At Kokkari, Traveling POSH to Greece
If Kokkari Estiatorio in San Francisco is your neighborhood Greek, then the neighborhood must be Financial District. The ever-popular restaurant, surprisingly spacious, and decorated in a rustic taverna style, transports its patrons straight to the Cyclades via refined fish, lamb, and goat plates, orchestrated by the executive chef-partner Erik Cosselmon.
An undisputed star of the “contemporary Hellenic cuisine” menu, though, is Octapodaki tou Yiorgou – fresh grilled octopus. Chewy yet tender, it goes down easy, but takes a lot of skill and experience to do it the right way. Over-grill it a minute and you get a tough and rubbery flesh, which is never the case at Kokkari.
Plump chunks of tasty cephalopod, white, with orange-brown fire marks, are simply dressed with lemon, oregano, and olive oil preserving the flavors of the Aegean Sea and its land.
On the Kokkari’s long list of mezethes, a traditional “flaming” Saghanaki surely stands out – Kefalotiri cheese, sprinkled with oregano and fresh-squeezed lemon juice.
Lightly marinated and grilled lamb tongues with capers and cress were a special appetizer on the night we dined, and sinfully delicious. A glass of Domaine de Fontsainte Gris de Gris rose seemed perfect for appetizers, while for a kirio piato some great choices, suggested by our server, were Tsantali Rapsani 2007 and Chateau Pesquie Terrasses from Ventoux, 2008.
Entree specials of the night included a grilled whole fish lavraki, prepared the way they do it by the waterfront on Santorini, and a goat stew served in a clay dish straight from the oven.
Mediterranean sea bass with horta (wilted greens) needed just a few sprinkles of juice from a cheese-cloth wrapped half-lemon to acquire perfection.
The stew was made with goat stock used for braising as well as for cooking the underlying orzo pasta in the oven. Combined with feta crumbs, shallots, garlic, star anis, and oregano, with crisped artichoke hearts on top, it was a complete meal on its own.
Out of at least ten seductive desserts my dining companion and I chose Galaktaboureko – semolina custard in filo dough with blood orange crescents caramelized in simple syrup. As if that was not enough for ultimate indulgence, a dollop of crème fraiche ice cream topped it off. Greek coffee, slowly brewed in hot sand, took us to Ellada one more time before we returned to the rainy streets of San Francisco.
Kokkari is located at 200 Jackson Street, San Francisco.
More information and reservations at 1-415-981-0983 or at their website.