Dear Antoinette E.,
As usual, my trip to SF was a culinary magic carpet ride. My friends, George & Diana, are foodies from way back. They were into Slow Food before there was a name for it and not only appreciate good food, but also grow it and prepare a lot of it themselves. The festival of delights began as soon as I stepped off the plane, and didn't stop until the following Sunday morning when we went back on Daylight Savings Time and I reluctantly said good-bye to the city by the bay.
The week started off with a snack to tide me over until dinner: A juicy ruby red California grapefruit that Diana cut into perfect sections for me with a knife that she sharpened for the occasion. I watched with salivating mouth as she expertly cut the rind from the fruit and then separated the tender sections from their membranes. The produce in California, as you know, bears only superficial resemblance to the tasteless, anemic fruits and vegetables that we get here on the East Coast, and this grapefruit was like ambrosia. But, as I said, that was only an amuse bouche, as we had dinner reservations at a new restaurant called Cotogna, the little sister of Quince, where we had had a superb meal on another visit two years ago, before it was "discovered" and moved to a newer, larger location.
Cotogna, located at 490 Pacific Avenue right next door to the new Quince and a lot less formal and stuffy, did not disappoint. In fact it set the standard, and a hard one to beat, for the rest of the week. Instead of bread or appetizers, we ordered a pizza for the table with ricotta cheese and nettles to start the meal off. The crust was thin and just the right crispness, the cheese creamy, not too pungent, and just the right background for the steamed nettles, which tasted like a cross between spinach and arugula. Wow! Next, we split a salad with broiled squid, bitter greens, grapefruit sections, and a citrus vinegrette that was the perfect combination of flavors. The squid was tender with just a hint of smokiness and a revelation to my friends, who had only tasted fried calamari before this.
Then came the pasta, which Mario Bataglia apparently has praised as the best in SF. We sampled two: Papardelle with a tomato-based rabbit sauce and Tagliolini with first-of-the-season fava beans in a light cream sauce. Yum! Mario was certainly right about the pasta, which was cooked al dente and had a mild but definite semolina flavor of its own. There were tender chunks of rabbit with the papardelle, and the sauce was pleasantly peppery but not gamey at all. My favorite of the two was the tagliolini. The fava beans were plump and meaty, and the cream sauce was light and gently coated the noodles, just the way I like it. We also ordered a fish dish - roasted whole sole with chicory and meyer lemon - which was less memorable but expertly deboned by Diana, who really is talented with a knife!
Though we were stuffed, we were not sorry that we decided to order dessert, which as you know is often an anti-climax even at good restaurants, but was not here. We shared two: The Bombolini - which are soft sugary donut holes stuffed with custard-like ricotta - with candied kumquats and limoncello sauce for dipping and a milk chocolate and almond milk budino. Far from an anti-climax, both of these desserts were orgasmic, and there were moans of pleasure all around the table with each bite. We had just enough of the bottle of the Rosso de Montalcino that I ordered (Cotogna only has Italian wines on the menu so I got to show off my knowledge of those) to finish off a perfect meal, and that was just the first night!
Hope I have whetted your appetite for more...
Your friend and correspondent,