New, high-end restaurants with aspirations for their food usually try to put together a serious wine list. Coi, the tiny new San Francisco restaurant from outspoken chef Daniel Patterson, offers only 40 wines, at least for now.
At first I couldn't believe that the two loose pages the server placed next to my menu constituted the entire range of wine choices on the inaugural list. But then I did a double take. Dauvissat Chablis Les Clos 1997 in half bottles ($75). Louis Jadot Corton-Charlemagne 1986 ($245). Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Mountain 1997 ($165). Comte de Vogüé Bonnes-Mares 1995 ($340). Those are way better than the sort of thing one usually finds on a 40-wine list.
Turns out sommelier Paul Costigan has long run a separate business that specializes in finding wines for collectors, so he has access to all kinds of mature bottlings from well-regarded producers. He has plans to build the list around these kinds of wines, gradually expanding it to maybe 150 or 175 choices.
That fits the profile at Coi, named for an archaic French word (pronounced "kwa") meaning "tranquil." The 30-seat dining room, built around a comfortable gray banquette, has clean lines and warm textures. Jazz plays softly on the sound system. Patterson's food trades in vivid flavors and brilliant colors. It looks gorgeous on the plate and restlessly seeks out unusual ways to combine unfamiliar flavors and textures. Patterson makes it add up to something refreshing and comforting, not quite as elaborate as his more recent forays at Frisson or Elisabeth Daniel.
Radiant green, chilled English pea soup contrasts the pure taste of the vegetable with a quenelle-shaped scoop of ricotta sorbet and fresh mint leaves. A subtle coriander -seed crust frames thin slices of sautéed duck breast, an emulsion of black olives and huckleberries combining into some new, exotic flavor that gives the bird's gamy note something to harmonize with.
The soup makes a perfect foil for Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2005, a jazzy New Zealand white, and you could not ask for a more perfect wine-and-food combination than that duck with the soft, cherry-centered glow of Château du Trignon Côtes-du-Rhône 2004. Both are $7 by the glass, chosen from the other page of the list, the one that covers 15 current-vintage wines available by the glass or bottle. These are not conventional choices, either.
Given the short list, Costigan and Patterson don't mind when customers bring in their own wines. They waive the corkage fee of $20 after any wine purchase. At the next table, two men in their 30s plunked down their bottle, a Coche-Dury Meursault-Perrieres 1995 and ordered glasses of Champagne to get started. Costigan brought them big Burgundy balloon glasses and got the bottle to the right temperature before serving it.
As Costigan expands his list, he needs to fill the gap between the largely under-$40-a-bottle regular list and the mostly $150-plus reserve page. Then the wines might get as much buzz as Patterson's food.
San Francisco, CA 94133
Four-course menu, $85; six-course tasting menu, $105
Apj Powers — Dallas, TX — May 11, 2006 10:14am ET
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