It's impossible not to expect something big from Chris Cosentino.
Following the runaway success of Ferry Building butcher shop Boccalone and Incanto, his now-closed Noe Valley Italian restaurant, any new project from "Offal Chris" is greeted with excitement, anticipation and curiosity.
We have our answer in the form of Cockscomb, Cosentino's brand-new restaurant, which opened to great fanfare (and regular crowds) in SoMA this December. The Cockscomb team describes the restaurant as "a celebration of San Francisco's rich culinary history," thanks to the appearance of classic dishes like Celery Victor ($12), not to mention a selection of San Francisco movie-themed cocktails. (The Bullitt, $14, a simple blend of rye, Cynar and grapefruit bitters, is excellent).
But we see the bawdy, bombastic, wonderfully bold menu at Cockscomb as a showcase of Cosentino's distinctive chef style: He makes unsung ingredients shine, while executing deceptively simple classics with aplomb.
Chef Chris Cosentino
Sure, you can order a new take on an old-school quail tetrazzini ($35). You can also order a whole roasted pig's head ($65), dressed with chicories and capers and meant to serve a group. Both are worthy options, but we found ourselves taken by dishes that showed Cosentino's more subtle creativity.
Take the little gems salad ($11), a play on a classic Green Goddess. The star here is the bright, fresh greens themselves, coated in a salty, avocado-rich dressing, tossed with light, crisp cracklings. It's a great flavorful salad and is unique without being over the top.
We found a similarly light touch in the beef heart tartare ($16). The flavors are familiar, and the execution is undeniably delicious: It's made with heart, yes, but is simply studded with capers and spiced with mustard. The overall result is balanced, savory and fresh. It's a perfect introduction for those unaccustomed to organ meat while being a stellar order for those who eat organs with relish. The accompanying fried potatoes and olive oil-brushed, thick-sliced Tartine toast don't hurt, either.
Skip the caveman-size bacon chop ($32) and go for the more refined bavette steak ($33), the delivery of which was preceded by a seriously sexy Japanese steak knife for each diner. The steak, sliced across the grain and cooked to a gorgeous ruby red, is an exercise in stunning simplicity. The meat is accentuated with hints of salt and heat, served with shockingly good charred carrots and pearl onions, all of which is coated with a lusty kombu butter.
This is nicely accompanied by the day's market vegetable ($6). When we visited, it was a hearty pile of Swiss chard, flavored with whole anchovies and garlic. The chard, cooked to a perfect al dente crunch, included the thick stalks, proving Cosentino can do for whole vegetables what he can for animals.
Though we appreciated dishes that showcased restraint, it's worth going a little over the top with a meal—in our case, in the form of a bruschetta special ($19), where Tartine toast was laden with uni butter, local rock crab, lardo and radish. Rich enough to count as dessert and delicious enough to dream about for days after, the uni butter dominates, well matched by the briny sweetness of pulled crab and the bracing crunch of radish.
Cosentino's style is bold and cocky enough to support big flavors and a bit of restraint here and there. We're glad he's going both ways.
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