish to be strong as well. The al dente pasta was combined with tender calamari, the meatiness and smokiness of pancetta, and the richness of an egg. We were instructed to stir everything together – the result was a layering of distinctive and delicious flavors.

Lobster, Heirloom Carrots, Fennel, Cumin, Quinoa and Uni

The lobster was cooked well, and I enjoyed the fennel’s complementary flavor. The quinoa was executed well, and served as a nice accompaniment.

Venison Mosaic, Fall Vegetable, Coffee and Grains

The venison was cooked sous vide yielding a very tender piece of meat. The mosaic of daikon and beets was a nice presentation, though I didn’t think it added a whole lot of flavor. However, the bulgur salad and coffee did add a lot of flavor – yes, coffee. I thought the coffee-venison combination was pretty bold and worked well.

Chocolate Semifreddo, Raspberries, Hazelnuts

This was the classic chocolate and raspberry combination. The semifreddo was smooth and creamy with a good chocolate flavor. I didn’t think this was outstanding really, but was a little bit of a letdown considering the strength of the previous courses.

Coconut, Mango Sorbet

This was a really light dessert, which I appreciated. The coconut was like snow – light and airy, and the coconut and mango flavors were both evident and paired well.

I thought this was a pretty strong meal. The desserts were just okay for me, but the appetizers and entrees were very good. The restaurant was surprisingly rather empty on this night; it’s unfortunate that more people aren’t enjoying this cuisine. The restaurant will undoubtedly change as Crenn transitions to her new project (whether she stays at Luce or not), but I’ll be interested to see what she’ll be cooking up there.

Frances – 11/27/10

Frances
3870 17th St
San Francisco, CA 94114

While just under a year old, Frances has already received so much attention and critical acclaim that it can’t be ignored. Bon Appetit, Esquire and Forbes have all named it one of the best new restaurants in America in 2010, while the James Beard foundation named it a finalist for Best New Restaurant. Restaurant critic Michael Bauer had another rave review, awarding it 3 stars; to cap it off, Frances received one star in the 2011 Michelin Guide.

Chef Melissa Perello’s background is fine dining (Aqua, Charles Nob Hill, Fifth Floor); but Frances is something different. Inspired by and named after her grandmother, Perello’s Frances uses her formal training to prepare California cuisine in a comfortable, casual setting.

Some persistent OpenTable stalking yielded an available reservation, and I quickly snatched it up.

We started off with this amuse bouche of sorts.

Rosemary Lavender Almonds

I found these to taste like regular almonds, with no trace of rosemary or lavender. Odd. I thought it was just me until my dining companion agreed too.

Applewood Smoked Bacon Beignets – maple creme fraiche and chives

Warm and fluffy, these beignets had a strong, but not overwhelming, bacon flavor. They were a little denser than I had expected, but were still good.

Salsify and Pacific Oyster Chowder – creamed leeks and creme fraiche

There weren’t any chunks of oyster in this soup, but the flavor was evident. Light and creamy, the soup had a deep “sea” flavor, with some sweetness from the leeks and a little tartness from the creme fraiche. Very enjoyable, especially on a very cold night.

Parmesan and Ricotta Gnocchi – Boccalone pancetta, chanterelles, napa cabbage

The gnocchi were pretty dense, though very soft. The chanterelles were fantastic and, in tandem with the pancetta, added the bulk of the flavor to this dish.

California Black Cod – roasted winter squash, melted leeks, chanterelles

The fish was very moist, flaky, and had good flavor. I liked the creamy squash, as well as the return of the wonderful chanterelles.

Braised Liberty Farm Duck Leg – Italian butter beans, chicories, Sicilian olives

This duck was very tender with a crispy skin. The meat was moist and flavorful, and I thought the creamy butter beans worked really well alongside. The rich and deeply flavored jus really brought everything together quite nicely.

Creamed Winter Greens – broccoli di ciccio & red russian kale

I was pleased to find that these vegetables weren’t soaking in a thick and heavy cream sauce; instead the cream was quite light and did not overpower these delicate greens.

“Lumberjack Cake” – bartlett pear, medjool dates, maple-walnut ice cream

I’m not really even sure what was in this cake, other than the bits of pears and dates. It looked rather plain, but was surprisingly moist and sweet. The maple-walnut ice cream (from Humphry Slocombe) was delicious.

