I'd heard so many good things about COCO500 (and it's precursor Bizou) that by the time I ate there a couple of weeks ago, I almost felt like I'd already been. While it certainly would have been great to dine there on this particular evening, I came close to that kind of celebrity starpower with my dining companions, the Married with Dinners and the Hedonias. It turns out that Anita and Cam and Sean and D Paul get together regularly on Wednesday nights, and they were nice enough to do it again just for me later in the week. Given that these guys are serious cocktail connoisseurs, they had a great suggestion for pre-dinner drinks - Bacar Below, just down the street. The artisan cocktails were delicious, and the food menu looked pretty good too - maybe something to check out on a future trip.
We had just enough time for one drink before we had to make our way the few blocks to COCO500 - the restaurant was packed, but we had a reservation and they were ready for us right when we arrived. We decided right off the bat to share most of what we ordered, and Paul was tasked with the wine ordering - a job he handled more than adequately. The five of us went through at 3 bottles - with just the right amount for each of us per course.
We started out with a couple of appetizers - the truffled squash blossom flat bread from the wood burning oven, pictured above, a ceviche that was really more of a tartare, and some of the fried green beans, a signature dish and carry-over from the Bizou days. My apologies for the somewhat lame pictures, but I was working with the light I had. The photo really doesn't do the squash blossom flatbread justice though - for something so simple, it really was delicious. A thin crispy crust covered with a thin layer of melted cheese, and just enough truffle to give it that addictive flavor. The whole was definitely more than the sum of its parts. The beans were also good - with a very light crisp batter coating, but I was glad we had something else as well - too many of these would be too much, at least for me. The "ceviche" was fine as I recall, but to give you an idea of how unremarkable it was - I had quite honestly forgotten all about it until I looked at the receipt just a few minutes ago.
We also ordered two of the salads pictured below - grilled nectarines wrapped with bacon - served with tatsoi, pinenuts and cheese, in a light vinaigrette. Stonefruit salads seem to be everywhere this season, and this was a very good version. Tangy, sweet, salty, bitter - a little umami-earthiness from the cheese - it was all there.
For our mains, Anita chose the braised pork sugo with pappardelle (at least I think that was pork, maybe she can set me straight!) a very rustic version of the dish. I liked the noodles, but didn't think the meat sauce had quite as much flavor as it should have.
Cameron's flank steak with peppery greens was nearly perfect- the meat was nicely seared medium rare, as you can see. (I'm not sure it's worth going into too much detail about each of these dishes since they probably change fairly frequently - so I'm just hitting some of the highlights.)
My beef cheek was a curious dish. The meat was fork tender and came apart in strings, as good braised beef should - and it had been coated in a crisp crust of panko - sealing in the moisture even further. I love horseradish, so I was expecting a nice balance of rich meat and tangy sauce. For the first few bites, it was indeed delicious - but the horseradish sauce was really strong, and there was a little too much of it - and I quickly got tired of it. I kept trying to give bites of it away - now my dining companions know why!
We scored again with the vacherin - a dessert made with meringue. This one was made with coffee ice cream, covered with a delicious homemade hot fudge, on a pool of creme anglaise and sprinkled with perfect toasted almonds. Everything about it was just right - we shared two between four people (Paul ordered a couple of the bites of chocolate covered frozen banana from a list of small bites for people who don't want a whole dessert) and we were practically licking the plates - it was that good.
While the food was great, what I really enjoyed was the company. Anita and Cam are both dry and funny - as I have found so many foodbloggers to be (isn't it funny how these common threads seem to run through us?) and Sean and Paul are as sophisticated and gregarious as you'd expect if you've read their site. Sean has some connections down here, so I'm hoping he'll get in touch on his next trip. I love showing people that in fact there IS good food in San Diego - if only you know where to look. It's not like San Francisco, where you can fall backwards - team building exercise style - and it rises up to meet you, but isn't that part of the fun?? Can I get a hell yeah - Super Cocina fans?
I think this is it for San Francisco (unless you want to hear about my massage and soak in the Kabuki Hot Springs and the delicious hot chocolate I enjoyed afterwards at Bittersweet on Fillmore - oh wait, you just did) so it's on to some recipes and some local stuff next. Pickled carrots, chocolate chip cookies, and who knows what else - I'll have to go back through my photos to remember!
Gossip alert - or maybe this is old news to everyone else - but the buzz is that Jennifer Biesty and Zoi, her girlfriend (they co-starred on the last season of Top Chef) have split, and Jen will be leaving COCO500 soon - no news seems to be updated recently, but that's the scuttlebutt in and around town. Maybe someone "in the know" can update us here.
500 Brannan St
San Francisco, CA 94107