Coi, a fine dining restaurant in San Francisco, has been touted as one of the top restaurants in the country. Naturally I was intrigued and decided to pay Coi a visit during a recent trip to SF. I read a fair bit about Coi and visited their website before my trip, so I pretty much knew what to expect when I walked in the door. They offer an 11 course tasting menu in the main dining room, or you could sit out in the lounge area and choose a la carte or the tasting menu. I made a reservation for the dining room, because let's face it when you're spending $120 per person you want to be able to relax and enjoy the atmosphere. When Coi called me to confirm, they asked me if I had any food allergies which I appreciated because I'm allergic to lactose and gluten, and though I planned on telling them ahead of time anyway it was nice that they asked me first. I was assured that my needs would be accommodated which left me feeling very happy and excited to eat there.
We arrived for our 9:15 PM reservation early and our table wasn't ready yet so we waited in the lounge. Unfortunately we ended up waiting for close to 45 minutes before we were seated, which was completely unacceptable to me considering that if we were that late for our reservation we would not have been seated. I was mildly perturbed at this point, but decided to give them the benefit of the doubt.
We were escorted to the very cozy dining room, and by cozy I mean there are only 10 tables in the dining room which is about the size of a large master bedroom. The lighting was a bit dim, so forgive the dark photos, but it was all quite romantic (not that my husband was very pleased about me scribbling notes and taking photos).
I pretty much know what I'm getting myself into when I sign up for an 11 course tasting menu at a high end restaurant. I expect fantastic service and small portions. I do have to say that the portions at Coi were probably a little smaller than I thought they would be. I'm a petite girl so it's not as if I have a huge appetite to begin with, but I did leave my meal hungry and ended up getting a snack later on in the evening. I understand that tasting menus are supposed to give you a taste of each course, but at that amount of money, and with very little protein worked in, it does leave one feeling less than full. My husband is 6'4" so I can only imagine that if my portions were not enough for me that he must have been famished. It's just something to think about in case you want to eat there.
I do have to say that small portions or not, they did a great job accommodating my needs. They created several dishes specifically for me that were not on the menu at all. I had no idea that they would go that far, but it was very much appreciated.
Anyway, enough of my babbling, let's talk about the food!
We started off our meal with an amuse bouche from the chef, which consisted of one small wild flower and a spoon with a milk-and-honey pearl encased in gelee. We were told to sniff the flower and then enough the pearl. The smell of the flower (which smells exactly like honey) was supposed to enhance the overall flavor of the pearl, but it wasn't successful for me. I thought the flower smelled lovely, but my milk-and-honey pearl was a little too over salted with some type of coarse salt, which ruined the flavor for me. I kept joking that the flower probably came from the side of the road somewhere and I swear I saw the same type of flowers on the side of the road driving to Napa. I ended up keeping my flower for the whole meal because I thought it smelled nice.
The next dish, the starter course, was a pink grapefruit salad which consisted a grapefruit sorbet sitting on top of pieces of pink grapefruit. Next to it on the plate was a small drop of Coi’s signature grapefruit perfume, which we were asked to dab on our wrists before eating. The sorbet was lovely, very light and very tasty. I enjoyed it very much, but the perfume oil was strange. It smelled nice enough, but it didn't do anything to enhance my dish. I later overheard the server telling the table next to us that they sold the perfume at the restaurant, which cheapened the experience for me because then it became all too clear that it was placed on the plate to promote their fragrance.
We had the Kampachi Sashimi next which was marinated in white soy and yuzu (mine was made without soy) and served with small radishes. The fish was fresh, and buttery, but almost flavorless for me. The radishes also did not really support the dish in any way for me.
My next dish was a substitution from the menu due to my allergies. Instead of the Goat Cheese Tart, they served me the Asparagus Panna Cotta made with coconut milk. Next to the panna cotta was a salad made of cucumber, watermelon radish and daikon. I thought the flavors in this dish were very successful. The panna cotta was an interesting blend of coconut milk and asparagus and the flavors went very well with the salad. I did wish that they would have put just a bit more of the salad on the plate, but overall I enjoyed it.
My husband had the tart which was served with Andante goat cheese. I have to admit I was a bit jealous because I love goat cheese and beets. He described the texture of the goat cheese as very light, almost as if it were whipped, but overall he enjoyed it.
