Cocotte is ten minutes away from Powell Bart station on a bumpy bus ride, a cozy French restaurant that sits next to a seafood pub on a quieter street of San Francisco. The interior was intimate, its warm walls painted with a demure glow from small black lamps that protrude from the sides, an open kitchen set in the back where you can catch glimpses of chefs assembling dishes while speaking a flurry of French, and my favorite romantic touch, a small alcove carved into the inner wall with a table set for two shielded from the rest of the restaurant. Shame my friend and I didn’t get it.
I started off with a Kir Royale, the ultimate girly drink with a splash of sweet blackcurrant liquor mixed with bubbly champagne. After browsing through the menu, we decided to order the rabbit a la moutarde, a luck leg confit with roasted French round carrots for me, and scallop risotto for my friend. The bread they serve is extremely delicious, hard and crusty outside but warm and creamy soft inside. A few knifefuls of salty and tangy tapenade later, we had to ask the waiter for more bread.
As it was an early dinner on a weekday, the restaurant was relatively quiet. We could hear the sizzling sounds of the grills as they seared vegetables while we chatted comfortably in the corner. In the middle of hearing one of the many funny experiences my friend had at med school, our rabbit appetizer arrived. I’ve never had rabbit before and certainly didn’t know what to expect. I first picked at the gnocchi, a salty floury bit with a texture that reminded me of grilled mochi, golden crunch outside but sticky warmth inside. The slices of mushroom were extremely fragrant and meaty, and I adored the rabbit, small cubes of meat so tender the strands melt in your mouth. Forked together with the creamy mustard sauce, it was absolutely delicious.
The duck leg, dressed in a handful of bitter rocolla and topped with roasted pistachios, didn’t entirely meet my expectations after the delicious appetizer. While its skin was seared to a sumptuous thick crisp that can only be achieved with animal fat, the meat was a bit overcooked. The sharpness of the rocolla didn’t blend well with the extremely sour citrus gastrique, and as delectable roasted nuts could be, I wasn’t sure how the pistachios were supposed to complement the dish.
I’ve never been a fan of carrots and prefer not to eat any unless they don’t retain the original taste of a carrot, but my cocotte side was surprisingly appetizing. Caramelized with cippolini onions and crunchy pecans, they were the sweet and moreish.
My friend’s scallop risotto was a big improvement from my own dish though. The scallops were thick and salty, seared to a beautiful golden crisp outside that still managed to retain a supple and tender interior. The light basil foam complemented the squid ink risotto well.
No dinner is complete without dessert, so my friend and I ordered the banana crème brûlée and dessert special of the night (roasted nectarines with vanilla coulis) to share. The contrast between the cold cream and warmly torched bananas was my favorite part of the dessert. Each spoonful of rich vanilla custard and burnt sugary banana was heavenly, and while I knew I would be paying the price with gym the next day, I still managed to finish it.
I hadn’t expected the roasted nectarines to look like a trifle dressed prettily in a cocktail cup. (In fact, when I spotted it on the counter, I had wanted to ask the waiter what type of cocktail that was so I could order one.) The nectarines tasted of the sun, and the whipped cream and muted vanilla coulis balanced well with the sweeter fruit. Toasted almond slices added texture, but it wasn’t a particularly special dessert. Stick with the banana crème brûlée.
By the time we were nearing the end of our meal, the restaurant had gotten quite noisy. The proximity of the next table with its loud occupants was uncomfortable, and I was glad that we could finally get away from the woman’s squeaky voice when our bill arrived (funnily in a cocotte pot, which I still think is an unnecessary touch…a simple bill holder would have done). I found myself tipping heavily because of the highly attentive and warm service, something out of the ordinary for me. Thinking about it now, it must probably have been because I hadn’t seen my best friend for most of the year while she was tucked away in the East Coast, and her presence and conversation made all the difference in the world to me. Though Cocotte is a nice repeat, I have a bunch of other places in mind to take her out to when she comes back next.
1521 Hyde Street
San Francisco, CA 94109