You may recognize him from popular Food Network shows such as "Iron Chef America" or "Top Chef Masters", but now Chef Michael Chiarello is emerging in the San Francisco food scene with his newest restaurant, Coqueta. Coqueta, which means “flirt” or “infatuation” in Spanish, is Chiarello's first venture into Spanish cuisine. The menu is a mix of fresh and local ingredients, all in traditional tapas style but with a certain flair that is unique to Chiarello and well-known to his fans.
As a result of my time spent studying abroad in Salamanca, Spain, I have a soft spot in my heart for Spanish tapas (or more specifically anything involving chorizo). There is a social component to tapas that is rarely found in any other cuisine, making it a unique and delicious dining experience rather than just a meal. I remember warm nights in Spain spent bouncing from restaurant to restaurant, tasting different tapas and drinking pitchers of sangria with friends. Is there anything better than that? Give me some chorizo, paella, tortilla Española, fresh queso y sardinas and I am happy.
So when I heard that Coqueta had opened in San Francisco back in April, I was excited to give it a shot. As expected, the food did not disappoint and there was even a brief appearance from Chef Michael Chiarello himself. I left the restaurant feeling painfully full, convinced that my stomach may have stretched a few sizes, but it was definitely worth it.
Fully prepared to take advantage of this tapas experience, we started off the meal with a couple of pintxos, which I learned are bite-sized skewers. The house cured boquerone pintxos were a layering of white anchovies, olives, pearl onions and guindilla while the chorizo pintxos blended the flavors of the classic Spanish pork, roasted artichokes, and piquillo peppers together in one bite.
This was quickly followed by "El Gran Plat Cap", also known as the "Chef’s Grand Selection Of Cured Meats And Cheeses", which additionally includes an impressive selection of membrillo, marcona almonds, extra virgin olive oil tortas and pan de cristal con tomate.
The sunny side-up egg on top of chorizo dressing, shrimp, and potato was unusual and texturally wonderful, but almost too salty for my taste. On the other hand, the crispy shrimp and chickpea flour pancake was deliciously reminiscent of a crispy, savory funnel cake. If you are considering making the trip to Coqueta any time soon, I would highly recommend ordering some grilled duck albóndigas (meatballs), grilled ibérico secreto (pork), arroz con vieira (rice with scallops) and of course some churros con chocolate. Drown all of this down with a porron of kalimotxo* and you will be set. So if you haven't been to Coqueta yet, the real question is... What are you waiting for?
The Embarcadero Pier 5, San Francisco 94111
(Btwn Broadway & Pacific Ave)
*Kalimotxo (pronounced kah-lee-MOO-choe): a popular Basque beverage, consists of cola mexicana, red sangría and cinnamon. Although I admit that it sounds a little odd, I would highly recommend.