I don't like writing lukewarm reviews, particularly when the food leaves absolutely nothing to complain about. But when poor or negligent service detracts enough from a meal to taint the overall experience, it has to be noted.
This past Saturday night, C and I had 9pm reservations at Coco500. We arrived a few minutes early and found ourselves crammed uncomfortably with a party of four in the small entry foyer. We were seated quickly, and had a nice long time to peruse the menu and examine the decor. It's warm and inviting with a new mirrored panel to help expand the feel of the space. The menu is divided into several sections, most of which invite sharing.
After about 10 minutes, our waiter came along and we ordered cocktails and our food. He wrote nothing down. Now, I am extremely impressed when waitstaff can commit to memory a full order without error, and I'm not at all predisposed to expect mistakes. Unfortunately, in this case, we would have been much better served by a small notepad. But more on that later.
About five minutes after we ordered, our first two plates came out. Our drinks didn't show up for another five minutes, at least. Still, we happily tucked in to our Duck Liver Terrine ($6), a deliciously rustic pate with house-pickled vegetables. The COCOmole "tacos"($4) were five tortilla chips topped with shredded beef cheek mole and some kind of avocado crema. C really enjoyed this, while I thought they could really have benefited from a bit more spice.
As our cocktails arrived, so did our Squash Blossom Flatbread ($9). Wow. There is a reason Loretta Keller's known for this dish. It was, in a word, amazing. Deep truffle essence, squash blossoms and parmesan cheese on a crisp-tender crust. I could eat this everyday, and never tire of it.
Our cocktails were tasty (the COCO500 and a Caiprinha, $9 each), though we really didn't expect to be drinking them with our dinner! It was at this point the first service oversight occurred. I asked for the wine list so we could enjoy something more appropriate with our larger dishes, but one never came. We ended up making do with our waters until dessert.
Next up came Beef Cheek with Watercress & Horseradish Cream ($13), which was mouthwateringly delicious, though perhaps better suited to wintertime. The beef was crusted in bread crumbs and fried. How do I know this? Because I asked the manager, as he was walking away from the table next door; the snotty attitude I got from him was staggering. When our "side dishes" arrived shortly thereafter, one of them was incorrect. We enjoyed the Cream Corn ($5) immensely, and waited patiently for our correct order of Creamed Cipollini Onions, which were more of a gratin-style dish. The corn was everything corn should be -- sweet, faintly smoky, luscious. The onions were, heavenly, but too rich for us to finish.
Unfortunately, our order of Local Calamari, Black Rice & Stewed Garlic ($9), which we'd really been looking forward to based on Joy's recommendation, never arrived. And frankly, by the time we finished what we could of the onions, we didn't press the matter.
Plates were cleared, and dessert menus presented. C ordered an espresso while I ordered a glass of Banyuls ($9), and we decided to share the Vacherin ($8.5), a favorite of mine from the Bizou days.
The Vacherin didn't disappoint (though I swear there was less meringue than before), the Banyuls was fine, and the espresso? Yeah, that never did show up.
Like I said at the beginning of this review: The food was fabulous. Unfortunately, the service seriously tainted the experience for us. Will we be back? Yes, I'm sure we will. But we will likely sit at the bar and have a few bites, rather than a full meal. And frankly, we're not likely to take guests here, because we're not willing to risk such lackluster service as hosts.
It makes me very sad, because I really wanted to love Coco500, all 'round.
500 Brannan Street
San Francisco, CA