Chef Daniel Patterson, one of the Bay Area food world's most celebrated innovators, has seen his restaurant footprint shrink considerably in recent years. And now, sadly, his longtime fine-dining flagship, Coi, has permanently closed.
"Next month Coi will turn 16," Patterson posted to Instagram. "Sadly it won’t be sweet, and we won’t be open to celebrate."
Coi — pronounced like the French word quoi (kwah), and actually an archaic French adjective itself meaning "peaceful" or "tranquil" — has been closed since the start of the pandemic, and it has actually been several years since Patterson himself has been its executive chef. Having earned three Michelin stars under seafood-focused chef Matthew Kirkley in 2017, and having maintained a two-star rating in the latest guide despite still being closed when the guide came out in September. (Kirkley departed the restaurant in 2017 to compete in the international Bocuse d'Or competition, and chef Erik Anderson had been at the helm at Coi until the pandemic, as far as we know.)
Patterson explains that lenders took over his restaurant group in 2019 — this would have been amid some turmoil, after his SF restaurants Alta and Aster had both closed, as his spaces were coming under the helms of other chefs and concepts, and two years after a savage New York Times review dealt a blow to his and Roy Choi's short-lived fast-food concept Locol. And those lenders, Patterson says, would not allow him to reopen Coi, despite the continued Michelin recognition.
"I proposed a remodel and to reopen with a fresh vibe, but they still said no," Patterson writes. "It breaks my heart to lose a restaurant I put so much love and so much of my life into."
He continues, "I’m proud of what we accomplished. It was a very different kind of restaurant when it opened, especially for SF. One long tasting menu, only local and often wild ingredients, a mix of modern and ancient techniques, creative and ambitious cooking in a warm, inviting setting. And next to a strip club [head explosion emoji, followed by laughing-through-tears emoji]."
"Everyone thought we would fail, but we didn’t. Instead we paved the way for many others who took inspiration from our kitchen to create their own."
Alums of the Coi kitchen include Evan and Sarah Rich, who went on to open Rich Table (which held a Michelin star until last year) and RT Rotisserie; James Syhabout, who has his own two Michelin stars at Oakland's Commis, and the Thai-focused Hawker Fare; Katy Millard of Portland's Coquine; Gavin Schmidt of The Morris; Carlos Salgado of LA's Taco María (which has a Michelin star and ; and Brett Cooper, formerly of Outerlands and Aster.
It stands to reason this is not the last we'll hear from Patterson or his food. At one point in the last decade, Patterson was in charge of a vibrant and growing empire of eight local restaurants, and this news finds him now without a single venue remaining in the Bay Area. His restaurants, most of which had other chefs designing the concepts and dishes, included Coi, Plum, Plum Bar, Haven, Dyafa, and Locol in Oakland; Aster, Il Cane Rosso, Alta, and Alta Dogpatch (later Besharam) in SF. And a location of Locol in LA's Watts neighborhood, as well as Alta Adams, in LA's West Adams district. The latter is Patterson's only remaining restaurant, opened in partnership with LA chef Keith Corbin. (Besharam remains open under the ownership of chef Heena Patel.)
At the start of his career, Patterson had Babette's in the late 90s in Sonoma, followed by the acclaimed Elizabeth Daniel in San Francisco, both of which he opened with his girlfriend-turned-wife Elizabeth Ramsey. Prior to opening Coi in 2006, he served as opening chef at Frisson in Jackson Square. Elizabeth Daniel won the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant in 2001, and Patterson won the Beard Award for Best Chef: West in 2014.
A Patterson signature: beet rose with rose petal granita
Patterson, whose innovative use of aromatherapy-inspired essences alongside dishes is included in the tome Modernist Cuisine, is also known for his writing. He penned a 2004 book with perfumer Mandy Aftel titled The Magic of Essential Oils in Food and Fragrance. And in 2005, an essay he wrote for the New York Times Magazine titled "To the Moon, Alice?" went viral in food circles, marking a line in the sand between his generation of ambitious California chefs and the simple-farm-to-table-ingredient-focused Cal-Mediterranean food of Alice Waters and her ilk.
"Alice Waters, the restaurant's founder and a tireless promoter of fresh and local food, has become to us what Beatrice was to Dante: a model of righteousness and purity, reminding us of our past sins while offering encouragement and inspiration on the path to heaven. The only path to heaven," Patterson wrote. "So deeply embedded is the mythology of Chez Panisse in the DNA of local food culture that it threatens to smother stylistic diversity and extinguish the creativity that it originally sought to spark."
It's actually sort of quaint to read the essay now, which refers to the theory that "the limited disposable incomes of San Franciscans relative to New York and its inhabitants" was a big reason for SF "not being able to support high-end restaurants." Because, as only some of us still remember, San Francisco wasn't really known as a fine-dining town in 2005, before the likes of Coi, Saison, Benu and Quince arrived along with the exploding disposable incomes of the post-2009 tech world.
So, farewell to Coi, which certainly helped to usher in the food era we know now. And here's to looking forward to what Patterson shows us next (which might be in LA, given he has a new fiancee there).