Chef Michael Tusk has always loved the holidays. Even as a child, he looked forward to these occasions not just for the shared family experience but also because “it meant there would be new and exciting things to eat and to drink.”
Michael, now the chef at Quince and Cotogna, the San Francisco restaurants he owns with his wife, Lindsay, hasn’t lost his appreciation for treasured times around the table.
He channels that unifying holiday spirit for this menu of canapés, meant to be leisurely shared and snacked on over good conversation and great wine. The recipes are simple so that hosts can actually join the party. “You never want somebody cooking at a dinner party where they’re in the kitchen the entire time and never get to sit down with their guests to eat because they’re too worried about taking something out of the oven,” Michael says. The varying textures, flavors and artistic presentations reflect his adventurous approach to cooking, which has been present from the start.
Food was top of mind for Michael from a young age. “I always liked to eat different things,” he says. “It ran the gamut from tasting scallops for the first time to frogs’ legs, when other kids might have been clamoring for a cheeseburger.”
His upbringing allowed for plenty of culinary explorations. Growing up in New Jersey, he’d regularly visit cousins who owned a catering business in New York, and he recalls middle school field trips to watch chefs in action at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, N.Y. “If my family decided to take a trip into Manhattan that was more educational—a trip to a museum or so forth—I would put up with that part of it for the sake of, ‘Where are we going for lunch or for dinner?’ ”
The dairy and produce farms that dotted the Garden State were his first introduction to the value of local products. A passion for picking strawberries and apples evolved into making local and seasonal goods defining pillars at the Tusks’ restaurants.
Michael and Lindsay are a duo who disprove the caveats of mixing business with family; after nearly two decades as business partners, it’s become fairly effortless.
“We have different responsibilities, but we both are able to give our input on different elements,” Michael says. “It just became natural that this is what we do, we’re in this together. And we wouldn’t have been able to do it without each other.”
Michael’s path to becoming one of San Francisco’s most prestigious chefs began in college, when he worked some restaurant jobs while pursuing an art history degree at Tulane University in New Orleans. He spent his free time exploring the city, soaking up as much of the food-centric culture as possible and often attempting to recreate standout dishes at home. After graduation, Michael found the kitchen was his true muse, pivoted his focus and enrolled in the CIA, at the same New York location he’d visited as a child.
He then trained in kitchens across France and Italy before settling in the Bay Area in 1988. The landscape of the West Coast farmers market presented exciting new discoveries such as Meyer lemons and Tokyo turnips.
“In New Orleans we had great products, but when I got to California and saw a farmers market almost every day of the week with things I’d never tasted before, that kind of changed everything.” His West Coast stints included lauded destinations such as Stars and Chez Panisse.
The Tusks debuted Quince in the Pacific Heights neighborhood in 2003. The French- and Italian–inflected tasting menu was a quick hit, and the couple relocated it to a larger space in Jackson Square in 2009. The following year, they debuted Cotogna, an adjoining restaurant named after the Italian word for “quince.” Here, they ditched white tablecloths and glitzy chandeliers for a homey open kitchen, serving an à la carte menu of more casual and Italian-leaning fare. Curated photography adorns the walls at both locations, a nod to Michael’s love of art, a passion now shared by Lindsay.
Even with the restaurants’ international influences, the cuisine relies heavily on Bay Area products. And Michael’s sense of adventure hasn’t faded a bit. The menus change daily, sometimes on a whim, chiefly driven by an exclusive partnership with Fresh Run Farm in Bolinas, about an hour’s drive north of the city. “Our harvests at the farm are day of,” Michael says. “We don’t pick the day before and refrigerate.”
Michael has worked with third-generation farmer Peter Martinelli for more than a decade, and their dynamic goes far beyond the typical customer-supplier relationship. It’s a two-way dialogue between farmer and chef, with Michael proposing specific crops with a dish in mind and Martinelli lending agricultural expertise and knowledge of the region. The restaurant staff often travels to the farm to plant the crops they’ll eventually bring to the plate.
Michael also has close collaboration with Matt Cirne, a former general manager at Quince who became beverage director for both venues in 2018. “It’s a very intuitive process at this point,” Cirne says. Their mutual trust means that Michael can be spontaneous and fluid with the menus, and the wines will seamlessly follow suit.
