Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Italian Word for the Day: Cotogna

It’s funny how different threads somehow weave their way together. The other day I was driving up Pacific, and at the intersection with Montgomery noted the word “Cotogna” on the side of the building. What could that be? As a matter of fact, what language was it?

A few days later, Cass sent me a link to Michael Bauer’s blog “Inside Scoop” and the article “My Pasta Hall of Fame,” which lead off with a seductive photo of a fabulous looking pasta dish and the following comment:

“My Jan. 16 review of Cotogna and the incredible pastas that come out of the kitchen reminded me of a similar feeling I had when I first reviewed Perbacco in 2006. At Cotogna I was seduced by rigatoni with suckling pig ragout with pecorino di fossa cheese, an earthy sheep’s milk cheese; at Perbacco, it was the agnolotti dal plin, tiny pasta packets stuffed with veal in a rich meat sauce with savory cabbage that clings to the pasta like cheese.”

Could it be? Another restaurant in the same league as Perbacco (my favorite Italian restaurant)??!!

Then, just a few days ago, in connection with an Italian class I am taking which is focusing on the region of Abruzzo, I contacted our friend and cheese expert, Janet Fletcher, to see if Janet knew anywhere in the Bay Area where one could find cheeses from Abruzzo. Janet suggested I contact Bob Marcelli of Marcelli Formaggi in New Jersey, which imports a range of Abruzzese cheeses. She particularly recommended MF’s Ricotta Scorza Nera. I ended up calling Bob who suggested I try a new place called Cotogna, where he said their GM, Katrina Parlato, was extremely knowledgeable about Italian cheeses, and typically offered one or two of MF’s cheeses on their menu, including the Ricotta Scorza Nera! Finally, this morning, as the lunch hour approached, I got around to taking a look at Cotogna’s website, checked out their menu, and the following jumped out at me:

That was enough for me – it was a sign. I leapt from my chair and made a beeline for Pacific and Montgomery.

Happily, when I arrived, it was still early and I was able to get a seat even without a reservation.

As I learned today (and as suggested by the heading to this post), “cotogna” means “quince” in Italian (I see I will have to study my Italian fruit vocabulary a bit more carefully), and Cotogna is a sister restaurant to Michael Tusk’s Quince which is just a few steps further down Pacific. While Quince has been around for a while and is a very elegant place to dine, Cotogna, which just opened last year, is more of a rustic, casual, comfort food sort of place. While I have been to Quince and enjoyed it, Cotogna is far more to my liking.

To cut to the chase, I had a wonderful meal and overall experience today. Since I was by myself, I sat at the counter in front of their open ovens, including a wood burning pizza oven from
Mam Forni in Modena – a great spot to perch, especially since a stack of cook books from Corriere della Sera on regional Italian cooking was on the shelf next to me.

Cotogna has a beautiful space with natural light from their windows on both Pacific and Montgomery.

Simone waited on me and helped me with the menu. It was a very difficult choice, but I ended up having:

~ Kale sformato (a sort of soufflé) with Grano Padano cheese;

~ Potato gnocchi with a duck ragù; and

~ Crème fraîche panna cotta with pinenut cookies.

Everything was very good, although the gnocchi were just a bit heavy for my taste (and I know heavy gnocchi having tried to make them at home!). The duck ragù was particularly flavorful and the panna cotta was as good as, if not even a bit better than, that at Perbacco.

The only disappointment of the day was that they had run out of their supply of Ricotta Scorza Nera the day before, so I had to defer my first opportunity to try Bob Marcelli’s Abruzzese cheese (I did have a chance to speak with Katerina Parlato who said that they hope to get more in soon). However, I did manage to support Abruzzo industry by having a glass of
Umani Ronchi’s 2009 “Vellodoro” [golden fleece] Terre di Chieti Pecorino (even though I learned that Umani Ronchi is headquartered in Le Marche).

Cotogna has a most interesting and very nicely presented wine list, which should not be surprising given that I learned that David Lynch is the wine director for both Quince and Cotogna. I had not realized until today that David – whose “Vino Italiano” book which he co-wrote while he was at Babbo in New York, and is one the foremost reference books in English about Italian wine – was even here in San Francisco.

I foresee many return visits to Cotogna in the future (including possibly for brunch which I noted they serve on Saturdays). Now the only problem will be figuring out how to get in.