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Fine Dining Hall of Fame: Coi

California cuisine, attitude resonate with guests

Meet this year’s inductees into the Fine Dining Hall of Fame. The celebrated restaurants and chefs have excelled in a segment most demanding. Learn more about the 2011 Fine Dining Hall of Fame.

In a relatively short five-year span, Daniel Patterson’s intentionally low-key Coi, with its “flavors of place,” has sparked plenty of culinary excitement.

Open since 2006 in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, Coi — the word means “tranquil” in old French — already has garnered four stars from San Francisco Chronicle critic Michael Bauer and two stars from the Michelin Guide San Francisco, Bay Area & Wine Country edition, which ranked it among the region’s top eight restaurants. 

A self-taught chef and restaurateur, Patterson earlier won acclaim at the now-shuttered Babette’s in Sonoma, Calif., and Elisabeth Daniel in San Francisco. But he has hit his stride at Coi, competitors and peers say.

“On multiple occasions we’ve taken our chefs to Coi for their personnel reviews. We wanted to show them the best,” said Michael Dellar, chief executive of San Francisco’s Lark Creek Restaurant Group.

LCRG, among 14 venues, owns One Market, which has one Michelin star, and The Tavern at Lark Creek, an inductee into the Fine Dining Hall of Fame under its original name, The Lark Creek Inn.

Coi’s reputation for innovation is known far and wide, with a full 50 percent of the people eating at the dinner-only restaurant checking in from other countries, said Ron Boyd, director of operations for Patterson’s Daniel Patterson Group management and consulting company.

Boyd confirmed that Coi is serious about its supply lines. Virtually all dishes contain ingredients “locally foraged or from local farmers or ranchers or grown on the rooftop garden,” he said. 

And Coi guests can spend some serious money — $270 if they are among the 40 percent that adds the $105 wine pairing option to the standard $165 tasting menu. 

Patterson said his team’s goal is to create “an emotional connection” with guests, and along those lines, the kitchen regularly turns out such creative and playful dishes as clams with bull kelp, wild fennel and Meyer lemon. That dish saw the seaweed cut into noodle-like strips, thereby suggesting a classic bowl of linguine and clams, and then plated in a manner Patterson said was intended to evoke imagery of the curvy California coastline that spawned the primary ingredients. 

“It is not supposed to be a temple of fine dining,” Patterson said of Coi. “It is supposed to be more like an overachieving neighborhood place.”

From the chef: In their own words

Patterson spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about his cooking and the dishes at Coi.

How do Coi’s “native Californian” foods differ from others’ “California cuisine?”

I think our food is more technically precise, [and] I think the voice is a little different. If you go through the menu, you are going to find a lot of dishes without reference points. You can’t just look at them and say, “Ah, this is like this other thing I had.” There is a lot of connectivity in these dishes, or threads that connect them to either tradition or natural setting or something else [important].

What is the basis for such cooking?

We just try to make food that tastes good and means something to us. There has to be an idea there, something that is inspiring or that is a means of introducing people to a way of

looking at the world that maybe they haven’t come across before. We work very hard to make something that is honest and carries very clearly from the kitchen to the diner the care and attention and the kind of love we put into it.

How does one end up with a dish such as lichen-crusted beef?

I was on a photo shoot in a forest and they just wanted me to gather up a bunch of stuff and put it in a bowl. I tried some lichen that was on a branch. It was earthy and mushroomy and provocative, and it stuck with me. We serve it with wild coastal spinach, chanterelles and bordelaise infused with native spices [including California bay and wild fennel], lime juice and rice-wine vinegar. Basically what you have is beef with mushrooms, spinach and bordelaise, which is about as classic as you can get. So it is something familiar that has shape shifted a little bit, but is very harmonious when you eat it. All the ingredients are from one forest and the nearby coastline.

READ MORE: Fine Dining Hall of Fame 2011

Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @AJ_NRN

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