Dining at Cockscomb
From long ago, one of my favorite restaurants was Incanto. I say “favorite,” and truly mean it, but due to its location and my almost never being in that area of the city, I really didn’t get to go often even when I did think of it, because whatever we do right before or right after would end up being in a different area of town. I was bummed to hear that location was closing, but when news came of Chef Cosentino opening a new restaurant in SOMA, I planned to be the first in line.
But as is the case with my life, what I hope to do and what I must do are not always one and the same, so it took me an embarrassingly long time to get to Cockscomb. But over the weekend, Mr. K had planned a date night for us, but I had Mr. K cancel reservations at another restaurant (which I’d been to already) because I was hell-bent on finally checking out Cockscomb. While I had no idea which building Cockscomb was actually located in, I figured they would have windows so we made reservations for geriatric hours so I’d have some light and I went with my camera in tow.
The problem with “date night,” though, is that it means it’s us two. The problem with that is always going to be that there’s a limited amount of food that I can order. I know I might be the only woman on the planet complaining about this downside of date night, but hey, if I’m going to eat at a restaurant, I’d love to be able to take a bite of each dish, pick my favorite and go to town.
Upon entering the restaurant, you’ll find a lofty space with good lighting and an overall nice, very SF-ish feel to it. There’s a good amount of counter seating directly in front of the open kitchen where chefs are busily preparing dishes. This would be something akin to a “chef’s counter” at some fancy places, which I enjoy just fine, but (1) the high bar stool seating for dinner drives me crazy and (2) when I say they’re cooking, I’m not talking about just one stove; I’m talking about a wood burning pit that is on high and cooking up some amazing meats all night long–which to me means heat. Just thinking about it is making me hot already. I tried sitting there and ordered a glass of Turnbull Cabernet ($19) while Mr. K was parking, but by the time he came in, I was requesting a table. Thankfully, they moved us to a table.
Cockscomb has a full bar–and the drunk menu is quite nice. With a good selection of draft beers, I was tempted by the Hen House Oyster Stout but ended up ordering the glass of Turnbull Cabernet Sauvignon. (Incidentally, if you haven’t been to Turnbull Wine Cellars, give it a whirl.) About 10 minutes later, I’d regret this choice because someone at another table ordered what looked like an Old Fashioned and I was tempted to get one too because it looked so good–and I have two bottles of Turnbull in my own cellar. (See photo above–on the table, doesn’t look delicious?)
The wine list, while not enormous, was a great selection of wines priced from $45 to $395, with a few awesome choices included like the Biale Zinfandel, Stag’s Leap Cab, and my favorite Italian wine, 2012 Antinori Tignanello; I’ve only tried the 2010 but to say it was spectacular would be the greatest understatement.
The Food at Cockscomb
Some of you will know that I absolutely abhor food doused in sauce. There’s nothing wrong with sauce–and a good sauce is great. But good sauce is when you want to take something mediocre to something great, not when you start with something great. That’s how it is in my book anyway.
And I’m always thankful that this is how things are with Chef Chris Cosentino. A drizzle here and there is something you will find, but the prime ingredients used in his cooking are never covered up in sauce. Whatever you find gracing the top of his cooking is always to kick it up a notch in flavor–but it never masks the star of the dish. Seriously, nothing pisses me off more than sauce.
The other thing about Chef Cosentino, which I find rather unfortunate, is that he’s near singularly known for his meat dishes–or more specifically, offal. But if you believe that, then you’re missing out on something else he is extraordinary at: PASTA.
Some of the best pasta dishes I’ve had in San Francisco came from him. There is a lot of good pasta in the city, but nobody with half-working taste buds can deny that this man excels at pasta. The squid ink pasta he used to serve at Incanto was mind-blowing, but best ever would be his Sardinian Tuna Heart Spaghettini–a dish I could eat every single day. The only other pasta dish that rivals this one in the city is the foie gras pasta at Acquerello–but it’s a toss-up, really.
So I was beyond thrilled to know it remained on the menu at Cockscomb.
This is not a dish you can skip at Cockscomb. I cannot understand how anybody cannot love this dish. With perfectly cooked fresh pasta, tuna heart is shaved on top with an egg yolk in the middle. The noodles are lightly taste of butter and a little salt, but once you pop that yolk and mix it altogether, the yolk helps the tuna heart shavings stick to every piece of noodle.
