Earth / Sea
This dish is one of a series of dishes inspired by "living on the coast," says Chef Patterson. "That feeling of the place where earth meets sea...I grew up in Massachusetts—the ocean was always important to me, the sound of waves, the smell of seaweed...when I moved to the western edge of San Francisco 8 years ago, I rediscovered that, and it worked its way into the cooking." The focus of the dish is a delicate tofu, made from Coi's own soy milk, coagulated with ocean water ("We get it from fishermen who go out very deep," notes Chef Patterson) to yield a delicate, soft curd that's deeply savory. "It's an old hippie technique from Hawaii," Chef Patterson says, which he learned form pastry chef Matt Tinder. The whey is used with tomato water to make a gel, and also as a glaze for the tofu, which is seasoned with chili and shiro dashi. It's served with cherry tomatoes, olive oil, and many different types of seaweed. "It kind of resembles a tomato and mozzarella salad...we try to make dishes that are familiar, or evocative of something familiar, and the olive oil makes that connection."
Inverted Fromage Blanc Tart
"This is one of my favorite dishes," says Chef Patterson. The tart and tangy sheep's milk fromage blanc comes from Andante Dairy ("I've known her for 12 years," says Patterson), topped with a delicate buckwheat crisp, which Patterson says "adds an earthy, nutty, grounding note." It's served with diced raw and blanched fennel in a fennel dressing made with Champagne vinegar, wild fennel pollen, and fennel oil, and the plate is swirled with a vivid green sauce made with wheatgrass and olive oil. "People have an aversion to wheatgrass, but it's actually delicious, sweet and anise-flavored, evocative of pasture. We like to work with ingredients that are culturally relevant. Wheatgrass, sprouts, they're part of the California story."
Chilled Spiced Ratatouille Soup
"You have to have cooked in the 80s to understand how funny this is," says Patterson of his spin on ratatouille. The dish actually brings together three soups: a vivid yellow squash soup with turmeric, chili and lime, a chilled eggplant soup with cumin and coriander, vinegar, and lemon, and a brick-red tomato and piquillo pepper soup that's poured in at the table and stirred once to swirl the colors. "It's a familiar dish, but livelier—and you get something different in every bite."
Never heard of this vegetable before? According to Patterson, "Celtuce is the oldest member of the lettuce family, grown for its stalks and allowed to bolt. It has a slightly sweet, slightly bitter flavor." It's served here steamed in butter and water, as well as raw and crunchy for contrast, along with a slice of Comte cheese, new potatoes, and a puree of celtuce leaf and tarragon. The striking black sauce on the plate is made with brown butter, burnt hay, and Champagne vinegar: "I wanted something rich but bright, smoky and complex," says Chef Patterson.
You may have seen a recipe for these in Lucky Peach. "It's kind of an accidental dish," says Chef Patterson. "We were making a popcorn sauce last year, and the sauce kind of looked like grits." Thus, popcorn grits were born. He walked us through the process: unpopped popcorn kernels are simmered until soft in water and butter, and then strained. More popcorn is added, simmered, and strained again. "The liquid gets more and more intense and reduced, like a popcorn bouillon," says Chef Patterson. Popcorn is pressed through a strainer to make a grits-like texture, and to remove the seed and husk, then the liquid is added back into the thick corn mixture, along with some butter. "You end up with grits that taste like popped popcorn." But it's not just a modern-cooking trick; Chef Patterson is always reflective on how cuisine fits into culture. "In this area," he says, "popcorn has been eating for 6,000 years. Nomadic tribes carried it with them. And grits are one of our few true American dishes. Here, we have the two traditional things combined to make something new."
Peaches & Cream
The menu wraps up with a number of sweet bites courtesy of pastry chef Matt Tinder. The peaches for this dessert are tossed with sugar and compressed in a vacuum bag for serveral hours. "You can see they have a vivid color and texture that seems like it's cooked, but it's not. We're going for brightness here," Chef Patterson said. The sauce is seasoned peach juice, and they're topped with herbs and edible flowers. Alongside it, intensely silky ice cream made from Straus Creamery's cream.