Coi has been a well-known and acknowledged restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years. We booked a table this summer, despite the fact that it was talked less about in the foodie-sphere than, say, Atelier Crenn or Benu. However, I was impressed by the stunning photos on their website and decided we had to check it out ourselves. Founded and initially run by self-taught chef Daniel Patterson, Coi is a seafood-focused fine dining restaurant. Since January 2016, chef Matthew Kirkley (who came from Chicago restaurant L20) has been in charge of the kitchen, and he has made some remarkable changes. It had two Michelin-stars at the time of our visit – but, recently, it was elevated to three! The director of the Michelin Guide, Michael Ellis, stated that Matthew Kirkley is at the summit of his art.
Food Elevated to Art
Art is exactly the right word for Kirkley’s cooking. Every dish, from the initial starter of a mussel cannoli with bacon, parsley, garlic, and lemon (all made into crisps), through main courses like the turbot with finely-sliced scales of colorful root vegetables, to the final mignardises (petits fours) were amazingly beautiful. We had the tasting menu ($250) with the regular wine pairing ($180). There was also a more expensive combination, for those who want to take it up a notch, in addition to an extensive list of bottles.
There’s a feeling of Michelin-seriousness over the place, despite the fact that white tablecloths are long gone. Instead, large wooden tables of irregular shapes are lined up under a low ceiling, with dark walls, grey carpets, and murky lighting. A lonely diner sat to our right. Could it have been one of probably several Michelin inspectors who paid a visit during the year? Perhaps that or a food critic from the San Francisco Chronicle. Our host and the restaurant manager of Coi, Daniel Page, slid unnoticeably across the floor. Appearing suddenly, as if he came from out of the dark, with a new bottle of wine or another plated masterpiece. Always with a friendly smile, and an exceptional knowledge of the product he was presenting.
A Classical High-End Eatery
Coi is a classical high-end eatery, where there’s a sense of distance between the guests and the kitchen. You could make out the silhouette of chefs working through a small slit window in the far wall, but they never arrived in the dining room to show off their creations. Page and his team worked to smoothen over the gap, sometimes pouring a sauce tableside, but rarely more than that. We did, however, get to meet chef Matthew Kirkley on our way out. He was humble about picking up the baton after Daniel Patterson and grateful for having been given the chance to prove his skills at this San Francisco institution.
Lifting a restaurant from two to three stars is no small achievement. Patterson must be in awe over his decision to leave creative control of the kitchen to Kirkley. My wish, now that the chef has achieved the highest accolade in the world of cooking, is to let loose a bit. Dare to enter the dining room, and connect with the guests more. Kirkley has mastered the art of plating, and his technical skills truly shine. I missed the unforgettable flavor explosions, though. Sometimes, the exclusive ingredients were out of place, like a rather flavorless truffle used mainly for decoration. However, Coi still stands out as a memorable meal in San Francisco, and congratulations are in place for chef Kirkley and his team.
Have you experienced Coi with both Patterson and Kirkley in the kitchen? I’d love to hear your opinion on the difference between the two chefs’ cooking. Please leave a comment below.