Cotogna is Quince's little sibling who still stands out in Jackson Square.
Every other block in San Francisco seems to host an Italian restaurant of at least some repute. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but the city’s clearly started to stockpile Italianate talent, which has made it increasingly hard to stand out. Not that chef Michael Tusk has to worry. Quince, the high end Italian restaurant that he opened with wife Lindsay in 2003, continues to rate with the best in S.F., if not the nation. That clearly helped to spur interest in the couple’s more accessible venture, Cotogna, which opened last November near Jackson Square and quickly became one of the hottest tables in town.
The airy corner space was inviting, with a glass front, plenty of natural lighting, a pair of bars (one facing food prep, the other alcohol) and well spaced wood tables. They lined the back hallway with stacks of almond wood, which as we learned soon enough, came into quick play.
LoGrasso named the Switchblade ($9) aperitif for Strawberry Switchblade, a Scottish all girls punk band from the ‘80s. Apparently they brought to mind Aperol, strawberry infused vermouth and “smoke” from barspoon of Laphroaig, served on the rocks with mint and a twist of lemon. My stepmother ordered the Brazilionaire ($10), a tangy tangle of cachaca, apricot, sloe gin and lime. My dad went with dealer’s choice and landed a cocktail featuring rye whiskey and grapefruit. This was the rare time my dad actually finished a cocktail, a testament to Buffalo’s potable persuasion.
This was the rare Fritto Misto ($12) that didn’t need seafood to succeed. Lightly dredged spring onions, fiorelli (similar to fava beans), Chantenay carrots, green garlic, squash blossoms, squash and okra all sported a light, crisp batter and were easily accentuated with a squeeze of lemon and a dip in tangy lemon aioli.
Pappardelle with braised wild boar ($16) featured egg-enriched, al dente sheets of pasta dusted with sharp Parmigiano and tossed with liberal amounts of savory pulled pork, sticky with jus.
An 800-degree oven from Modena, Italy, and an Italian rotisserie grill both burned almond wood, the former contributing to our Pizza ($15). Roasted yellow gypsy pepper strips, rosy lamb sausage, molten mozzarella, tomato sauce and arugula topped our singed pie, which was pretty good, but soupy in the center, and not a major highlight.
Our Tai Snapper ($22) fillet was more memorable, juicy, with a thin, crisp skin and a bed of summery succotash (fresh English peas, favas, corn and onions) and firm haricot verts.
Becker Lane Spit Roasted Pork Loin ($24) drew us in by rotating on the rotisserie in the open kitchen. Juicy slices rimmed with caramelized fat appeared with caramelized pearl onions and turnips and fresh, crisp greens. It was a good dish, but probably came at too high a premium considering the portion size. Later, on our way out, we spotted a platter with an entire porchetta, which was a serious showstopper. Note to self: return to Cotogna with 10 friends and plan ahead.
$7 selections from Cotogna’s garden (Giardino) included scintillating carrots seasoned with rooftop honey and anise that caramelized in a skillet, which also served as the serving dish.
Purslane with pancetta and corn ($7) was a sweet, herbaceous side that we enjoyed, but if there was pancetta, we didn’t see any.
The pastry chef, who our waitress said previously worked at Lucques, AOC and Tavern, fried up fluffy, judiciously sugared Ricotta Bombolini that appeared on plump blueberry compote with creamy, tangy limoncello sauce.
Milk chocolate and almond milk budino was a fun take on milk and cookies, with a layer of nutty almond milk topping the creamy pudding, served with crumbly, cinnamon crusted cookies.
San Francisco was already rife with Italian restaurants and may not have needed another option, but the Tusks helped to prove that there can never be too much of a good thing.