Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dinner at Co Co Sala

For my birthday, my friends I. and G. came down from New Jersey to spend the weekend with me, and as we were spending the day in DC (invariably visiting Georgetown Cupcake and walking around in a diabetic coma afterwards), we decided to eat dinner at Co Co Sala.  I had actually gone here before for dessert and drinks with I., but we'd never done dinner.

We called for a reservation for 3 at around 2pm, since it was a last minute decision, and the only time we were able to get was at 6pm.  This was of course on Saturday, but still, be mindful that reservations should be made ahead of time, especially if you want to eat and get drinks at a later time, like 7:30 or 8pm, since that's when Co Co Sala gets crowded.

Because we were pretty full, we ordered mostly small plates, since the focus was on the dessert and drinks, as it should be when you go to a place that is called the Chocolate Room.  Below is a brief review of what we ate and drank.

This blue cheese pear and walnut salad ($8) included caramelized walnuts, arugula, cranberries, and balsamic vinaigrette.  It was a decent sized portion and very well executed.

This beef tenderloin ($28) with meyer angus and a gruyere and crushed cocoa bean crust was served with a shiraz reduction, asparagus (green and white), and a roasted garlic and goat cheese potato puree.  The puree was fascinating.  It had a very unique texture and we had actually forgotten what the menu said, and couldn't quite put our finger on what the taste was.  It was very light on the cheese factor.  I actually enjoyed it quite a bit, and you (loyal readers, at least) know how I feel about cheese (nyet, thanks)

These scallops ($12), were a "bite."  This is a concept that Co Co Sala has that is essentially equivalent to the Spanish concept of tapas.  Thus, this plate was just two pan-seared, cocoa nib crusted scallops with a maple citrus glaze.  The scallops were served with a celery root puree and a lotus chip.  It was very good.

This wild mushroom and roasted tomato risotto ($12) with seasonal mushrooms and parmesan risotto was cooked in a tomato broth and served with basil foam, and thus was completely vegetarian.  Good, although a bit on the salty side.

This dessert was the Co Co Grown Up ($14).  On the far right/top was a milk chocolate peanut butter gelato, which was rich but heavenly.  There was a chocolate mini co co. cupcake and then the most amazing bananas foster I've ever had in my entire life.  As I told my friends after tasting this, there is a god, and he works as the pastry chef at Co Co Sala.  The rum sauce with the bananas foster was to die for.  I could bathe in it.  There was also a malted shooter (alcoholic) with a chocolate "straw."  I thought it was actually a straw and tried to drink through it, like a fool, but it is not hollow.  An amazing dessert.  To be ordered again.

This dessert was to split among two people: churros with chocolate pudding dipping sauce.  The churros were light, airy and had the perfect amount of cinnamon sugar.  They also tasted amazing when dipped into the chocolate pudding sauce.  A perfectly executed dessert.

Of course, you can't go to Co Co Sala and not order a drink.  It doesn't matter if it's alcoholic or not.  You simply must order a drink.  We ended up trying four of their cocktails and one non-alcoholic drinks.

All cocktails are $13.  We ordered a Fetish, which has fresh strawberries juice/pulp, chocolate-infused vodka, and strawberry foam, and is served with a chocolate dipped berry (pictured behind the churros).  It tastes like candy.  It was my favorite drink of the night, and possibly my favorite drink ever (though chocolate martinis made at Quad at Princeton rank pretty highly) because you can barely taste the alcohol.  The drink itself also tasted very much like a chocolate dipped strawberry, and who doesn't like chocolate dipped strawberries?
We also tried the Co Cojito, with chocolate infused vodka, fresh mint & limes, and dark chocolate flakes (picture above, on the left).  It was good, but you could definitely taste the alcohol.  I'm not sure the mint and lime flavor was very prominent.  The chocolate flavor seemed to overwhelm them both.
The “Mmm” Malted Milk Martini (pictured above on right) featured Svedka Vanilla, Bailey’s, and Malted Chocolate and was very good.  Of course, my definition of a very good cocktail is one that is sweet and doesn't taste like alcohol.  I know, I'm a girl.  But it was complex, creamy, and yet light and easy to drink.
Lastly, we ordered the Blue Bliss (not pictured) which has Stoli Blueberry, Basil Infused Syrup, Fresh Lemonade, and Fresh Basil.  It is a refreshing summer cocktail, but it does taste like, well, alcohol.  A nice, light palate cleanser at the end of a meal though.

We also ordered the hot Salted Caramel Co Co ($6) at the start of our meal.  This delicious drink (pictured above, center) is served with a house-made marshmallow which meals deliciously into the hot cocoa.  The drink is the perfect combination of chocolate, caramel, and salt.  The caramel flavor is prominent, but balanced by the salt and roundness of the chocolate.  I could order this again and again.  Actually, I did order this previously, and I. and I had discussed coming back just to drink it again.  Turns out we did just that.

The entire experience of eating at Co Co. Sala is very relaxing.  It is not actually a restaurant, so if you eat a meal, it is more of a lounge experience, but you can eat and order at the bar or get a table among the booths/couches.  It is a perfect place for a classy date or for a dinner among friends, and is conveniently close to the Spy Museum and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  With its consistency, delicious drinks, and well executed and creative dishes, I am sure that Co Co. Sala will remain on my short list of restaurants in D.C. that I love to frequent.

