>> Tuesday, May 29, 2012
This is part 7 and the final post of the Napa Valley Adventures series. Other posts in this series: Ad Hoc, Bottega Ristorante, Joseph Phelps Winery, Etoile, and Terra Restaurant.
My husband is from California, and like almost all Californians, thinks that California is "the promised land" and "the happiest place on earth."
"Why would you ever want to live anywhere else?"
Yes, it begs the question why he lives in Boston now. Let's just say there was this girl . . . ;)
Having lived my whole life either in the Midwest or the East Coast, I like to think I have a more balanced view of the world, including the ability to appreciate great things about all different regions.
Having said that, there is one thing I love about California more than any other place in the U.S.
Yep, the produce in California is astounding. Trying stopping by the farmers market at the Ferry Building (where you're bound to see produce you've never seen before), or visit the Berkeley Bowl, one of the coolest markets ever.
The abundance of fantastic produce allows unique restaurants like Coi to exist in California. Coi is really interesting because the entire menu is built around foraged ingredients.
Chef Daniel Patterson has been doing the foraging thing long before it became in vogue. He began 18 years ago when he opened his first restaurant Babette in Sonoma County. At Coi, he continues his commitment to the concept, creating menus that are so focused on foraged ingredients, they would "fall apart" without them.
Patterson remarks, "once you go down that road [of foraging for your ingredients], it’s merciless. You can’t just call a purveyor for a delivery because it’s cold and raining. You do it, every day, under every condition."
I've always been a huge fan of vegetables and herbs, so of course I was intrigued to see how Patterson's philosophy would play out on the plate.
Before heading out to Napa Valley to cover the 10th annual S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition, Bryan and I snuck in a meal at Coi after landing at SFO.
The atmosphere at Coi is zen-like and inviting. It's on the quiet side, but it doesn't necessary feel stuffy. The service is excellent, and we settle comfortably into our cozy seats in the small and intimate dining room.
We begin with a simple amuse - brown rice crisps accompanied by a light and airy goat cheese "dip." Thankfully, the goat flavor is subtle. In fact, the dip is bright and citrusy, its fluffy texture being the perfect match to the delicate crisps.
For our first course, we taste "celtuce," an ancestor to our common lettuce which has more stems than leaves. This light, crispy vegetable is enveloped by an airy romaine heart and smoked oil foam. Perched on top is a most delicate tuile made from seaweed and squid ink garam. A tart beginning ends with a rich and smoky finish.
A gorgeous little mosaic of colors (reminding me of another even more intricate mosaic I'd had a few years earlier) appears next. Dark purple cubes of cocoa-roasted beets sit interspersed with bright pink cubes of rhubarb gelee. Beet powder, yogurt, hazelnuts, and tiny little cilantro leaves complete the plate.
The tartness from the rhubarb nicely balances out the deep richness from the cocoa. I like the additional contrast from the aromatic cilantro and the crunchy hazelnuts.
Continuing with the green theme, we next savor a velvety asparagus soup with coconut foam and "green" flavors (lemon balm and lemon grass).
The next course is a playful take on an all-American classic: the movie popcorn. On the left: traditional movie-style butter popcorn. On the right: grits made from butter popcorn that have been smashed, ground up, and strained over and over to attain this consistency. This is whimsical, fun, and actually quite tasty (though I wonder what part of this dish is foraged?).
Delicate ribbons of abalone "a la plancha" (grilled) resemble noodles when served with shaved fennel and artichoke. The dish is perfectly seasoned - a balanced combination of bright tartness and savory umami.
The only true meat course is lamb served two-way. First, we try lamb tartare from Anderson Farms in Oregon served with fresh sprouts and wheatgrass purée. Bryan thinks the lamb could use more flavor, though I personally love the wheatgrass puree. It is wonderfully "grassy" and herbaceous, and probably helps cut any residual gaminess from the lamb.
We end with gorgeously tender lamb poached in olive oil, smoked over pine, and served with wood sorrel, yet another edible wild plant that has been eaten for thousands of years.
I loved the "cheese course", a sheep's milk yogurt tart made with a beeswax crust and gooseberry sauce. Even though the yogurt is salty by itself, the overall dish tastes sweet and tart when eaten with the honey served on the side.
Oro blanco (a cross between pomelo and white grapefruit) and ginger ice cream becomes a sort of palate cleanser between the cheese course and the true dessert.
Finally, a delicate soy milk and white chocolate silk with kiwi and a faux tuile on top.
We end with litte nibbles of a raw almond and honey tuile. I find this to be satisfyingly delicious. Though a bit cold (as if it came out straight from the refrigerator), it is sweet, rich, and just slightly chewy.
I personally really, really liked Coi. Chef Patterson is very creative with his use of foraged herbs. In general, there were no flaws in the execution of the entire evening. Dishes were perfectly seasoned, flavor combinations worked tremendously well, presentation was gorgeous, and service was impeccable.
It's not for everyone, that's for sure. There are hardly any meat courses, and many of the dishes are subtle in their flavors. Bryan got the wine pairing, and almost every course was paired with a white wine save for the final few. That tells you something about the overall "lightness" of the dishes.
However, I felt great when I finished our meal at Coi.
Frankly, I almost never feel this way. Typically, after a multi-course tasting menu at a fancy Michelin-starred restaurant, I'm stuffed, slightly uncomfortable, and vowing to Bryan that we won't ever eat tasting menus again.
This was different.
I walked out feeling perfectly satisfied, even healthy, and really, really happy. I remember telling Bryan, "I really, really enjoyed that meal."
Bryan, your more-typical guy who enjoys a balanced blend of meat and vegetables, thought Coi was good, but acknowledged, "I think you liked Coi a lot more than I did."
We both agreed that execution was fantastic, and at the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference whether you'll just like and respect Coi or absolutely fall in love with it. Me, I absolutely think they deserve their two Michelin stars.
This ends the Napa Valley Adventures Series! If you haven't had your fill of Northern California related posts, check out some of these!
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