Considering that Adam took over 130 pictures of London restaurants we ate at, it was only natural that we start chronicling our thoughts and opinions about the food we eat. We've totally become accidental foodies. It all started out when Sheila started calling Adam "the human trash compactor"; since he eats almost anything. But somewhere along the way we started having discussions about food and seeking out culinary adventures when on travel. We bring a unique perspective to this arena as we're both vegetarians (no meat, poultry, or fish). I suspect we will both have varying opinions on the food, and hope to not only have a record for posterity, but provide some fun, useful if not amateur insight.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cotogna, worthy of a James Beard award!

In a crowded SF food scene, Cotogna definitely has star power. It's to be expected with Chef Michael Tusk having recently snagged a James Beard Award for Best New Chef - Pacific Northwest. We decided on a late Saturday lunch/early dinner in order to secure a reservation. But since it was the weekend, we didn't get the opportunity to try three-course pre-fix menu. However despite that, we'd say it's very well deserved of the accolades received.

Tucked away behind the FiDi and adjacent to North Beach, historic Jackson Square is a quaint neighborhood with it's collection of late 1800/early 1900 brick buildings now home to art galleries, interior design studios, and specialty furniture shops. So you wouldn't expect a restaurant the quality of Cotogna (sister to Quince) around here, especially in such close proximity to North Beach. But trust us, Cotogna is the real deal. It's rustic Italian gem with a organic sustainable menu that changes daily and a lively, yet inviting venue.

As is typically the case, we shared an appetizer, had our own mains, and then shared a dessert. First up was Cotogna's homemade bread (available upon request). Focaccia drizzled with olive oil, red chili flakes, sea salt, fennel, and dried oregano - served on a dark wood slab. A wonderfully earthy thin loaf that was light and airy; the addition of chili and fennel, gave it a faint kick which went really well with our cocktail drinks.

Then came our purslane, cucumber, cherry tomato, and feta salad. I know I alway say this, but SF restaurants always get their hands on the freshest, ripe fruits and veggie around. Purslane, although considered a weed in the US, is a leafy micro-green typically served in Southern Europe on salads. Never had it before, but really enjoyed the texture and taste. The cherry tomatoes and cucumbers were extremely juicy and crispy, respectively. I'm typically not a fan of feta because it can overpower a dish. However, this salad was very well balanced due to the tartness from the balsamtic vinaigrette dressing.

Next I had the eggplant tortelloni with smoked ricotta and basil pesto. Seven delicately placed stuffed pastas came on a large Heath ceramic bowl with a layer of genovese basil on the bottom and smoked ricotta nibbles on top. To my pleasant surprise, the pureed and lightly seasoned eggplant did not consume the entire entire. They were a bit sweet, but that was balanced well by the salty basil pesto. The smokiness of the ricotta really came through in an unexpected way; providing another layer of beautiful earthy flavors. Even Sheila, who doesn't eat eggplant, really enjoyed the complex flavors of this simply prepared dish. I would order this again and again, but with a daily changing menu this may be my only chance.

Sheila went for the genovese basil, fior di latta mozzarella, and sun gold tomatoes pizza. Head scratcher, right? I'm the one who always orders pizza, but this afternoon the ingredients were speaking to her. Needless to say, this was a great choice. The beautifully charred crust, amazingly fresh tomatoes and red onions, and smooth/rich mozzarella made this a winning dish. Not overly cheesy, you taste the juiciness of the tomatoes, earthiness of the basil, and sweetness of the red onions with ever bite. Yes we eat a lot of pizza, but this one was different. Why, you ask? It's all about the chewy inside crust and bubbly outer crust, which is a sign of great gluten development. And because of this the taste remained awesome even after the pizza got cold on our table; something that I can't say for Delfina or Gialina. Actually the pizza reminded us of Keste's in New York!

Last up was the cheesecake with hazelnuts and blueberries. Another delicately prepared dish with a crumbled butter cookie based, light and airy ricotta cheese, and whole & macerated blueberries. In a word - decadent. It was not overly sweet, in fact the blueberries added a hint of tartness to this dish. The crumble crust kept things from getting too dense. And the roasted hazelnuts (whole and chopped) scattered around the cheesecake added to the depth of flavors. I really nice way to end our meal.

Cotogna is a destination restaurant I recommend going to. The exquisitely prepared dishes capitalize on the array of fresh, organic, and sustainable ingredients available in the SF Bay Area. They do rustic Italian right!

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