Friday, January 24, 2014

Discovery Weekends: Searching for Michael Chiarello (or “What I did for my Birthday Weekend?”) – Coqueta SF

Ever since I saw “The Next Iron Chef” a couple of seasons ago, I’ve always wanted to try one of Michael Chiarello’s restaurants.  The judges loved his food and the description was very scrumptious: made me hungry every time. I was really disappointed that he did not win.

I had to find where his restaurant (or restaurants) is. So, I researched and was delighted to find that his restaurant, Bottega is so close to where we are, so close, but a world away. With the variety of activities in the San Francisco Bay Area, we rarely find ourselves in the Napa Valley – we’re probably there once a year.

Fast forward a few years, I heard the Chef Chiarello is opening a restaurant in San Francisco, near the Financial District. I decided that this is the perfect opportunity to visit. Plus, I have a birthday coming up.

I also happened to check my twitter and found that Chef Chiarello was going to be on The Late Show with Jimmy Fallon. I knew had to stay up. That segment was so funny (check it out on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon) – I knew it was a sign that this was going to be a great weekend.

The Big Day finally came. We went to "The City" via BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and took a comfortable stroll from the Ferry Building to Pier 5 at the Embarcadero, where Coqueta is located.  Coqueta features modernized Spanish tapas “with a touch of California.” Atmosphere was casual, but very classy, which complemented the the beautiful views of the San Francisco Bay.

Of course, tapas are not complete without drinking (or was it just wine), so Coquetta also features a very innovative bar, er… “cocktail program.” Since I tend to eat my alcohol these days, I stuck to non-alcoholic beverages and had a ginger beer and a J&T (Juniper and Tonic?). My husband, of course, had to try the sangria. Both were quite potent. The ginger beer was made in-house and was very gingery (loved it). I thought it would burn my palette but it actually enhanced my appetite. We sat at the bar for a while while we wait for our table, and admired the gorgeous drinks and fresh ingredients and spices used in the bar.

When dining out, my husband and I usually share an appetizer and an entrée. We made an exception this time. We really wanted to get the paella – one of my favorites. However, even knowing that it may be more than enough food, I was hungry enough to order a couple of tapas. My husband had me order (since it's my birthday weekend), so I chose the Chicken and English Peas Croquettes and the Albondigas – Duck and Pork Meatballs with a delicious cherry sauce and crispy shallots. I think we chose wisely.

The paella came and it did not disappoint. It had the key components of a paella: chorizo, huge prawns, clams, some root veggies.  Served with some spicy Spanish pickled peppers and lemon aioli, it was perfect and yes, we finished the whole thing and saved room for dessert, at least one of us did.

For dessert, I could not decide between the Churro “Fantasia” or the Machego Cheesecake Bites. My husband loves cheesecake, but said he did not want dessert. Although I wanted to get both, I opted to get only the churros (and have an excuse to return).

The churros were the perfect ending to the meal. It was just the right size and delicious: light, sweet, had that fried deliciousness, and can still have a touch of chocolate or a lot. After all, one can never get enough TCHO chocolate. Even my husband had half (two of the churros)– we both wanted to lick the chocolate bowl! This will definitely be one of my weekend experiments.

I also love the gold chocolate leaf with "Feliz Cumpleanos" - really nice touch. Too bad someone had a hard touch (one guess).

We will come back to Coqueta, even if it is just a quick bite at the bar after my weekend trips to the Ferry Building, shopping at the Embarcadero Center, watching the Giants games at AT&T park, etc….  I think we found a new San Francisco favorite. Besides, I got to have my ginger beer!
By the way, this was not the end of our search… stay tuned for next post.

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