What has changed with this dish since Incanto was the portioning. It’s listed under the entree section on the dinner menu but this portion was not enough for one person, never mind two. So word of advice: if you don’t want to fight at dinner, order one for each person. Given that this is a $22 entree, I would hope for a significantly larger portion (really, double the size would be okay by me) or it should really be on the starter menu at a lesser cost at this portion size. What you see above is not my share of this dish–that is the whole dish. I do not recall this being so small at Incanto, and perhaps the price of tuna heart itself has gone up for all I know. But it was expensive for the size.
And STILL, I’d urge you to order it. You’ll be hard-pressed to find better pasta anywhere in San Francisco.
Chef Cosentino was nice enough to include it in my book, incidentally– but given that I have no idea where to buy cured tuna heart, I’ve yet to make it.
Another pasta dish that was heavenly at Cockscomb was actually a side dish on the menu, 1/3 the cost of the spaghettini at only $9.00, but would easily go up against any gnocchi in the city. (Its only rival as far as I’m concerned would be Albona, where Chef Hernandez makes a gnocchi to die for on a nightly basis.) The gnocchi is expertly made and fried, and garnished with Pecorino Romano cheese. Mr. K loved this so much that I took one and gave him the rest.
The outside offers a slight crunch as you bite into it, with the inside being just silky and soft. Definitely choose this one as your side dish for the evening; really, with just a few pieces more, it would be an amazing entree–so much flavor and richness! Unlike the spaghettini, this dish felt underpriced, but that could because gnocchi is the one thing I seem to fail at making all too often.
But like I said, it’s a shame that Chef Cosentino is known mostly for offal. DEFINITELY TRY THE PASTA DISHES.
Now I’ve gone out of order, but let’s get back to the appetizers.
Incanto was the first restaurant where I tried raw lamb, and while that apparently didn’t make the menu at Cockscomb, I found an equally delicious beef heart tartare. Look at this thing! My pictures don’t do it justice, but what looks like a little patty of raw beef is mashed and chopped beef heart with incredible seasoning, textures and flavor. Somehow, this dish manages to be both light and heavy. The texture of heart is such that it’s very lean but whatever the kitchen does with it actually packs it with more substance and ends up being a little of both.
The bread they serve with it are two large pieces of delicious bread with butter, perfectly toasted and served warm, providing a nice contrast to the cold beef heart. Incidentally, our server offered more bread, to which we said yes–but it turns out they charge for the additional bread, so there’s your heads up.
And that plain little mix of greens they serve there on the side? Don’t be fooled by its utterly plain exterior; the dressing is a wonderful vinaigrette that lightly coats the greens and provides a nice little spark of acid to this dish.
And Mr. K was eating this so heartily. I commented, “I can’t believe how much you’re enjoying the beef heart!”
Him: “The WHAT?”
Our server, Ashley, had a big selection of specials to list but when she said “foie gras,” I said OK before I even listened to the rest. So that was included in our order.
Upon its arrival, I’m look at this thing thinking that is really not the prettiest dish I’ve seen. And I’m thinking it’s illegal to cover up a whole chunk of foie gras with anything. It actually doesn’t look good but the aromas indicated otherwise, and I spied foie gras. And in their defense, they did call it a “Hot Mess.”
I slide off the braised meat on top and voila–beautiful foie gras. (Yes, I went a little overboard with the photos.)
But with this dish, while the foie gras was amazing seared on the outside and perfectly cooked–the messy part of this dish actually was fantastic. It almost took the foie gras’ star power away with how intense the flavors were. It tasted like braised short rib meat (and I might actually know what it was exactly if I heard the rest of what the server was saying), and it just melted in your mouth. Paired with the strawberries in this dish that were slightly sweet and slightly tart, each bite was heavenly.
The last entree of the evening was something called “Bacon Chop.” I don’t know how to see something called Bacon Chop and not order it, so I had to forego the Nettle Risotto I wanted to try and the Branzino or Coulotte Steak and opt for this chop.
First, I don’t think my pictures convey just how large this chop is, and while it is bone-in, the bone is maybe 1/8 the size of what you see. This thing is ENORMOUS–I’d say about an inch plus thick–a beast. And it’s one outstandingly cooked chunk of meat. I personally would’ve liked it to be a little pinker (not that they asked how I’d like it cooked) but it was just at that point where anyone would enjoy it and the juices were still present in the meat.
Nicely charred on the outside, the meat retains its own milder pork flavors. Anyone who truly appreciates pork on its own will love this like I did. Mr. K, on the other hand, thought it needed sauce (he ain’t there yet, what can I say?), but I know I am right about this: this is one fine pork chop.
Do you see the commonplace slaw on the side (that was also, strangely, tossed on TOP of this gorgeous pork chop)?
