Spanish tapas receive an upscale makeover with the gorgeous San Francisco Bay Bridge in the background. Too often, this now extremely popular cuisine, can feel exactly the same, just a different location, different named place, same menu. Coqueta completely breaks the mold, reinventing traditional tapas with surprises and utilization of contemporary techniques in each and every dish. Therefore, it’s no surprise that famed chef Michael Chiarello’s year old restaurant became a finalist for the James Beard Award’s Best New Restaurant. One of the top five new spots in the country, pretty impressive.
The restaurant creates an extremely rustic feel, incorporating wood and metal into every aspect of the space. Traditional ceramic plates are replaced with smooth wooden boards, and unique silverware adds to the country feel.
When you see a drink section titled “Traditional Spanish Party Pitchers,” you know whatever fills the glass container will be a good time. We opted to try a ‘Basque Favorite,’ Kalimotxo, a mixture of Red Sangria, Cola Mexicana and Cinnamon.
Cola Mexicana offers a completely different flavor from the American version, with a milder carbonation and a less cloyingly sweet flavor. When mixed with Red Sangria, it gives the traditional drink a mild sweetness and a pleasant additional of bubbles. It’s refreshing with a hint of spice from the cinnamon found throughout. If you’re a fan of Sangria, you will definitely be a Kalimotxo fan.
Cheese platters can quickly set the tone for the meal, for better or worse. Outstanding presentations, quality of cheese, and accompanying condiments raise the bar. If you can perfect something as simple as a cheese plate, you can instantly get excited for what’s to come.
Just look at this beauty; elegantly presented on a custom designed wooden board fit to hold the salted marcona almonds with a sliver a newspaper contributing to the styling. The waiter explained each component, before leaving us to devour the variety of cheeses. Instead of simple bread or crackers, Coqueta creates their own crispy tortas, sparkling from a layer of extra virgin olive oil, without leaving behind any grease on your fingers. The variation of cheeses, a slightly-stinky blue, a creamy goat cheese with a thick, soft outer ring, and a hard manchego tossed with rosemary, create a diversity of textures and flavors. Membrillo always adds a sweetness, rounding out the ultimate cheese platter.
For our self-deemed intermezzo, palate cleanser course, we enjoyed the White Bean Gazpacho, which the waitress split in two.
The thick, chilled soup differs greatly from the traditional tomato-based version. It’s a creamy soup, tasting of pureed white beans. Grapes and almonds add a necessary elements of texture to the gazpacho, giving a bit of refreshment from the otherwise rich soup. Half-portions are definitely the ideal amount in between courses.
The classic pairing of beets and cheese gets an upgrade through the utilization of molecular gastronomy. Blue cheese snow blankets a lightly dressed watercress salad and trio of beets. The colors are gorgeous, with the variations of Candy Cane, Yellow and Red Beets sitting on a deep colored huckleberry puree. It’s a fabulous lighter alternative to the traditional version of this dish.
Our favorite dish of the evening, Coqueta transforms whole Monterey calamari into something extraordinary. The protein is smoked before being grilled to give a complex flavor profile. It’s broken down into two parts, with the tentacles grilled until the outer parts are coated with a light char. It’s smokey, and perfectly cooked. Underneath the tentacles hides the real star, the body coated with a sweet and tangy onion jam. Pure genius. On the side, lies a squid ink aioli, which is the only thing I would ever willing eat to turn my teeth black. It’s smoky and silky aioli, showcases the ability to use the entire protein. This dish is insane.
Our course, we had to order my all-time favorite Spanish tapas, Patatas Bravas. But like all traditional dishes here, there’s a twist.
Lightly smoked and breaded new potatoes replace the traditional flash fried cut variation of patatas bravas. And I quickly wonder why this genius idea has never been seen before. All of the elements are still there, the crunchy exterior houses creamy potatoes, with the sweet, creamy garlic aioli sitting on top. The bravas salsa leans on the sweeter side, with a little hint of spice coming through at the very end. They’re sweet, creamy, crunchy and addictive. I could eat an entire tray of these and still want more.
We longed for something sweet after our delicious, and suprisingly light meal. The waitress recommended the Manchego Cheesecake, and stared in awe at the little lollipops topped with caramel corn that arrived in front of us.
Silky circles of manchego cheesecake are encased within a hard outer shell. The inside is delicious, slightly tangier then traditional cheesecake since manchego cheese replaces the traditional versions. The caramel corn on top provides a serious contrast in texture. It’s the ultimate bite size, “oh, I just want a little something sweet” dessert.
Coqueta revives the Spanish tapas movement in a whimsical and deliberate way. They reinvent dishes without trying so hard, making you wonder why this version isn’t considered a classic. The welcoming environment brightens the experience. If dining with just another person, opt to sit at the chef’s bar, where you can watch all of the wonderful creations come to life. And if you ask, they’ll explain what they are concocting and how liquid nitrogen creates souffles at Coqueta. Add this to your list of restaurants when in San Fran for an authentic experience on the pier, away from the tourists.
Coqueta – Pier 5, The Embarcadero – San Francisco, CA
Location: San Francisco, CA
Type: Spanish, Tapas
Perfect For: Casual Meal, Girls’ Night Out, Date Night, Small Plates
Reservations: Recommended via OpenTable
Favorite Dishes: Cheese Plate, Whole Monterey Calamari, Patatas Bravas, Manchego Cheesecake