Coqueta \ˈflərt\ verb: to behave amorously without serious intent.
A couple of months ago while visiting the Ferry Building Farmers Market, one of my friends suggested we go have lunch at ‘Coqueta’, the new Spanish restaurant of ‘Michael Chiarello’. After drooling at some of the offerings at the Farmers Market, I just wanted to grab something from the market and find a sunny spot on the pier and eat. After a little arm twisting, we took the short walk down the Embarcadero to Pier 5 to give Coqueta a try. I had already heard numerous good reports about this restaurant, but also knew it was tough to get a reservation. Since we didn’t have one I was trying to contain my excitement until I was sure we could get a table. We got there right as they were opening and were happy to hear that we could be seated at the communal table in the bar area. After taking a peek inside the beautiful dining room we were a little disappointed we had to eat in the bar, but since we didn’t have a reservation we were just happy to get a table. As it turned out, we enjoyed the bar area very much. The bar is surrounded by windows and the view was amazing on this sunny afternoon. On that day we were able to watch the “America’s Cup” boats coming and going, all framed with the backdrop of the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island. On our return visits, we made sure to make reservations so that we could sit in the beautiful dining room. The main room with the large open kitchen is beautiful and warm. Rustic wood finishes, open beams, cowhide rugs and leather bound seats combine with the soaring high ceilings to create a space that is dramatic, elegant and pleasingly comfortable ( so beautiful that you won’t miss the view from the bar area at all).
The bar menu is divided into ‘Soft Libations’, ‘SF Inspired Cocktails’, ‘Sangria’, ‘Traditional Spanish Party Pitchers’ and ‘Spanish Gin & Tonics’. I had heard people rave about the ‘Barca Gintonic’ (‘Bloom London Dry Gin’ with ‘Fever Tree Tonic’, a wedge of grapefruit and garnished with juniper berries, pine and nasturtium) and now I know why. It was as tasty and refreshing as it was beautiful. I enjoyed the ‘Barca’ so much that I had trouble considering anything else (even though the other offerings look great). Next time I’d like to go with a group and try one of the party pitchers that look like a suitable option for sharing with friends. Along with a wonderful selection of California wine, I was impressed with the thorough collection of Spanish wines from the various wine regions of Spain. Enough of the drink menu…I’m hungry…let’s talk about the food!
I’ve always loved tapas! I’m not sure why I don’t opt for them more often. Since discovering Coqueta, however, I am definitely getting my tapas fix. So far we have tried nearly all the hot and cold tapas on the menu. We usually start with cold tapas like the ‘Tortilla Andres’. As you know, a Spanish tortilla bears no resemblance to a corn or flour tortilla. It is more like a thick open-faced egg and potato omelet. In this case, it is served with sweet corn and a piquillo pepper alioli. We also enjoyed the “Baby Beets” which are served with Sausalito watercress, beet vinagreta and Cabrales blue cheese ‘snow’. Moving on to the hot tapas, we loved the ‘Grilled Albóndigas’ (a duck and pork meatball surrounded by a tart cherry and tempranillo purée and topped with ‘melt in your mouth’ crispy shallots). Our absolute favorite though was the ‘Grilled Ibérico Secreto’, a Spanish butchers’ secret cut of pork served with ‘Tximi-Txurri’ and watercress’. If you felt a slight tremor or disturbance in the force during our last visit, it was from our disappointment that this was no longer on the menu! As you may know, Ibérico pork is a Spanish free-range acorn fed pork. Not much is produced or makes its’ way here so it a treat when you get the chance to enjoy it. The diet of acorns makes the meat tender, succulent, well-marbled and buttery in texture. It was grilled and served on a plank, deliciously rare and juicy…it was perfection! I can only hope it returns to the menu soon! There is still plenty other tapas to enjoy including the ‘Whole Monterey Calamari’. It is served on the ‘plancha’ with onion jam and squid ink alioli. The ‘Wood-grilled Octopus’ with fingerling potatoes, pimentón, and olive oil is also a winner. In addition to the tapas, the lunch menu contains some larger plates, salads and sandwiches and, of course, a beautiful Paella for two.
As some of you know I am not a big desert guy (I usually don’t have any room left). But the ‘Churro Fantasia’ caught my eye, fondly remembering this classic that I had ‘splurged’ on each morning on my last trip to Spain. ‘Churro Fantasia’ is a drinking chocolate with a mixed berry powder on the side for dipping, giving it a nice twist on the classic. However, there was another desert on the menu that stopped me dead in my tracks…the ‘Adriatic Fig Tartaleta’. It is a crispy fig tart topped with a quenelle of house made ‘Cabrales Blue Cheese Ice Cream’. Cheese for desert is an idea that is not nearly as popular in the U.S. as it is in Europe; I don’t know why when you consider the popularity of cheesecake or a piece of apple pie with a thick slab of American cheese on top. Even if you’re not a fan of blue cheese, the taste was delicate and mild enough to compliment the sweetness and crispy crust of the tart without overwhelming it. I have become so obsessed with this ice cream that I have been working on making a version of my own so I can have it more often! So far I am somewhat pleased with my recipe, but it still needs work. When I get it right, I will share it with you here.
I’m not surprised Michael Chiarello was recently named ‘Chef of the Year’ by Esquire magazine. He, along with chef de cuisine Ryan McIlwraith, is cooking up some incredible food. Be sure to check it out so you can see for yourself what all the buzz is about.
Coqueta on the web http://coquetasf.com