Thursday, January 24, 2013

Coco's Bistro, Dayton, Ohio

Tuesday night, I went with the WHO (Women Hanging Out) Group from my church to dinner at the new location of Coco's Bistro on Warren Street. The space is infinitely larger than their previous location, allowing for large groups to be seated comfortably. The parking lots and overflow parking were completely full, necessitating my parking on the street. A good sign!

The inside of the restaurant was rather stark. I suspect the idea was to be sophisticated, but it didn't feel particularly warm or welcoming. In fact, the dim, black box reminded me of being in a community theater before the set is built. It felt almost like we were dining on a stage, in fact. The overhead lights provided slim visibility with maximum glare, an unfortunate combination.

Our waiter, sadly, did not seem to have been hired for his skills at relating to a variety of groups. While he was pleasant and competent enough, I got the impression that he'd have been much happier had his table been a group of young, urbanite hipsters. Instead he got a group of mature women, some with hearing issues, mostly suburb-dwelling. I arrived after the rest of the group was seated and was never given a menu. Luckily, my dining companions shared. Our waiter seemed slightly impatient throughout. Furthermore, he seemed to have no understanding of the need to speak slowly and loudly, enunciating well. This is particularly important in a popular, open dining room, even with younger clientele.

I'd never been to dinner at Coco's ( but had been very favorably impressed with their lunches at the old spot. I have particularly fond memories of a fried green tomato BLT I enjoyed there one summer. I was tempted by the filet and the trout, but I'd just had particularly swoony renditions of both, one prepared by my sweetheart, the other by the fabulous Anne Kearney and her staff at Rue Dumaine. I was also not terribly hungry, given my largish lunch of a crab rangoon stick, yellow curry fried rice, and mango sticky rice.

So, I settled on a Caesar salad and an appetizer. I was torn between the fried brie and the buffalo shrimp, so I asked the waiter's opinion, acknowledging that they are two very different dishes. He immediately championed the buffalo shrimp, so I ordered those. The rosemary bread and blueberry-something-something butter (this is why enunciation matters---I am not sure one person at the table had any idea what was in the butter, beyond blueberries) was incredible. There was also plenty, so it didn't feel rude to dip back into the basket for more.

I was also well-pleased with my lovely little salad, dressed perfectly so as to accent the crunchy lettuce but not overwhelm or drown it, and scattered with yummy, if a little browner than optimal, tidbits of Parmesan crisp.

The shrimp, when they arrived, were disappointing. First of all, they were not large enough to warrant $13 for 4 of them. I have eaten shrimp worth that, but these were not. Then, the temperature had dropped between finishing and delivery to lukewarm. I think there may well be people who would love the buffalo sauce, which was more akin to a combo of buffalo and barbecue sauces, with a nice prick of heat, but an even greater wash of sweet. It was too sweet for me to love it, but I may simply have chosen poorly. It could be that I should stick to spots like Winking Lizard for buffalo anything and when dining upscale, order upscale.

I also chose poorly for dessert and I knew I was doing it. I make a particularly wonderful flourless chocolate cake, so I should never order it in restaurants. I am almost invariably disappointed. Hope springs eternal, though, so I bypassed the creme brûlée in favor of the torte, seduced by the promise of vanilla ice cream and toffee sprinkles. Oh, was it a mistake! The torte was fine, as far as flavor went, but had little depth. Worse, it was dry and crumbly, with hard edges, rather than silky and smooth. The tiny scoop of ice cream, perched atop like a mini-fez, did little to ameliorate the situation. All I could think as I made my way through it was that the espresso creme brûlée was probably amazing. I've had Coco's creme brûlée. I am picky about creme brûlée. They do it exceedingly well.

I will certainly return, but in daylight hours or when I am in the mood for a full entree. I think that's where they shine. A little light shining in the windows might improve things, as well.

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