James Beard Award Winning Chef Michael Tusk’s Cotogna

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Cotogna is one of the hardest tables to snag in town. I should know, I’ve been trying ever since the place opened in late 2010. And Chef Michael Tusk’s James Beard Award win earlier this year only made the effort even harder.

Still, my curiosity never waned. Could this more casual sister restaurant to the famous Quince just next door be worth the wait?

Well first off, the restaurant is much smaller than I expected, which explains why there aren’t as many reservation slots as you might think. But I finally got a reasonably timed reservation for a late lunch on a Saturday I was free.

The interior is cozy and unpretentious with it’s light woods and neutral tones, along with the communal table for large parties and walk ins. I loved their linen burlap-like napkins.

As for the food, the rustic menu was the perfect match for the setting and decor. Everything was simple yet there was a definite harmony in the balance of flavors and textures of each dish.

We took advantage of the $20 three-course prix fixe lunch, which changes daily, and also ordered one of their famous wood-fired pizzas, all to share.

First up was the Turkey and Fregola Soup with Wild Rice and a lovely piece of toasted bread. They do meats well here, with their braising and roasting. The stock for this soup had depth and you could tell no corners were cut. It provided a hearty base for this wonderfully flavored soup. The bread provided some crunch and texture.

Next was the Manila Clam, Hot Pepper and Broccoli di Ciccio Pizza that came out of their famous wood-fired oven. The crust was super thin and crisp, but not cracker crisp. There was still a lovely chewiness to it. And there was the perfect amount of blistered char on the bottom. Not so much that the whole thing tasted burnt. The clams were fresh, the sauce was tangy and the bitter greens together gave this pizza a great balance of varied flavors. Then there was that subtle kick from the pepper to finish.

Then we had the Pappardelle with Braised Oxtail. I love a good pasta dish and I could’ve licked this plate clean. My biggest complaint was the serving was a bit on the smaller side. Other than that, the bright yellow ribbons of eggy house-made pasta were almost buttery and cooked to a perfect al dente. The hearty meat sauce was flavorful, tender and seasoned well with just a hint of tomato. I loved how the meat didn’t overpower the pasta. Each element had a chance to complement each other.

We finished with the Warm Pippin Apple and Almond Crostata. Once again, there was a wonderful contrast to the tender sweet apples (not too sweet, thankfully) and the perfectly thin crisp crust. But the real star was the house-made date and cinnamon ice cream. It was the perfect finish.

Service is a bit cold, impersonal, yet professional. It becomes a non-factor if you don’t let it bother you. I let the food and the setting speak for itself, instead.

If I had to choose one word for this restaurant it would be “rustic”. There was nothing glaringly special or over the top here. And though the setting is definitely not white tablecloth stuffy, it’s special enough for a nice occasion. The food is simple, expertly prepared, and there’s a great amount of attention to detail. It’s nothing you’d rush back for, but you’d definitely want to return at some point. It is a memorable meal if you pay attention to the details.

Cotogna on Urbanspoon

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