At Cotogna, Cirne built a heavily Italian-focused list of 80 selections, which he’s in the process of expanding to 500 to cover “all the nooks and crannies of Italy.” At Quince, the 1,200-wine list holds Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence and is also primarily focused on Italy—particularly Piedmont, an area that’s significantly influenced Michael’s cooking. France and California are additional strong points. Cirne uses Quince’s optional wine pairing to surprise and delight diners with attention-grabbing picks, such as unusual orange wines, significantly aged selections or pours from lauded producers. “We like to push people a little bit and hopefully expose them to something they haven’t experienced before,” he says. “You’re getting a real window into the crazy, wonderful world of wine.”
Cirne manages the lists with the same philosophy Michael uses in the kitchen. “We focus on handcrafted wines and wines being organic. Not necessarily dogmatically, but in the same way that we’re not going to buy romano beans that aren’t organic, we’re not gonna buy wines that are made in an incredibly commercial fashion.”
Both Michael and Cirne bring a treasure-hunting mindset to the list. Whether it’s searching for vintage Amaros or Grappas or diving into an obscure wine region, “We follow what we’re passionate about,” Michael says. “We’re not really into trends.” This translates to engaging experiences for guests.
“It’s not just opening the bottle or serving the dish,” Michael says. “It’s like, ‘OK, where did that come from and how did you get that idea?’ Especially in these times that we’re in now, the guests really want to know everything. And we’re able to provide that, because if we do it in an honest fashion, that’s exciting for us, so it’ll be exciting for the guests.”
When COVID-19 forced Quince to shut down in the spring of 2020, the Tusks saw the closure as an opportunity to bring customers even closer to the farm. They created a pop-up series called Quince at the Farm, hosting meals in greenhouses at Fresh Run and at McEvoy Ranch, another farm in Marin County. “We saw that excitement of somebody harvesting their first sunchoke or chile or an eggplant,” Michael says. “It’s important that we visit all these small farms and know where and how things were grown.”
The Tusks also expanded the retail component of their wine bar and market, Verjus, selling wine; produce from the farm; house-made provisions like bread, gelato and charcuterie; and discerningly sourced pantry staples. At Cotogna, they constructed an outdoor dining space and launched a comprehensive take-away program.
While the pandemic has been a challenging period, Michael sees a silver lining: More people connecting through cooking at home. “Maybe they’ll cook more with their children and realize that it’s important to really gather around the table,” he says. “I still want people to come out and dine in our restaurants, but to me it’s very exciting what I saw, and I hope that will continue.”
This spread of canapés is sure to bring everyone together, as will Cirne’s diverse lineup of complementary wines meant for mixing and matching as your guests please.
Michael’s advice for ensuring success with these simple recipes is, appropriately, simple: Trust your instincts. If the soup’s too thick for your liking, add some more liquid; if you don’t have saffron, leave it out; if you can’t find brioche, use a different type of bread. “Everything really has room for you to put your own twist on it,” Michael says. “I’m just providing the ideas.”
470 Pacific Ave., San Francisco
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Best of Award of Excellence
490 Pacific Ave., San Francisco
Telephone: (415) 775-8508
Caviar Brioche With Crème Fraîche
In a twist on a bite that’s been offered in some variation at Quince for the past three years, brioche is toasted in butter for richness, then topped with whipped crème fraîche and caviar. If they’re available, edible flower petals beautify this extremely easy appetizer. (And since brioche has a high butter content, you could even skip the stovetop step and simply brown the bread in a toaster or oven.) These can be prepared in advance, but Michael says they’re better à la minute: Set out all the toppings as you’re toasting the brioche and let everyone partake in the fun of building their own: “Your guests will want to make them themselves after trying the first bite.”
- 6 slices brioche, ¼-inch thick, with crust removed (can save for stuffing or breadcrumbs)
- 3 tablespoons crème fraîche
- ½ cup clarified or regular unsalted butter
- 2 ounces caviar
- ¼ cup edible flowers, stemmed (optional)
1. Cut each slice of brioche in half to yield 12 pieces, each 3- to 4-inches long by 1-inch wide.
2. Place the crème fraîche in a small stainless steel bowl and whip it with a small whisk until stiff. Set aside.
3. Heat a 10-inch nonstick pan over low heat until warm. Test by adding a little butter—it should sizzle immediately. Add enough butter to coat the bottom of the pan and warm for 30 seconds, then add 6 brioche slices and cook until golden, about 20 seconds on each side. Use an offset spatula to check how the toast is browning. Add a little more butter if necessary and flip the toasts until both sides are golden. When they are done, place on a paper towel to absorb any extra butter. Repeat with remaining pieces. Keep warm in a low-temperature oven.
