"I'm 50 and you know some guys when they hit this age they buy a Porsche and they do their mid-life crisis that way," jokes chef Michael Chiarello. "In my case, I decided to learn a new cuisine." So it is that Chiarello chose to go the Spanish route with his first San Francisco restaurant, Coqueta, which opens Saturday, April 13 on Pier 5. "For a dyed-in-the-wool country boy like myself, it's always been a dream to open a place here in the city," says the Napa chef, who hosted a preview event in the freshly remodeled restaurant last night. "But the space had to be just right." After the closing of Lafitte last year, Chiarello and his wife Eileen were shown the loft-like space, owned by the Port of Oakland, and finally decided to take the plunge with the help of some of their Bottega investors.
Eileen Chiarello was instrumental in the warmed-up the interior, keeping the same basic setup with the open kitchen, 48 seats, and a marble-topped chef's counter at the center. They've added a wood-fired oven, some large, fabric-wrapped light fixtures, and in the center of the dining room floor are two bull hides, spear marks included, taken from bullfights in Spain. The dining chairs are all metal school chairs that were covered in leather.
The team has also added polished Venetian plaster on the walls, and they've taken what was a tented, semi-outdoor seating area and turned it into Bar 5, which will be a tapas bar with a few reserved seats, but will be primarily first-come-first-serve.
Chiarello says that the construction, especially the plumbing, presented a unique challenge here at the Port, with workers only able to do certain work under the building when the tide was low.
The cocktail list is extensive and involves housemade shrubs, house-made tonics, and plenty of sherry. Part of the team at the restaurant has been imported from José Andres's D.C. restaurant empire, including bar manager Joe Cleveland, formerly of Minibar.
As for the food, there are some nods to Andres there as well, with a cold dish dubbed "tortilla Andres" that's a layered cake of sorts with sweet onion, potato, asparagus, and piquillo pepper aioli; and there are some molecular nods too, like a dessert dubbed "Sangria pop-rocksicles." There's a broad selection of hot and cold tapas, like a daily fresh-canned seafood escabeche; smoked salmon with queso fresco and truffle honey; whole Monterey calamari on the plancha with onion jam; tiny, crispy "tattas bravas," or fried potato and ham nuggets; and grilled "Iberico secreto," or "butcher's secret" cut of Iberico pork with "tximi-txurri" and watercress. See the whole menu here.
Reservations are likely to be hard to get for a bit, but we suggest nailing some down as soon as their OpenTable is back online we predict this place will be the reservation to get for the remainder of the year, given the TV-personality caché, an easy-to-like menu, and the plum waterfront location. Or, you could try to squeeze your way into Bar 5, which has a nice view of the water on its own.
For now, please enjoy our slideshow of the space.
Coqueta - Pier 5 on the Embarcadero - 415-704-8866 - Opening for dinner on April 13. Hours TBA