Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Quick Dinner at Jaleo & A Visit to Co Co. Sala

I had a friend visiting me for the past few days, and so we got a chance to do some visiting in DC and some wonderful food tourism. After a day exploring the exhibits at the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, my friend and I decided to get dinner at Jaleo.

Jaleo is a Spanish tapas restaurant with vibrant small dishes perfect for sharing and sampling. They only take reservations for half their restaurant (leaving the rest of the space for walk-ins) and so when we arrived at around 7:45pm on a Saturday night, we were told we would have to wait for a table. We took our little buzzer and went to the bar to wait. The bar was crowded, but we did manage to find two open seats, and we sat and both got water. We thought about ordering a small tapas dish at the bar, but then decided to wait for our table.

Our wait was about 20-25 minutes. Once we were seated, we ordered immediately (we had decided on our dishes during our wait time at the bar). We ordered sopa de calabaza, berenjenas a la miel, and arroz de pato ‘Jean-Louis Palladin’. Three tapas, we felt, would be sufficient, since we knew we were heading out to another place for dessert later.

We were then brought fresh bread, with a crackly crust and an airy interior, along with a bowl of rosemary and garlic olive oil. We didn't have to wait long before our tapas arrived.

The sopa de calabaza, or butternut squash soup ($8.50), was delicious. It was served with toasted pumpkin seeds, goat cheese, and small pieces of cooked diced butternut squash. I loved the play on textures. There was the crunchy texture of pumpkin seeds, the creamy goat cheese, the slightly chewy and soft butternut squash pieces, and three crisps. The soup itself was creamy and slightly sweet. The goat cheese was very mild, a little tangy, but not at all overwhelming. The flavors and textures worked together very well, and after we finished sharing the soup, we happily wiped the bowl down with our bread. It was a solid 8.5 out of 10.

The berenjenas a la miel, or lightly battered eggplant with honey ($8), was delicious. The eggplant was sweet and savory and the honey perfectly complimented that natural sugars in the vegetable. The dish was simple, but well executed and we both loved how the crispy fried exterior gave way to a soft and slightly chewy interior. A solid 8 out of 10.

My friend is vegetarian, but I have an ongoing love affair with duck and foie gras and so I had to order the arroz de pato ‘Jean-Louis Palladin’ ($11) on the menu. This dish had rice with duck confit, duck breast and foie gras cream. It sounded perfect. But to my great disappointment, the dish was extremely salty. While the duck was flavorful and moist and I enjoy the texture of the rice, the salt was so overwhelming that I could neither enjoy nor finish the dish. I suppose that's what I get for ordering a dish with meat while dining with a vegetarian friend. I would not order it again nor would I recommend it.

After we finished our meal, we lingered only a bit after paying before heading out for dessert. Jaleo does have some excellent desserts (which I have reviewed before), but I wanted my friend to try Co Co. Sala while she was in DC.

Co Co. Sala is a chocolate lounge/restaurant in D.C. which is known for its drinks and desserts. We were headed there specifically for some hot chocolate and sweets. Also, their website mentioned that on the weekends, they have a DJ starting at 9:30pm.

Co Co. Sala was already crowded and pretty noisy when we got there, at around 9pm. Although they had some two person tables open, the host (who was rather aloof and impersonal) informed us that there would be a 40 minute wait if we didn't have a reservation. The lounge, he informed us, was also full, but we could find space if we liked at the bar. Thus, my friend and I went to find ourselves a spot at the bar.

Co Co. Sala is arranged so that there is a bar on both sides of the restaurant, but on the right side of the restaurant (if you orient yourself from the entrance), where the lounge was, was very full, and so we decided to stay on the left side. After waiting patiently for a bit, we managed to grab one seat for the two of us when a couple got up (the woman had been sitting on the man's lap). We ordered our hot chocolate, and then while we were waiting, managed to ask the bartender for a dessert menu.

