The Piglet

Piglet Community Pick: Coi: Stories and Recipes

By • February 19, 2014 • 12 Comments

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Read up on some of 2013's most-loved cookbooks, tested and reviewed by the one and only Food52 community.

Today: Cookbookchick considers Coi: Stories and Recipes.

If the book had not been shrink-wrapped, thus preventing me from taking a look inside, I might have gone running from the bookstore empty-handed. When I got it home, released it from its plastic prison, and opened it, my reaction was, "What is this?”

Here's what it isn’t: a cookbook. Even its author, Daniel Patterson, says so, right in the beginning of the book: “This is not a cookbook. This is the story of Coi written through food.” (Coi, pronounced kwah, is French for "tranquil" and the name of Patterson’s San Francisco restaurant.)

Paging through this large and expensive book, I found lots of pretty pictures of California and cooks and farms, nice enough for my coffee table. And, yes, I also found recipes. Each recipe page is identically formatted with an essay, column-left, in finished-book readable type. The recipe, column-right, is printed in faint, draft-like type, making it seem, quite literally, beside the point. On the facing page is either a photo of the recipe’s deconstructed ingredients or a stark picture of the finished dish. It took me a few minutes to notice what was missing: the ingredient lists. You will find them, as I eventually did, beginning on page 288 of this 304-page book, in the section called “Weights and Measures” that also serves as a sort of index.

More: Here's a recipe from Daniel Patterson you'll actually end up cooking, quite often.

I scanned the dishes, looking for something I could cook to meet my obligation to test a recipe. I found only two that I thought I could do without all sorts of hard-to-source ingredients and special equipment: Popcorn Grits, and Carrots Roasted in Coffee Beans. In the end, I decided not to cook anything from this book, because to sample its simplest recipes would not be a fair test, and because few of us will ever attempt the more complex ones. The recipes are there, as Patterson points out, to serve as his personal record of Coi’s dishes (which had never before been documented), as well as for inspiration.

That said, there is much to savor in this eccentric book. Patterson is an engaging and talented writer and the essays are well worth reading. There is also much to learn from the essays and from a section (“The Coi Kitchen”) on ingredients, equipment, and techniques. As Patterson says, “This may not be a cookbook in the traditional sense, but it is very much a book about cooking.”

But in the end, as Patterson himself admits, it's about cooking in a sophisticated restaurant kitchen with equipment you might never have at home and ingredients you won’t easily find. It is also, in my experience, the only cookbook -- and I have a lot of cookbooks! -- that comes with warnings, should you want to attempt to cook from it: “Some of the recipes require advanced techniques, specialist equipment and professional experience to achieve good results.” The words “exercise caution” are repeated three times.

Now, repeat after me, three times: This is not a cookbook. This is not a cookbook. This is not a cookbook.

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Tags: piglet community picks, cookbook, piglet

Comments (12)

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9 months ago healthierkitchen

Well done, cbc!!

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9 months ago cookbookchick

Thanks hk!!

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9 months ago Maimsie

Great review. Pretty tricky of the publishers to shrink wrap the book so you can't browse. Thanks for the warning.

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9 months ago cookbookchick

Thanks Maimsie! And you're welcome!

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9 months ago jenna_lee

haha, loved this review! I was actually quite surprised that Coi was coming out with a cookbook based on what I know of the restaurant--- so I appreciate the confirmation, this is NOT a cookbook :)

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9 months ago cookbookchick

Pretty to look at, though, and certainly a unique format! So happy you loved my review, jenna!

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9 months ago dymnyno

Good review! I took my husband to Coi a couple of years ago and I thought the food was beautiful, but too thoughtful. My husband thought it was too precious. I have made my own coffee roasted carrots which make a great side dish...his carrots at Coi would just be a little bite, as it is with all of his dishes. (http://food52.com/recipes...)

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9 months ago cookbookchick

Thanks dymnyno! I guess I'll have to try making those carrots myself. My husband and I
haven't been to SF in years, but now that I've reviewed the book, we might just have to try Coi next time we're there. We will, however, certainly keep your comments in mind! Too thoughtful and too precious.. hmm..

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9 months ago dymnyno

Coi is a very small elegant restaurant on Broadway in the midst of former strip clubs. The food is good, but small, small portions. One block down the street is Cotogna (sister restaurant of Quince) which is one of my favorite restaurants in SF.

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9 months ago cookbookchick

Thanks for the top, dymnyno! My husband has two brothers in the Bay Area so we're bound to head out there at some point.

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9 months ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Great review! This is not a cookbook! Seems like a lot of memoir / essay type books in the Piglet CPs this year - but good reading nevertheless

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9 months ago cookbookchick

Thanks Abbie!