The Boozy Affogato

This affogato was an amalgamation of two of San Francisco’s more notable gourmet purveyors: Humphry Slocome (for the ice cream) and Blue Bottle Coffee (for the espresso). I enjoy myself an affogato – add a little liqueur, and you’ve got something pretty special.

Frances was a very good meal, though I found it a little underwhelming. Granted, given all the critical acclaim, I had very high expectations coming in. While I thought the food was definitely strong, it didn’t really stand out in any way. The entrees (the cod and duck) were probably the highlights for me, as both were perfectly cooked with spot-on flavors.

La Botte – 10/15/10

La Botte
620 Santa Monica Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401

I first went to La Botte during the last DineLA “season” and I really enjoyed the meal. La Botte is one of the few Michelin-starred restaurants that participates in this promotion (Spago and Ortolan also come to mind), giving just one more reason to go (though, lately, I’ve been less and less enthused about what Michelin has said about the LA dining scene). While I think the tasting menu is often the best way to go when trying a restaurant of this caliber, I don’t think the DineLA menu takes too much away as long as the menu offers some attractive items. Thus, I found myself back here during this DineLA tenure, and I was glad I came.

UMIDO DI COZZE & VONGOLE CON PASSATO DI MELANZANE Carlsbad Aquafarm’s clams and mussels and Weiser Family Farm’s Calliope eggplant

This was a pretty interesting dish, and wasn’t quite exactly what I thought it would be. I was expecting the seafood in some type of lighter broth, but this was actually in a soupy pureed eggplant. It had an earthy and herbal flavor, but I thought it was too muddled. The seafood was a little overcooked as well.

CONFETTURA DI ANATRA AFFUMICATA Slightly smoked Healthy Family Farm’s duck confit with honey mustard dressing

This was a pretty good dish, and a sizable portion of duck, considering it’s an appetizer. It was lukewarm (not sure this was on purpose or not), though exuded a nice smokey flavor. The meat was pretty tender too.

RAVIOLI DEL PLIN CON TARTUFO DI STAGIONE Traditional Piedmontese ravioli with Fontina cheese, truffle-butter sauce and fresh Burgundy truffle

This was a great dish. The ravioli were perfectly al dente, with a nice creamy filling of fontina cheese. The shaved black truffles on top added the characteristic earthy flavor, which worked well with the pasta.

FILETTO DI BRANZINO ALL’ORIGANO SICILIANO Filet of Mediterranean sea bass with Coastal Organics farm’s heirloom tomatoes and Sicilian oregano

My last trip to La Botte was memorable for having one of the best Branzino’s I’ve had. I can’t quite say the same about this one, but it was very good. The fish was very moist with a little bit of this very bright and vibrant oregano. The heirloom tomatoes were also wonderful.

RAVIOLI DI BRASATO SU SALSA DI PORCINI Homemade ravioli filled with braised beef filet mignon served in a bed of porcini mushrooms and topped with butter and sage sauce and parmesan

This was not part of the DineLA menu, but we ordered this extra entree to try. According to the menu, it was made with braised filet mignon. That makes absolutely no sense to me as I don’t know why you’d ever braise that cut. Whatever meat was inside the ravioli was rather plain, though the pasta itself was quite nice. The browned butter sauce was a nice accompaniment.

GIANDUIOTTO CROCCANTE CON FOGLIA D’ORO Crunchy Gianduia with gold leaf

This was a rich, chocolate dessert with bits of hazelnut inside. It was kind of like a hard mousse in consistency, and had a nice chocolate-hazelnut flavor..a classic combination.

PANNA COTTA ALLA VANIGLIA Tahitian vanilla flavored panna cotta with rosemary cookies

This was wonderful. Not too sweet, and with a strong vanilla bean flavor, this smooth panna cotta hit the spot. The rosemary cookies didn’t really have a noticeable rosemary flavor though, and were a bit soggy. However, that didn’t overshadow the panna cotta, which was really delicious.

I enjoyed this meal. There wasn’t anything terribly exciting, per se, but the food was tasty and well executed…save for the first dish. My experience has piqued my interest in a return trip to try the tasting menu.

