Dining Outside at Cotogna
With festive pine cones adorning simple plywood tables, string lights festooning sidewalk trees, and blankets as soft as cashmere at the ready, Cotogna’s parklet has got to be one of the nicest around.
That’s what I found when my husband, two friends, and I dined outside last weekend when it hovered around 48 degrees. The popular Jackson Square Italian restaurant has tables outside right on the sidewalk, as well as a sizeable parklet. The latter is where you want to sit if possible because it has a canopy overhead, so if it rains, you’ll probably be fine unless the wind kicks up mightily.
Indeed, with both an overhead and tall standing heater at each table, we were as comfortable as can be. In fact, halfway through dinner, two of us even shed our coats because we were that warm.
With our server’s charming Italian accent, we almost felt like we had taken a trip to Italy during the holidays, too.
Cotogna, owned by Michael and Lindsay Tusk, who also have Michelin three-starred Quince right next door, never disappoints with its lusty pastas, pizzas, and wood-fired mains.
The Tremante cocktail ($17) tastes like a pear cobbler baked over flames, with its warm, smoky blend of mezcal, rainwater madeira, pear cider, and ginger.
The focaccia di Recco ($28) was delightfully new to me. A specialty of Liguria, it arrived on a round copper pan, looking a little like a pizza. But instead of the thick, chewy focaccia most of us are used to, this was two layers of unleavened dough, each even thinner than a saltine cracker. In between was mild, milky, melty Stracchino cheese.
The bottom layer fairly melds into the cheese, leaving you with the crackling, thin crispy top that caresses all that gooey cheese. Because the focaccia is so thin, it’s a quite light tasting, despite all the cheese. It had the perfect touch of salt, too, which seasoned everything beautifully. It’s a treat I could easily order again and again.
That was followed by the “Carbonara” pizza that was strewn with juicy, porky bits of guanciale, plenty of grated Pecorino, a generous amount of black pepper, and a soft-cooked farm egg at the center. Puncture the yolk and spread it around. The crust, thin and crisp at the center, and a little chewy and bready on the rim, is not heavy and hefty, but also has a deft lightness to it.
Tagliolini with Dungeness crab, Meyer lemon, and a touch of espelette pepper ($32) was just creamy enough without being weighed down. Instead, the sweetness of the crab and brightness of the floral lemon carried through. The golden noodles were a marvel, never turning overly soft or clumping together in any way. Instead, each and every chewy strand somehow maintained its singularity.
The supple pappardelle ($30) also had that same quality, tossed with meaty Broken Arrow Ranch wild boar ragu for a true comfort dish.
For our secondi, we indulged in the Tuscan mixed grill ($105) that’s made to share among 2 to 3 people. The large copper braiser set down on the table holds slices of spit-roasted pork loin, pork ribs, pork belly, rabbit loin, and house-made pork sausage. Everything was succulent with the ribs fall-apart tender, the rabbit so juicy, and the pork belly wonderfully rich tasting.
The mixed grill comes with a dish of stewed butter beans, and stewed greens whose edges had a nice crispiness.
Of course, we did save room for dessert, including the lightest sticky toffee pudding ($11) I’ve ever had. The warm sauce overtop was sweet and sticky, with the cake, itself, surprisingly nearly as airy as chiffon. It came garnished with pecan halves and slices of Fuyu persimmon.
Cotogna is also famed for its gelato ($9 per scoop). Even in winter, it’s irresistible, especially the vanilla & honeycomb flavor. It’s incredibly smooth, feeling like expensive silk on the palate, with both the floral notes of the honey and vanilla shining brightly.
When I was in the process of reserving a table at Cotogna, I came across a Yelp review that not only made me roll my eyes in disbelief, but chuckle. The reviewer enjoyed the food well enough, but gave only a middling review, complaining that the restaurant was so hard to get into that she’d rather go somewhere else next time.
Because, of course, it makes perfect sense to prefer another restaurant with empty tables that few diners want to frequent.
Cotogna’s reservations are not the easiest to come by for a reason: The food and service are pure excellence.