An eleven course dinner at COI is extravagant, even by the gleefully self-indulgent standards of San Francisco diners. Some people might argue that ending such a meal with not one, but two, dessert courses crosses the line from luxury into excess. Happily, I’m not one of those people. At a recent feast at COI (possessor of two Michelin stars) I learned that dessert can be more than just a sweet tacked on after meat and veg—it can serve as an enlightening coda that ties together not just the tastes, but the concepts of the entire meal. With two standout offerings, the restaurant’s new pastry chef Deanie Hickox (formerly of Napa’s Ubuntu) dazzled us in her first week at the helm.
COI’s current menu elegantly evokes winter flavors without falling for seasonal clichés (pumpkin soup, anyone?) or overwhelming with floods of rich sauces and “hearty” slabs of meat. Canny chef-owner Daniel Patterson knows that some of the finest winter flavors are also the most delicate: mushrooms, cress and cauliflower are delightfully deployed, with Patterson coaxing complex flavor profiles from a handful of ingredients. Chanterelle porridge was a terrific surprise: rich, savory, meaty and mouth-filling, with nary a scrap of flesh in sight. The “Earth and Sea”—a smoky, mushroom-based soup—knocked us out, with strips of boiled Yuba cleverly standing in for noodles.
When the first dessert appeared, I thought I’d tasted all the winter garden had to offer, but that was before I sampled the fir meringues. That’s fir, as in trees, reduced and ground to an ethereal powder that made the thin confections spark on your tongue as they melted away. But it was in the visuals of the too-modestly named “Lime Sherbet” that Hickox told her story. The small mound of white sherbet was accented by brilliant seasonal gems of pomegranate, and dusted with more luscious, resin-y fir. It looked like a snowy mountain peak, and tasted spicy-sweet.
The final dessert was “Bread and Chocolate”; like the courses before it, it was complex without getting tangled in a busy array of flavors. Small squares of brioche, crisp-chewy and lightly caramelized, were surrounded by an airy, faintly salty chocolate mousse and a perfect sprinkling of fresh tarragon. We oooh’ed, we ahhh’ed, we dispatched it in short order.
To Chef Patterson I say bravo and many thanks for a memorable meal—also, nice work on the Hickox hire. She’s a serious keeper.