Osteria Mozza – 9/26/10

Osteria Mozza
6602 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038

napkin holder

A concept by restaurateur Joseph Bastianich, celebrity chef Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton of La Brea Bakery fame, Osteria Mozza serves a more upscale Italian meal than its sister pizzeria. However, both have been very popular since their inception a few years ago.

My family is a pretty big fan of Pizzeria Mozza, and we’ve had some good meals at Bastianich/Batali’s offerings in Las Vegas and New York. So, a dinner at Osteria Mozza was a must-try.

The menu is extensive, offering a variety of appetizers including a wide array of fresh mozzarella dishes. There are enough pastas to appease anyone, and the entrees are heavy on the meat, with some fish options. We started off with a treat from the kitchen.

Fresh ricotta, black olive tapenade on crostini

amuse

The ricotta started strong with a preview of the excellent cheeses served here. The flavors were good, and the olive tapenade, which can sometimes be overpowering, was not.

Tripe alla Parmigiana

tripe

The tripe had a very supple texture, tender and not at all chewy. You don’t get a ton of flavor from the tripe; much of it comes from the spicy tomato-based sauce. It was just right for me, but others in the party thought it was too spicy.

Burrata with speck, pickled shallots & pane pomodoro

burrata

I love Mozza’s burrata – creamy and smooth yet light, it’s complemented well with the saltiness of the speck and acidity of the pickled shallots.

Bufala Mozzarella with prosciutto di Parma

bufala prosciutto

This was a pretty simple, classic combination. Each component was good on its own, yet having both the cheese and proscuitto in each bite was even better.

Caprese with bufala mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and basil

caprese

Mozza’s take on the standard caprese did not involve any molecular gastronomic tricks – they keep it simple and with tradition, showcasing their mozzarella and some great tomatoes.

Coach Farm Goat Cheese Ravioli with five lilies

ravioli

When this dish came out, it looked pretty damn good. Its flavors did not let me down with its al dente pasta and delicate, smooth filling. Delicious.

Orecchiette with sausage & Swiss chard

orecchiette

This was probably my favorite pasta of the night. The pasta, similar to the others, was cooked perfectly with a nice chew. The sausage was delicious as well, and the breadcrumbs added a terrific crunchy bite.

Tagliatelle with oxtail ragu

oxtail ragu

The meaty ragu, with chunks of oxtail, worked well with the flat tagliatelle pasta. The tomato-based sauce was rich with a deep, meaty flavor.

Agnolotti burro e salvia

agnolotti

These agnolotti were filled with a variety of meats (including chicken and mortadella). The smooth filling and pasta resulted in a good bite each time.

Pan Roasted Pork Loin with fagioli alla Castelluccio

pork loin

The pork here was surprisingly tender and very juicy. The flavor was very good as well. The beans, adding a bit of starch to the dish, were a welcome addition.

Duck al Mattone with pear mostarda & corn

duck

Here we had half of a duck, fried quite well with a crispy skin. The pear mostarda was crucial to add another dimension of flavor and some sweetness, though this was not my favorite dish.

Grilled Quail wrapped in pancetta with sage & honey

quail

The quail was exceptional, juicy and tender, with just enough smoky grill flavor. The pancetta and herbs were just enough to complement the flavors without overwhelming the quail.

Veal Breast Stracotto with carrots

veal

The veal was exceedingly tender, succulent and tasted quite good.

Grilled Beef Tagliata rucola & Parmigiano with aceto balsamico

steak

The beef, in this case hanger steak, was cooked a nice medium rare. However, its flavor wasn’t quite as exciting as some of the previous courses.

To go with our entrees, we split three side dishes:

Polenta with Parmigiano Reggiano

polenta

The polenta was creamy and smooth. Not a ton of flavor here though, I probably could’ve used a little more salt. The cheese wasn’t too apparent in the dish, either.

Sauteed wild spinach with crisp garlic

spinach

The sauteed spinach was solid, while the strips of fried garlic added a little bit of texture and garlic flavor.

