Kokkari? More like Crack-kari, because they’ve got to be sprinkling it on the food it’s so good. It’s no wonder this high-end Greek restaurant, which is a destination in itself on an obscure corner in an after-hours part of the Financial District, has been on the Bay Area’s Best Restaurants List for as long as I can remember. I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical at first and held off on eating here, because the thought of spending more than a few bucks on pita and baba ganoush seemed preposterous, but after one bite of their pan fried halloumi cheese—I’m now a believer.
You’d never know the Greek’s were in an economic recession by taking an inventory of the well-dressed and properly coifed clientele filling both dining rooms at Kokkari. The taupe plaster walls and rustic dark wood floors and fixtures have an old-world charm of the Mediterranean countryside. Large tables are generously spaced throughout the front room with roomy banquets lining the enclosed nooks and walkways weaving their way towards the kitchen in the back half of the restaurant. The lighting is purposefully kept low for romance, heightening the natural glow from the flames of the floor-to-ceiling oven where spice rubbed whole chickens and legs of lamb on rotisserie rods baste slowly in their own juices.
Kokkari’s Executive Chef and partner, Erik Cosselmon, is all about bright flavors and herbaceous notes. Everything seems to be finished with a pop of lemon juice, making even the heaviest sounding goat and artichoke stew feel light and fresh.
We started the meal with a moderately priced bottle of Pinot Noir. Their extensive list includes wines by the glass and bottles priced from around $40 and up.
The mezethes (and yes they spell it with a “th”), or small plates, seem to capture a full range of classic Greek dishes served in earthenware and cast iron pans. We ordered the saghanaki (pan fried Kefalotiri cheese with lemon & oregano- $12.00),
the kalamri (grilled calamari stuffed with feta, over white bean salad- $9.50),
the special heirloom tomato salad, padron peppers with grilled Halloumi cheese,
and the tirokafteri (cheese spread- $7.50) with house made grilled pita, which had a greater structural integrity without the pocket that most other pitas have.
For our main course we shared three entrees: lemon-oregano roasted chicken accompanied by their famous Kokkari potatoes,
the braised lamb shank with orzo and myzithra cheese,
and the off-menu special of goat stew with artichokes.
Everything was delicious and I didn’t want the meal to end. So we threw caution to the wind and ordered dessert wines and a fresh fig tart. Dessert almost seemed unnecessary, but since it was mostly fruit, I chalked it up as healthy and gave myself a free pass.
I can only assume Evvia Estiatorio, Kokkari’s sister restaurant in Palo Alto, is just as good if not better. I guess I’ll have to check it out for myself, because you know what they say about people who assume things.…their idiots!
200 Jackson St
(between Front St & Battery St)
San Francisco, CA 94111
Neighborhood: Financial District