4. Line up the 12 toasts and add 2 dollops crème fraîche and 2 dollops caviar to each. If available, use mother-of-pearl spoons for the caviar. Finish by placing flowers, if using, on top of the crème fraîche. Serve immediately.
Toast Points with Anchovy and Whipped Butter
For a different topped-toast item that’s equally straightforward, baguette slices are lightly crisped in the oven, rubbed with garlic and dressed with a lemony whipped butter and anchovy. “It’s just a great combination. It’s simple and easy and delicious,” Michael says. “I’d eat that any day of the year.”
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest and ½ a lemon
- 1 baguette
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, crushed with skin on
- 12 anchovies, packed in oil
- 1 star anise (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 400° F.
2. Place softened butter in a bowl with the lemon zest and a little squeeze of lemon juice. Using a small whisk, whip the butter until airy and light. Set aside at room temperature.
3. Cut the baguette on the bias into 12 slices ¼-inch thick. Brush the slices with the olive oil, place on a sheet pan and bake for 5 minutes until lightly golden but a little soft in the center.
4. Remove bread from the oven, let cool for 2 minutes and rub with the garlic clove with a single swipe. Using a small offset spatula, generously spread the butter on the toast.
5. Place an anchovy fillet on each toast point and finish by squeezing a little more lemon on them. If using star anise, grate a little over each fillet using a microplane.
This puree takes a bit of time but can be made a day in advance. It evokes the “very holiday-esque” experience of sipping warm soup by the fireplace and highlights one of Michael’s favorite vegetables. As with the other recipes, not much can go wrong here. “It’s really just slowly caramelizing sunchokes so they get this richness and nuttiness, a little touch of the Madeira, then adding some cream and some stock and blending it,” he says. Sunchokes should be available in most parts of the United States, but they can also be swapped out for celeriac or potatoes.
- 1 stick unsalted organic butter
- ½ of 1 lemon, seeded
- Salt to taste
- ¾ pound of skin-on sunchokes, thoroughly washed, patted dry and sliced ⅛-inch thick (also slice any protruding nubs to ensure even cooking)
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed with skin on
- 1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced ⅛-inch thick
- 1 bay leaf
- 6 sprigs thyme
- White pepper to taste
- ¼ cup Madeira or Sherry
- 2 cups vegetable or turkey stock
- 1 ½ cups heavy cream
1. Dice the butter and place in a small sauce pot over high heat. When the butter starts to melt, turn the heat down and whisk continuously until the butter begins to smell nutty and takes on a light caramel color, which will take approximately 1 minute (rely on look and smell), then quickly remove from the heat. Be careful not to burn the butter; when in doubt, it’s better to pull it earlier.
2. Add a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon to taste. Reserve the brown butter at room temperature.
3. Warm a 2-quart saucepot that’s about 8 inches in diameter over low heat. When warm, add the grapeseed oil and warm for another 30 seconds. Add the garlic and sautée for a minute or so to infuse the oil with flavor. Add the onions, bay leaf and thyme. Sweat the onions until they are tender but have not taken on any color, about 10 minutes. Remove the onion mixture and set aside.
4. In the same pan, stir in the sliced sunchokes. Season with a little salt and white pepper. Turn heat to medium and add about ⅓ of the prepared brown butter. Cook over low to moderate heat to caramelize the sunchokes for about 25 to 30 minutes, turning often with a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon. Taste the sunchokes as you go. They should be tender, seasoned and nicely caramelized.
5. When you are happy with the caramelized sunchokes, turn the heat to high and add the Madeira, scraping up any sunchoke bits that have adhered to the pan. All those bits have flavor and will also provide a nice color to the soup. Add the onion mixture back in and cook for a minute more. Add the stock and heavy cream, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
6. Taste the soup and readjust with salt and pepper if necessary. Discard the bay leaf and thyme sprigs, then carefully transfer the soup to a blender and puree until very fine. The soup should be velvety and smooth; if it is too thick, simply add a little more stock or heavy cream. Keep hot, and before serving, add in all but 1 tablespoon of the remaining brown butter and whisk. Serve in demitasse cups and garnish with the remaining brown butter.
To create tartlets: Make a pastry shell using buckwheat. Instead of adding the stock and heavy cream, puree the mixture while drizzling in the previously made brown butter. Season to taste with salt and white pepper and pipe into the baked tartlet shells. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and some extra vecchio balsamic vinegar.
