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EXCLUSIVE: Inside Coi's Renovation, with Daniel Patterson

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[Photos: Maren Caruso]

Most chefs tend to stay in the kitchen and leave the decor to designers, but Daniel Patterson isn't like most chefs. When it came time to remodel Coi, his flagship restaurant that holds two Michelin stars and four stars from the Chronicle, Patterson once again turned to his longtime designer Scott Kester, which didn't stop him from getting hands-on with the space's makeover. Over the course of the restaurant's biannual ten-day break in January, Patterson worked alongside Kester to make over Coi, doing everything from arranging the branches that weave above the front waiting room (a process that took over 10 hours) to personally mixing various gray paints to achieve the perfect shade for both the interior and exterior (they're slightly different).

The renovation is Coi's fourth since its 2006 opening, a process Patterson attributes to not having sufficient funds when the restaurant first opened. (Sister restaurants Plum, Plum Bar, Haven, and the new Alta CA have ameliorated that issue.) Significant changes were made in 2011, when Patterson transformed Coi's former lounge into a second dining room and redid its entryway; this remodel was intended to complete that shift. "We've been chipping away at it," says Patterson. "It's the first time we've been able to make the restaurant what it always wanted to be."

The most noticeable changes to the two dining rooms are newly installed panels of interlaced wood blocks on the ceiling, designed by Kester and fabricated by woodworker Peter Doolittle. The ceiling fixtures serve three purposes: to create a visual transition between the two dining rooms, to conceal the restaurant's sound system (Patterson makes his own playlists, which are designed to energize the otherwise sedate dining room), and to provide more accurate light on each of the tables, compared to the diffuse light of the previous incarnation. "It wasn't a very precise light," says Patterson. "None of the food looked its true color; it would look one way under the fluorescent light in the kitchen, and another at the table."

In a bid to make dining at Coi more of a luxury experience, Patterson overhauled most of the seating, replacing all of the chairs in both dining rooms with custom models and the banquettes in the main dining room with super-soft cushioning and new fabric. After a high-profile visiting chef told Patterson he adored his meal but left with his lower back strained, Patterson and Kester decided to add lumbar pillows along the banquettes. "We probably spent $5,000 on pillows alone," he admits. "The sense of luxury comes from attending to everything, every need." Also completely new: the bathrooms, which were taken down to the studs and rebuilt with a clean wood aesthetic, bowl sinks, and vintage midcentury light fixtures Patterson scored in Amsterdam.

Many of Coi's classic decorative aspects, like the MRI photos of fruit and vegetables from artist Catherine Wagner and the moss and twigs from artist Loretta Gargan in the entryway, remain, and new touches have been added, like a sea anemone MRI from Wagner, midcentury pottery collected by Patterson's wife on the center divider, and tiny lights designed to illuminate the restaurant's flower arrangements. And for the first time, diners who visit Coi will find the restaurant's name on the door, in gold. "Not having it intimidated people too much," says Patterson. "People are always surprised to come in here. They say, 'Oh, I didn't realize, it's actually really friendly!'"

Diners can expect more personal touches from Patterson to come, as he overhauls everything from the tableware, which he's designing himself alongside Akiko Graham of Akiko's Pottery in Seattle, to the napkins, for which he had to source his own raw linen. "A restaurant grows with you, and you have to respond to it," says Patterson. "This is the most significant change for us yet. It feels like a grown-up restaurant now."

· Watch Daniel Patterson Forage and Cook Dinner [~ ESF ~]
· Daniel Patterson Opens Alta CA in Mid-Market [~ ESF ~]
· A First Look at Daniel Patterson's Coi Cookbook [~ EN ~]


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