Co Co. Sala
929 F Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20004
Tel. 202.347.4265
Overall rating for the price: 9 out of 10

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Different Way of Thinking

I don't pack like a normal person.  I'm moving into my new apartment in 12 days and I've begun the process of packing, but unlike most people who pack things like clothes and books, I have been focusing on packing kitchen ware.  I had been gathering my pots and pans, my hand held mixer, my measuring cups and spoons; I have collected up important things like my black truffle salt, my cinnamon, my vanilla sugar, my powdered ginger, my olive oil, my Maggi seasoning sauce.  I have packed my Tom Douglass cookbook (the only one I would ever pack with me on a move since it's the only cookbook I would actually cook from; the others are just for pleasure reading.  And yes, I pleasure read cookbooks), my coarse demerara sugar, my cocoa powder.  These things to me are as important as cardigans and fall boots to other people.
I am leaving for medical school and yet saved on my bookmarks bar is a link to a French Culinary Institute's class on pastry techniques and the International Culinary Center's class on homemade pasta.  I looked at both because they are only a train ride and a subway ride away from my apartment.  I am a crazy fool.  I am not sure if I will be able to make time for this blog once August rolls around, but I will never be able to stop considering good food and good cooking an important part of my life.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lunch at Michel (a guest review)

I have never done this before, but because of my own slacking off in terms of posting (which I justify as reasonable since I'm not sure I will be continuing this blog in August once medical school starts), I am publishing a guest post here.  This review is actually written and photographed by my hilarious older sister.  She wrote it a while back and emailed it to me, but for some reason I never read it (Sorry, L., I love you!) until today.  And it had me laughing out loud.  I've already reviewed this restaurant, but this is another perspective, on different dishes.  So here it is: my sister's debut as a restaurant critic.

Our parents had to cancel their trip to Madrid this April due to our grandfather’s declining health. To make up for missing Madrid, my father had made reservations for my mother and him at the relatively new restaurant Michel, located at the Tysons Corner Ritz-Carlton. Unfortunately, my mother had to schedule a last minute transatlantic flight to take care of her parents a couple days after returning from Paris. My father then selected me as his second choice lunch date. Normally I’d feel a little offended about being someone’s back up choice, but in this case I happily agreed as quickly as I could, giving him no time to reconsider.

Michel is owned by the same French chef of the acclaimed restaurant Citronelle in Georgetown. He also owns Central Michel Richard, one of my favorite restaurants in DC (and a dining establishment I can afford to eat at without needing to sell an organ). Central has a special place in my heart because I’ve spent numerous milestone events here. My family took me here for my 21st birthday, I watched the results of the 2008 election here, and I have celebrated numerous anniversaries with Central’s famous Kit Kat chocolate bar. I actually took an ex-boyfriend who’s idea of fine dining (until he met me) was Outback Steakhouse and Olive Garden to Central. Clearly, this boy desperately needed an eye-opening dining experience. Our meal changed him from thinking bloomin onions was an acceptable appetizer and brought him over to the dark side of steak tartare, pate, and goat cheese.

Back to Michel. The restaurant is located in the exact same space as the late Maestro, on lobby floor in the Ritz. The modern décor makes the dining room seem spacious and colorful, and the large wine cases remind me of the design at Central. There is a large exhibition kitchen, and we were seated at a table right in front of it.

Our waitress brought us over the menu and we mulled over the choices. My dad decided to go with the three  course lunch special for $21 (Chicken Soup with Herb Ravioli, Salmon with Green Lentils, fruit mousse) which is pretty much highway robbery since his entrée ordered a la carte would cost $22. I decided to just order the Beef Bourguignon with Egg Noodles.

The bread was warm, light as air (this obviously changed as soon as I glopped a pound of their soft butter on it) with an impossibly crunchy crust. I munched on the bread as my dad sipped (by sipped I mean gulped) on his soup. The Chicken Soup with Herb Ravioli was perfect for such a dreary, cold day. It was a tad salty, but very flavorful nonetheless. The herb ravioli was delicious and had a hint of oregano.  The mini croutons that they threw in the soup were a nice surprise.

Then came the main courses. My dad approved of his Salmon with Green Lentils. The salmon tasted fresh. I actually liked that the waitress asked my dad how well done he wanted his salmon (being presented with overdone fish at a restaurant is such a disappointment), and it indeed was cooked perfectly like he ordered. The lentils were also cooked perfectly (not at all mushy!) and were a nice accompaniment to the the fish.

I really enjoyed the Beef Bourguignon with Egg Noodles. The cubed meat was tender and seasoned well.  The noodles weren’t drenched in sauce, and the sweet pearl onions added another dimension to the dish. The portions were generous, and my dad ended up having to help me finish (although the bread I consumed as a side to obscene amount of butter I was inhaling may have factored into this).

Then, it was time for dessert!!!! My dad had the fruit mousse (pineapple, mango and coconut). I debated between the chocolate bar which I have had three times already, and trying something new.  I always agonize over dessert when I’ve enjoyed my meal thus far, because the idea of finishing with a mediocre dessert as the final note seems heart-breaking to me.

The waitress patiently explained every dessert to me, and I finally ended up ordering the Pot de Crème. It was a rich vanilla crème, with a caramel on top, along with crunchy chocolate mini balls and came with two lightly caramelized cracker things. It was delicious.  The vanilla crème had the consistency of flan, and aromatic without being overpowering. The crunchy chocolate balls added an extra punch of flavor and texture to the creamy mix of vanilla and caramel. My dad’s mousse was light and fruity without tasting artificial. I might be biased towards chocolate, but I preferred my calorically decadent dessert a bit more.

My father claimed that the one complaint he had conerning the desserts were that they were too rich for lunchtime. At first I vehemently disagreed, but an hour later as I fought an overwhelming food coma, I could see his point. Returning to work was difficult. After such a delicious meal, it seemed almost insulting to return to my desk and work on protocols.

Overall, my dad and I both gave Michel a B+. A solidly delicious meal, but not a knockout.

1700 Tysons Blvd
McLean, VA 22102
Tel. 703-506-4300