Arancini are an ultimate crowd-pleaser. Pumpkin, mushrooms and saffron create “a little taste of fall” in a risotto that’s then formed into bite-sized balls and fried.
The Tusks forage for various wild mushrooms, but virtually any kind or combination will work, including cremini, porcini or black trumpets—you can even throw in some rehydrated dried varieties. Make the rice mixture and let it cool in the fridge the day before, so all that’s left to do day of is form, bread and fry.
- 20 strands or small pinch of saffron
- 5 cups vegetable or turkey stock
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced and kept refrigerated (divided)
- 1 cup diced pumpkin, grated on large holes then minced until about the size of rice grains
- Salt to taste
- 1 cup chanterelle or button mushrooms, chopped roughly into ½-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon yellow onion or shallot, minced
- 1 cup Carnaroli rice
- ½ cup white wine
- ½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
For breading and frying
- 1 quart rice bran or grapeseed oil
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 eggs
- 2 cups fine breadcrumbs or panko
1. Heat oven to 275° F. Heat a 1-quart saucepot over low heat and add the saffron. Toast the saffron until it is fragrant, about 30 seconds, moving it around so it toasts evenly. Put the stock in another pot and bring to a simmer.
2. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter and the diced pumpkin to the saffron and sauté for about 1 minute. Season with salt to taste. Remove pumpkin and place on a paper towel. Add another tablespoon of butter and the chanterelles and sauté quickly over medium to high heat, using a spoon to rotate the mushrooms until tender. Season with a pinch of salt and add to the pumpkin. Set aside.
3. In the same pan, add another tablespoon of butter and the minced onion. Cook for 1 minute until the onion is tender, then add the rice and coat it in the butter-onion mixture using a wooden spoon. Reduce heat to low.
4. Toast the rice for 3 to 4 minutes while rotating it with the spoon. The rice granules should turn white and have a pleasant toasty aroma, but no browning should occur. Add the wine and continue stirring until the wine is completely absorbed.
5. Set a timer for 13 minutes and add the first addition of stock using a ladle. Add just enough stock to cover the rice, and continue stirring. Add more stock each time the previous stock is absorbed. (It is important that your stock is always simmering.) Once the timer hits the 13 minute mark, do not add any more stock and continue cooking until no stock remains in the pan. Taste the rice to make sure it’s tender.
6. Once the stock is fully absorbed, remove from the heat and stir in the previously roasted pumpkin and mushrooms. Add the final tablespoon of butter and the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and cover the saucepot for 1 minute. Remove the cover and stir the mixture with a wooden spoon. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary.
7. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper. Pour the rice onto one of the sheet pans, spreading it out so it cools evenly at room temperature. Once cool, place in a bowl and use a small ice cream scoop to make 32 small arancini (1-inch in diameter). Form each piece with your hands and place on the second sheet pan fitted with parchment paper.
8. Place the oil in a 2-quart saucepot and slowly bring it up to 350° F. Place the all-purpose flour in a small bowl. Crack the eggs and whisk in another small bowl. Place the breadcrumbs in a third small bowl.
9. Dip each arancino in the flour, then place in the egg mixture. Gently shake off the excess while still making sure the arancino is coated. Place each arancino in the breadcrumbs to coat evenly, then place on a flat surface. Repeat until each arancino is breaded.
10. Make sure fryer is at 350° F. Have a paper towel–lined plate standing by. Fry arancini a few at a time until crisp and golden brown on the outside, 1 to 2 minutes, occasionally turning them very gently to ensure even frying. Remove, season with a pinch of salt and serve immediately if possible, or keep warm in a low-temp oven.
Source Like a Chef
Local produce and top-quality products, like Michael’s picks below, will take these dishes over the top. Use it as a conversation piece, just like the Tusks do in their restaurants. After all, Michael says connecting guests with the people and places behind the wine and food—and watching their faces light up in response—is what it’s all about. “Those are the little things that make the stresses of being in the restaurant industry worth it.”
Caviar “Tsar Nicoulai Golden Osetra Caviar is the best. It’s a sustainable caviar from the Sacramento Valley in California and you can order directly from their website. We’ll also be adding some of their products to the Cotogna website in the coming months. Good alternative options are Petrossian, Black River or Solex Fine Foods.”
