Unless you’re one of those people who merely eat to live, Cotogna is the kind of restaurant that takes hold of your inner glutton. Step inside, and your eyes immediately register the roaring fire while your nose picks up the aromas of the meats roasting on the rotisserie that owner-chef Michael Tusk ordered from Tuscany. Skim the menu full of words like tortelloni, fried pumpkin, porcinis, and sausage ragu, and your hands will unconsciously start rubbing together in greedy anticipation. On a cold winter’s night, how could you not want to dip into a shellfish stew with grilled bread swiped with aioli? Or a creamy mess of burrata with chopped chicories followed by spit-roasted pork with fennel and satsumas? You’ll want both pizza and pasta. This is not heady food. It speaks straight to your stomach.
Cotogna—which means “quince” in Italian—is Quince’s new, younger, casual sister. The two restaurants sit cheek by jowl on Pacific Avenue, but to each other, they are yin and yang. At 100-seat Quince, servers wait on you hand and foot. At Cotogna—which is half the size—they wear gray T-shirts and set down a bottle of water on your table for the night. At Quince, cooks bend over a massive Bonnet stove like surgeons, doing very particular things to very small portions of pasta. At Cotogna, pasta is just pasta (which, if you ask me, is the way it should be).
For the diners happily ensconced in either setting, this is no matter. The only people who are forced to balance these split personalities are the Tusks. Lindsay Tusk—Michael Tusk’s wife and front-of-the-house keeper—stashes a blazer in back, which she dons when putting on her Quince face. Wine director David Lynch also has had to change his mindset depending on which floor he’s on. While Quince’s list is more of a tome, Cotogna’s fills just one page and offers 44 bottles, all for a flat (and liberating) rate of 40 bucks. Within them, Lynch has stashed some finds, such as a Sangiovese from Montecucco—an up-and-coming appellation in Tuscany—and a gutsy white made with Malvasia from Castello di Luzzano, located in the northwest corner of Emilia-Romagna.
The chef de cuisine here is Ryan Childs, a Chez Panisse alum. His dishes have the expected farm-fresh sparkle—minus the farm-name dropping. A delicate crudo of halibut is followed by a little crock of artichokes richly confit-ed in olive oil and then a bowl of pici with sausage ragu and chestnuts, which you can file under the fugly-but-delicious category.
Not that all of this is totally unheard of in these parts. There’s no end to seasonally driven menus of pizza and pasta in San Francisco. But the thing that sets Cotogna apart from the crowd is that for these prices, you’re getting to eat food overseen by a Michelin-starred chef and drink wine selected by one of the nation’s top sommeliers. And it shows.
Which brings me to the city’s newest treasure. The Cotogna $24 three-course prix-fixe—an everyday event that one could afford to take advantage of daily.
490 Pacific Ave (at Montgomery)