When our Hot Co Co. Trio Flights arrived before us, we were very excited. We had just placed the order for our dessert, and we decided to start on the hot chocolates while waiting. The trio flights is an option on the menu for trying three of Co Co. Sala's signature hot chocolate. We opted to try to the dark chocolate, the salted caramel, and the chipotle hot chocolate.
The dark chocolate was not as strong as I hoped. It was sweet and mild, and didn't have the bitterness of the strong cocoa flavor that I associated with "dark" chocolate. Nevertheless, it was pleasant.
The salted caramel hot chocolate was delicious, and we exclaimed over the wonderful flavor of it. The salt brought out the full flavor of the chocolate, and the sweetness of the caramel was just right--not too cloying and not too mild. I would definitely order again. In fact, we considered ordering a full sized salted caramel hot chocolate on the spot. While the chocolate scent was more subdued, we didn't mind how the caramel stood at the forefront in terms of the flavors in the mouth. The drink had a lot of character and was very sophisticated.
The chipotle hot chocolate was very spicy. The spiciness, however, hit at the back of the throat, not in the mouth, so it was an odd sensation, since the chocolate scent not very strong. The drink tasted almost a bit watery before you swallowed.
All in all, while the trio flights was fun to taste, none of the drinks had the intense chocolate flavor that I was looking for. The dark chocolate was surprisingly mild and the chipotle hot chocolate tasted almost watered down. While the salted hot chocolate was delicious, it tasted much more of caramel than of chocolate. For a place that claims chocolate as its name sake, I felt a little let down.

When we looked over the dessert menu, we had a hard time deciding what to get, but then I remembered from reading reviews that the Chocolate Onyx had been praised. The description sounded amazing, so we settled on that.
On the left, you can see the best part of the dessert. It was a chocolate brownie covered with crispy "chocolate pearls" (like chocolate puffed rice). Covering this was a rich dark chocolate mousse, which was topped with a vanilla crème brulee. The whole thing was topped with a little salted caramel. The entire thing was rich, intensely chocolate without being overwhelming, and perfectly balanced between sweet, salty, and bitter. The play on textures was also amazing. The crunchy vanilla brulee broke under our spoons to give way to a creamy mousse, and then the crispy "pearls" and cake-y brownie. We both couldn't get enough of it.
The chocolate sorbet, pictured in the middle, actually really put me off. It was bitter in a bland kind of way that after one spoonful, I didn't want to try anymore. My friend didn't find it as unpleasant as I did and she finished it, so it might be a personal taste type of thing.
As for the chocolate cinnamon toffee "bon bon," I found this equally unappealing. It had a tasteless sweetness to it that was somewhat unpleasant.

Co Co. Sala was very crowded the entire time we were there. The tables were full, the lounge was full, the bar had people standing and waiting for seats. Despite the crowd, the servers were fairly attentive. They were obviously very busy, but made an effort to be friendly, answering any questions that we asked, and serving patrons quickly. The biggest issue was the music. The DJ did not come on (there was a little "stage") until 9:45pm, and then when he did, the music was extremely loud and not at all conducive to having a conversation (which, clearly, was what people had come to do, since there was no room for dancing, and no one seemed interested in dancing). The music was also pretty terrible. It was not familiar music or popular music, but just loud rhythmic noise. After we finished our dessert we left.
Also, for a place with such high traffic and so many patrons, you would think the bathroom would be more spacious. Instead, it was only a little better than an airplane bathroom. That's right, it was small, and there was only one men's bathroom and one women's bathroom. The sinks for the men's and women's bathrooms were outside, right next to each other, so that you could talk while washing your hands, perhaps. I found it all very odd, and slightly off-putting.
Perhaps I will come back, perhaps not. If I return, however, it will most definitely be at a less crowded time, like perhaps 3-4pm on a weekday, when I know it will be less crowded and I know there will most assuredly not be a DJ present.

480 7th Street NW
Washington DC
Tel: 202.628.7949
Overall rating for the price: 7 out of 10

929 F Street NW
Washington, DC 20004
Tel: 202.347.4265
Overall rating for the price: 6 out of 10

1 comment:

  1. I found your blog looking for Jaleo's dessert menu, and I really like it!!

    Next time you have a bad experience with any dish just let your server know, I used to work at another of Jose Andres' restaurants, and it's always helpful to know if something went out wrong and everything that gets to your table should be great!

    Check out my blog I'm actually posting about Jaleo!