- Tsar Nicoulai Golden Osetra Caviar: tsarnicoulai.com
- Petrossian: petrossian.com
- Black River: blackrivercaviar.com
- Solex Fine Foods: solexfinefoods.com
Smoked Fish Michael says that if caviar is too pricey, feel free to substitute it with a smoked fish such as salmon, trout or sturgeon. “Russ & Daughters delivers nationally. If someone were looking for another source, I’d recommend checking out your local specialty grocers and fish mongers. They’ll have the highest quality product and be able to provide specific recommendations.”
- Russ & Daughters: russanddaughters.com
Anchovies “Order L’Escala anchovies from Beaune Imports. Other brands that I like include Ortiz anchovies. We’ve also worked with Markus Draxler, the founder of Solex Fine Foods, for years. He carries Yurrita Cantabrian anchovies and helped me import them.”
- L’Escala anchovies from Beaune Imports: beauneimports.com
- Yurrita Cantabrian anchovies from Solex Fine Foods: solexcatsmo.com
Something for Everyone
The holidays are for relaxing and enjoying, so don’t spend time overthinking the wine pairings. Rather than matching bottles to specific dishes, put your guests (and yourself) at ease by setting out a selection of wines and letting everyone pour what they like. People tend to gravitate toward certain styles of wine, so we’ve picked four of the most popular—bubblies, bright whites, chillable reds and richer reds—to please any crowd.
Olivier Horiot Sève Rosé de Saignée Champagne NV
“One of our favorite discoveries in Champagne over the past few years. Olivier and Marie Horiot craft wonderfully idiosyncratic wines, and they specialize in producing saignée rosé. Saignée, meaning ‘bleed,’ are Champagnes produced by lightly macerating red grapes before bleeding the juice from the skins, as opposed to the more common form of rosé production, which is to blend red and white wines. Saignée wines tend to be darker and richer than their blended counterparts, and Horiot’s Sève is no exception. Loaded with bright red fruits, this exuberant, celebratory tipple is packed with flavors of cranberry and pomegranate with a slightly herbaceous streak—ideal for Thanksgiving fare. Enjoy with hors d’oeuvres, especially the caviar and the arancini, and save a glass for your turkey dinner.”
Wine Spectator Alternates: Domaine Chandon Brut Rosé California NV (88, $19); Guido Berlucchi Brut Rosé Franciacorta ‘61 NV (91, $36)
Federico Curtaz Kudos Etna Bianco 2018
“Federico Curtaz moved to Sicily after having worked as Angelo Gaja’s viticulturist for a decade. He produces wines full of character with no shortage of complexity. Kudos is a racy, Burgundian-inspired Carricante from the volcanic soils of Mt. Etna. Vibrant and chiseled, focused and linear; the detail and poise here conjure up names like Dauvissat and Roulot. There is a saltiness to the wine that is complemented by thirst-quenching citrus notes. A sure-fire hit with the anchovies! A lightly creamy element and the slightest hint of brown butter ensure this also pairs well with the sunchoke.”
Wine Spectator Alternates: Tenuta Delle Terre Nere Etna White 2018 (91, $23); Planeta Etna White 2019 (90, $31)
Yvon Métras Madame Placard Beaujolais 2018
“No Thanksgiving bash can be complete without a bottle of snappy, red-fruited and infinitely drinkable Beaujolais, preferably served with a light chill. This bottling from Métras is wild, bordering on feral, which we love. Notes of cranberry and raspberry leap from the glass with savory notes of autumn leaves, smoke, garrigue and dried flowers. It’s all very fall.”
Wine Spectator Alternates: Domaine du Clos du Fief Juliénas Tradition 2018 (91, $25); Château de la Chaize Brouilly 2018 (91, $35)
Guido Porro Barolo Lazzairasco 2015
“It’s not often that I come across a traditionally crafted Barolo that’s good to go. While this warm vintage produced wines that will no doubt age well, there is a generosity of fruit and softness in texture that makes these wines easily accessible despite their relative youth. We like Porro’s particularly aromatic style—think flowers, warm spices, sour cherry and a touch of coffee, all in a soft, chewy frame. It’s the perfect foil for the richer hors d’oeuvres, especially the arancini. Barolo’s inherent earthy notes work with mushroom, the floral and spice notes work with the pumpkin, and the wines’ robust tannins work with the creaminess of the rice.”
Wine Spectator Alternates: Mauro Molino Barolo 2016 (92, $30); Damilano Barolo Lecinquevigne 2016 (93, $50)