Well, I’ll have you know that first, I couldn’t identify what’s in this slaw, but it was some wonderfully curious flavor and scent. I got a whiff of something–and I’d guess it’s what was called “burnt lime” on the menu (which I would presume is actually what it sounds like–the juice of a burnt lime) but what struck me is not the sour notes in this but a particular flavor; it’s reminiscent of horseradish, or something different that for once, I could not put my finger on. I’m normally really good about tasting something and BAM — I can identify what peculiar ingredient was used in it, but not in this case. Either it was just the blend of flavors they used or something very unique was in this cabbage slaw. All you really have to know is that despite its appearance, it is DELICIOUS.
We couldn’t finish but half the pork chop at the restaurant, but by 1:30 AM, I ate the remainder while working late that evening at home.
Along with the Bacon Chop and Spaghettini for our entrees, we opted for the Duck Fat Cauliflower for one our side dishes as well as the aforementioned gnocchi. Again, when you say duck fat anything, I’ll order first and ask questions later. I wanted the wood roasted beets with lavage and creme fraiche but the duck fat won. The cauliflower is nicely cooked and the flavors are good–but the duck fat didn’t add too much to this dish. If you like cauliflower (which I love raw, cooked or pureed) you’ll like this dish. But I wish I’d opted to try the beets or even the sunchokes. Yum.
I watched in envy as many platters of food passed by me to be delivered to other tables with larger groups. Cockscomb offers “shared supper” options, meant for 2-3 people as I understood it, and while the choices seemed outstanding and something I’d love to have–ordering one of those meant I’d be trying even fewer dishes! But with options like Pin Bone Steak with Bone Marrow Dip, Braised Lamb Shoulder Parisian or a Wood Oven Roasted Pig’s Head–they were incredibly tempting. I saw one huge platter of steak being sliced and nearly walked over to grab a piece. What I spotted of the steak was a beautiful medium-rare and just scrumptious.
For starters, they had a raw bar, which you all know is my thing. But as much as I love my oysters and shellfish, this dinner was about trying the cooking so we skipped the raw bar this evening. Also tempting was the ceviche. Knowing their cured meat was excellent, I had ordered a $25 platter of their charcuterie option (they have a larger board for $45 for larger parties) but when I was done ordering, the server did inform me that it might be too much food–and she was right. We left stuffed to the gills and while I really did want to get a shot of the charcuterie platters–that would have to wait for next time.
This would be the ideal place where friends can go and share in tons of oysters and shellfish, share a lot of small plate appetizers and dried meats, then finish off the meal with a shared supper.
Because I was craving Philz Coffee, we skipped dessert and went to get some delicious coffee after this meal.
Cost-wise, I thought the restaurant’s pricing was pretty good all around except for that spaghettini. While at $22, it’s still worthwhile only because it’s so good, it is really small, but for the rest of the meal, it’s downright affordable compared to some of the other restaurants in the city. For everything we ate above and one glass of wine, it was only $154.95 total, and with $30 in tip, it was a meal under $200.
Location-wise, it’s so much better because they’re in SOMA. But because it’s SOMA, parking can be a huge hassle. Across the street from the restaurant down Freelon Street, there is a paid parking lot. For our dinner which took about 1 hour and 20 minutes, parking costs were $15. This fee made this dinner exactly $200 total, but still, in San Francisco, that’s actually pretty affordable for what we ate, especially when in the same ‘hood, you can easily surpass $200 for two people at places like Alexander’s Steakhouse or even 25 Lusk, and the food won’t be better (though both places offer valet parking, always a huge plus with me!).
For me, and keep in mind I can get hot worrying about getting hot, counter seating at this restaurant is not an option. While it does give you a view straight into the kitchen and action, it’s also an open kitchen–meaning there’s no window between you and the chefs. And by the time the restaurant was full, that wood stove was basically emanating heat all the way to our table. So, I highly advise dressing in layers so you can start peeling them off in case you end up at the counter or definitely requesting a table seat if your temperature takes priority over your view.
All in all, Cockscomb was every bit as good as I expected from the previous chef at Incanto. The flavors and seasoning at Cockscomb are spot-on and I suspect there’s never an overcooked item here, especially when it comes to their meats. But don’t just focus on their meats–you have to give the pasta dishes a try, at least. And as mentioned, these slaws and salads are seriously impressive. The not-to-be-missed dishes are the spaghettini and beef heart tartare.
And just like that, Cockscomb is being added to my Best Date Restaurants list!