Words by Chef Daniel Patterson
I have always cooked tasting menus. I love the way they flow, the elegance of form, the element of surprise. Within haute cuisine, they allow for the highest level of expression. They are all that I know as a professional cook, and all that I care about.
When we opened Coi, there were no other restaurants in San Francisco that offered only highly personal tasting menus, nor was there much of an indication that there was any demand for one. I thought that the business would have a better chance of success if I opened with a shorter, less ambitious format. Our first menu was a four-course fixed-price affair with three choices in each course.
It didn’t last long. Guests wanted and expected a tasting menu, and I missed the challenge and excitement of creating them. After about a month I added an eleven-course tasting menu to go alongside the four-course menu. A few months later I dropped the four-course menu entirely. It wasn’t how I liked to cook, and I figured that there’s not much point in killing yourself for something you don’t love. For the next two years we served a daily changing eleven-course menu, with vegetarian choices for the few protein-based dishes. Then one day, I realized that there were sixteen possible permutations of that one menu, but only one was, to me, the best. Why not just choose the best dishes based on the best ingredients that day? Now we serve one menu of eleven to thirteen courses every night.
It seems like it should be easy to prepare only one menu, but it’s not. If all we do is offer a collection of tasty dishes, then we’ve failed. The menu should be a story and each course a chapter, one building on the next, the transitions fluid, graceful, surprising. The dishes should of course be delicious. They also should express new ideas, techniques and ways of looking at the world. I want diners to leave inspired, excited, changed in some small way. The menu should have a context: A place, a time, a culture. And, above all, it should have a voice worth listening to.