For someone who loves the simplicity and directness of Italian food, especially when it comes from a wood-fired oven and hearth, the problem with the menu at Cotogna is in narrowing down the choices. As a result, extra dishes can easily make a simple lunch into an impromptu banquet.
Cotogna is the long-awaited casual sister to Quince, the much-lauded restaurant steeped in Italian cuisine. Michael Tusk’s kitchen turns out some of the best pasta anywhere, so it took all my restraint not to order all six of the primi on the menu earlier this week when my wife and I met a friend for our annual pre-Christmas lunch. But then, if we did, would we have enough appetite for one of the pizzas too? Or the spit-roasted pork or lamb chops scottadito? Not to mention a roster of vegetable dishes that are hard to pass up.
Resisting the urge to invite several more tables to join us and share one of everything, we tried tagliatelle (narrow flat noodles) with crab so sweet and juicy it tasted like it had been cooked right in the pasta, not in advance. We loved the smoky meatiness of the pappardelle (wide flat noodles) with lamb roasted in the wood oven, but my favorite, the garganelli (hand-rolled tubes) with a ragû of rabbit, chanterelles and artichokes, delivered a gorgeous combination of flavors and smooth textures.
The freshness and vitality of the wood-roasted squid contrasted refreshingly with the grapefruit and spicy puntarella greens in a delicate antipasto salad. The spit-roasted pork sang with the intensity of meaty flavor. Our bowl of fried pumpkin pieces emptied quickly, and the roasted carrots glazed with honey from the restaurant’s rooftop hives warmed us on a cold, rainy afternoon. My favorite dessert was the simplest: bònet (a cocoa-infused custard) with a crumble of amaretti cookies.
The pizza was the only disappointment. The squash, leek and mushroom topping tasted fine, but the crust was stiff, perhaps because it was Monday lunch and the oven wasn’t in tune for the week yet.
Pricing every wine on the all-Italian list of 46 at $40 takes some of the worry out of the choice. Of course, the actual percentage markup varies, but the difference in dollars is minimal. Of more concern, most of the choices are obscure, either from little-known producers, regions or grape varieties. But that’s part of the fun, and our server could answer questions confidently. Half of the wines are available by the glass, all at $10. Wine director David Lynch knows his stuff. You might make a discovery, as we did with our Sassotondo Cigliegio Maremma 2009. Light in body, rich in flavor, the wine sailed through the above-mentioned dishes without blinking.
The place is small, on a corner between San Francisco’s Financial District and North Beach. All of the wide wooden tables have a clear view of the wood-fired oven and hearth. If that makes your mouth water, you’re in the right place.
490 Pacific Ave., San Francisco, Calif., 94133
Telephone: (415) 775-8508
Jim Lam — Vancouver, BC, Canada — December 22, 2010 2:43am ET
Whit Thompson — Rochester, NY — December 22, 2010 9:23am ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — December 22, 2010 1:01pm ET
Jason Thompson — Foster City, CA — December 22, 2010 10:21pm ET
Jim Lam — Vancouver, BC, Canada — December 23, 2010 2:11am ET
Matthew Segura — San Francisco, California, USA — December 23, 2010 4:04pm ET
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