Monday, December 08, 2014

Chiarello's Coqueta

There are a few cuisines that I can eat all the time.  Spanish tapas is absolutely on this list.  Traditional and modern, I love them both equally.  It's the idea of sipping wines, sangrias, cocktails, and beers along side small plates of flavor-filled bites.  And it's shared in a social setting where you leisurely take in the tastes and let the alcohol buzz slowly linger through the meal and into the evening.

I love the tapas so much that I was willing to eat at a restaurant that I've been on the fence about.  I'm a fan of nice guys and a hater of douchebags.  When I watched Top Chef and Top Chef Masters, I gained a horrible impression of Michael "How do you say my name" Chiarello.  What a douche!  Is he really like this in real life?

Against all odds, I found myself in his newest San Francisco restaurant along the Embarcadero.  Why??  Because it was all about Spanish tapas and the reviews have been greatly positive.  Coqueta, meaning "flirt" or "infatuation", interprets Spanish tapas in a playful and modern way.

To my chagrin... the food was awesome.  The cocktails and Spanish wines selection are thoughtful, and the tapas are innovative while making you feel like you're actually in Spain.

And just when I resigned myself to think that he's an okay guy because he's food is so good... A shiny Lexus pulls up next to the restaurant, on the sidewalk.  Out comes a guy who moves like he owns the sidewalk.  As fate would have it, just as I was softening up to the guy, Chiarello himself walks into the restaurant, passes by the two or three tables of patrons, and schmoozes with his managers.  Our server saw us looking and talking about him and thought we were gushing fans (hah!).  She offered to have him take a photo with us.  We politely smiled and didn't reject nor accept the offer, as we wanted to see how it would play out.  Minutes later, he walked out, still bypassing his customers, and parked his car properly.  More minutes later, he came back in, again not acknowledging any diners, and sat in a corner table reviewing business with a manager.  Now, I'm not saying he had to talk to everyone.  But what's it to simply smile at the people eating your food?

The build up of these minutes made the food that we thoroughly enjoyed taste different.  As great as it was, I don't want to give my money to a guy like this.  I'll save it and go to Spain where the Spanish chefs are so genuinely nice, smile fully, and converse with their customers.

Eating at the bar

Tariff Gin & Tonic
Jamon Iberico infused gin, acorn and apricot tonic, orange, and cava

House cured boquerones

White anchovies, olives, pearl onions, and guindilla peppers

Huevos de Cordoniz

Quails egg "diablo", pickled mustard seed, and Jamon Serrano

Patatas Bravas
Freshly dug, lightly smoked, crispy new potatoes, bravas salsa, and garlic aioli

Verduras a la Catalana
Vineyard greens Catalan style, caper-raisin puree with raisins, pinenuts, and garlic

"Fantasia" de Fideua
Puffed vermicelli with gulf shrimp, crispy baby squid, jamon gamba broth en gel, lemon aioli

Pulpo a la Parilla
Wood-grilled octopus, fingerling potatoes, pimenton olive oil

Asturian apple pie
With Cabrales blue cheese ice cream

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