If I knew the Spanish word for that enraptured feeling, I’d be saying it.
Because that’s exactly how the new Coqueta restaurant on Pier 5 makes you feel with its Spanish flair. It’s not only the first restaurant in San Francisco by celeb Chef Michael Chiarello, but it’s also his first foray into something other than his Italian heritage.
Chiarello is no stranger to Spain, though. He’s traveled to that country for years. His eldest daughter also lives there, having married a Catalan man.
Like his smash-hit Bottega in Yountville, Coqueta (“flirt” in Spanish) is all about bold flavors with modern takes on traditional dishes done with whimsy. The former Lafitte restaurant is still recognizable. But it’s been given a major face-lift. The once temporary patio now has permanent walls, as well as a bar, where you can enjoy noshes sans reservations. Inside, the soaring, rustic-chic space is warm with lots of reclaimed wood, oak table tops made from barrel staves, and branded hides on the floors (from casualties from actual bull fights in Spain).
The restaurant imports the melt-in-your-mouth Iberico ham, as well as cures its own ham. In fact, you’ll find the Iberico even infused in gin that’s served in the “Tariff” ($12) cocktail with housemade acorn & apricot tonic, orange and cava. It’s one of the many creative libations by Joe Cleveland, a former mixologist for Jose Andres’ restaurants.
You know a restaurant has got it going, if it’s strong right out of the gate. Coqueta has set exactly that pace, as evidenced by my visit a mere three days after it had opened in April, when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant.
With Chiarello’s track-record of opening hit restaurants, it’s no surprise just how wonderful the food is at Coqueta.
Quail egg “Diablo” ($2.50 each) puts mere deviled eggs to shame. These tiny hard-boiled eggs are spreared with lovely, sweet Serrano ham and a dollop of sharp pickled mustard seeds. The compact little morsel sure rocks the palate.
Pan con tomate ($5) is the traditional grilled bread smeared with fresh tomato, but made with extra care, by using light airy Cristal, the famous bread of Barcelona, as its base. It gets super crisp on the grill, giving way to the smooth, sweet, jammy tomato sofrito.