Fried potatoes with rosemary

potatoes

I really enjoyed these potatoes. They were smashed and fried to a crisp with some rosemary. Crisp on the outside, with a soft and fluffy center, these had the perfect consistency.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for dessert since my family had a flight to catch. My favorites from past visits have been the bombolini and rosemary olive oil cakes. This was another well-executed meal here at Mozza; the dishes have just enough excitement to keep them interesting, while not overwhelming less-experimental diners. The strengths continue to be at the mozzarella bar and pastas, though the entrees hold their own. It’s easy to see why the restaurant has been popular ever since opening.

Asanebo – 9/12/10

Asanebo
11941 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA 91604

Asanebo would be the last stop of a Japanese-food filled weekend with my dad (see Urasawa and Sushi Zo). Asanebo’s emphasis was more on their appetizer-like small plates, and less on the sushi. Whereas the previous two restaurants had 20+ courses of sushi in their omakase, Asanebo had one course of five pieces.

The menu offers a variety of cold and hot appetizers and entrees. In addition, three tiers of omakase were available: $75-100, $100-125, and $125+.We went with “Omakase B,” which is the mid-tier choice.

Homemade Sesame Tofu with Snow Crab

This was the first course. The tofu was very dense, creamy, with a fairly subtle sesame flavor. The crab was good – fresh, and added a nice sweetness to the dish.

Baby Spinach and Portobello Mushroom with Seared Scallop

Next up was this salad of baby greens with portobello mushrooms and a sliced, seared scallop atop. The spinach was crisp, the scallop cooked nicely, and the shreds of deep fried gyoza wrappers really added a nice crunch to each mouthful.

Golden Snapper and Seasonal Vegetables

The snapper was lightly smoked, imparting just a hint of smokiness in the fish, which I enjoyed. Shimeji mushrooms and a dashi broth rounded out the dish, adding a nice savory flavor to it.

Halibut, Black Truffles, Marinated Cherry Tomato

I’ve never had truffles with fish before. Would the earthy, truffle flavor be too overwhelming? The chefs at Asanebo know better than that – the answer is ‘no.’  The flavors worked very well together in an interesting combination of the earthy truffle and the lighter, delicate seafood.

Momotaru Tomato with Albacore, Grapeseed Oil Dressing

This would be my second foray into these tomatoes, after my trip to Totoraku. The chef tending to us at Asanebo, as well as Hiro Urasawa, both agreed that this is the best kind of tomato available in the US (they also agreed that there are tomatoes in Japan that are vastly superior). These tomatoes are very sweet, and the savory albacore fits in well in tandem. The grapeseed oil was nice, and brought some nice flavor without being overly acidic.

Japanese Potato with Green Tea

This was an interesting next dish, pretty similar to french fries. These potatoes were far more starchy and had a very creamy interior, which I thought was pretty interesting. I couldn’t taste any of the green tea flavor though.

Japanese Clam, Quail Egg, Shitake Mushroom

The presentation on this dish was lovely. Clams, shitake mushrooms, seaweed and a quail egg were put into this shell with a broth. For me, the broth was the best part, taking on the flavors of all of the components of the dish.

Grilled Alaskan King Crab Legs

We were served a generous portion of king crab legs next, grilled and cracked for easy eating. I found the crab to be fairly waterlogged and it did not have much texture, which was disappointing. As a result, a lot of the sweetness and flavor was drowned out.

Sushi – Bluefin Toro, Yellowtail Belly, Halibut Fin, Bonito, Octopus (left to right)

The last savory course was this selection of sushi. The toro was very good, as were the yellowtail belly, halibut fin and bonito. However, something (I think it was a yuzu kosho) on top of the octopus was far too spicy – easily overpowering the fish and anything else for 5 minutes.

Miso Soup, Snapper Collar

The sushi came with this miso soup, filled with pieces of collar from a snapper. This soup was very nice, with the fish adding a little bit extra flavor.

Homemade Ice Cream – Chocolate and Black Truffles

The omakase does not come with dessert – we were presented with the menu and had to try this – black truffle and chocolate ice cream! The combination was pretty interesting – both flavors were distinct on their own, and created a tasty concoction together.

Asanebo’s strength definitely lied in the small plates, though the sushi was quite good (except for that octopus). Having dined at Urasawa the previous night, we were a little apprehensive of how the restaurant would hold up. Though there was a disappointment in the king crab, Asanebo held up pretty well. However, I would probably want to try some of the other Japanese stops in Studio City before returning here.