My next dish was another substitution, this time it was off the menu completely. My husband had the Wild Nettle Soup with ricotta cheese enrobed in a lemon gelee topped with an oxalis flower and I had an Artichoke and Potato Soup with bits of scallion. I loved my soup. It was buttery, rich, warm and absolutely wonderful. I could have eaten a huge bowl of that soup, but sadly I had to make do with less than half a bowl.
My husband really enjoyed his nettle soup which he described as "lemony" and "chivey". From what I heard around the dining room, several others enjoyed it as well.
The next dish was a selection between Suckling Pig Head and a Warm Salad of Shaved Artichokes. I chose the salad, because no matter how refined it may be head cheese is just not for me. Most of the men in the dining room, including my husband, chose the Suckling Pig Head, which was deconstructed and served alongside a fried pigs ear.
Apparently the pig's head had an unusual texture to it. I think that was code for "I didn't like it." However, the pigs ear was quite successful. I didn't try either so I can't attest to anything. I enjoyed my salad of shaved artichokes, but it was not more than 3 small fork bites and I really wanted more of it.
The Hodo Soy Yuba 'Parppadelle' Soup was next. The nantes carrots and baby fennel were nice in the soup, but it really could have used more salt. Overall it was ok, but I could have done without it. It seemed a little out of place with the rest of the meal.
The next dish was a selection between Black Trumpet Raviolo or Sauteed Madara. I had the Madara and my husband chose the raviolo. The fish was nice, but I didn't care for the piece of skin they left on it. I really don't think it did anything for the dish. The flavors in this dish were also a bit too subtle for me.
The raviolo was described as ok, but I don't think it was what he was expecting.
The main course was a choice between Bellwether Farm Lamb or a Slow-Cooked Farm Egg. I'm not a big fan of lamb so I chose the egg, which was good, but really left me feeling very hungry. Would it have hurt to put two eggs in the dish?
The lamb was served very rare. Normally lamb is rare, but the lamb at Coi was very rare, as if they had run it under warm water or something. My husband enjoyed it, but didn't seem overly impressed.
The cheese course, which I couldn't have any of consisted of a piece of Andante Goat Cheese served next to three pieces of wild greens. I was served a bowl with 5 pieces of wild greens, sans cheese. I was a little annoyed at this because we all know that greens are not the most expensive thing in the world and since I wasn't having cheese I really felt like they could have at least filled the bowl up, but no, just 5 pieces. It was a great salad, but it really left me feeling quite unsatisfied.
I tried a piece of the goat cheese and I thought it was awesome. I stopped taking notes at this point because it was becoming too time consuming so I don't know what any of the dishes that were off the menu were, but I'll try to remember. :)
The next dish that came out was a palate cleanser before dessert. I believe it was some sort of orange served on sorbet, but I really can't remember. If anyone knows, please tell me!
Dessert was served next, which was Carrot Cake served with a celery sherbert. I was served a pomegranate sorbet on top of pomegranate seeds. I love sorbet so I found this to be very tasty although slight.
My husband described the carrot cake as good and said the celery sherbert was actually really tasty. I overheard another woman complaining about the celery sherbert. Guess you can't please everyone!
The last course was the Confit Banana. I couldn't eat that either so I was served a Coconut Sorbet, which I adored to pieces. It was silky, sweet and so refreshing. It tasted just like ice cream and I thought it was very successful. I could have eaten a huge bowl of the sorbet, but I wish they had done a chocolate souffle or something more inventive then sorbet.
The man of few words described the confit banana as "good!" hahah! Overall I enjoyed my dinner, but I can't say I would ever go back. The service was excellent, and the food was good, but it didn't leave me feeling like I had experienced something transcendental, which is what I was looking for. After all was said and done we spent about $325 between the two of us (we only had one drink each). I think that the tasting menu was just a touch overpriced. I would say $70 or $80 pp would have been more appropriate considering the portions and the actual quality of food served.
However, I think if you're looking for a special occasion then Coi is a nice experience. It's everything about fine dining you could ask for, but I think at the end of the day (at least for me), a good taco and a glass of wine are all I need to make my belly smile.