Read Part I of the interview with the minds behind the chocolate-coffee concept Coco Sala. For more photos of the interview, visit http://staceyviera.zenfolio.com/chefinterviewcocosala
Tiptur and Sidhu – both of Indian heritage – are seasoned travelers, and their food incorporates what Sidhu called “global flavors.” Tiptur grinds all of his spices, two of his favorites are cardamom and cumin, so that every last ingredient is as fresh as possible.
Freshness speaks as much to quality as it does to nutrition, which we’ve addressed on this site in previous posts about chocolate. But aside from the antioxidant properties and other benefits of limited portions of chocolate, Sidhu said, “You don’t need a huge portion of food. It’s about flavor and the intensity of flavors. As long as you’re using fresh ingredients, it’s a healthier product.”
This is one reason that Coco Sala serves gelato instead of ice cream. “It’s healthier, lower in fat and provides more intense flavors and textures,” Sidhu explained. “Less air is incorporated during the process, making gelato a creamier product.”
Sidhu took me to the boutique section of the restaurant, which currently resides within the lounge area. She told me that a separate chocolate boutique is in the works, and will be built by fall of this year within the current space.
I saw flavors such as cherry, Goji berry, curry coconut and mango lassi. I rarely step outside of my comfort zone when it comes to enjoying chocolate, but I decided to try something new. After all, Coco Sala is an experience!
Tiptur was the first to create a ganache with yogurt. For the mango lassi chocolate, he uses Greek yogurt that combines the tang of the yogurt with the sweet mango flavors. The richness of the flavor combinations is brilliant. The cherry bonbon combines cherry yogurt, Morello cherries and puree. Noting how I’d never tasted anything like this cherry chocolate, Tiptur exclaimed, “This is what a real cherry tastes like! Artificial cherry isn’t cherry!”
And the most surprising chocolate of all: curry coconut. I tried it because I swear that I don’t like curry nor do I enjoy coconut. Much like the cherry treat, I was surprised with the combination of the natural flavors made from real ingredients. The chocolate and sweetness are tasted at the beginning and then the spices kick in at the end. It turns out I don’t like artificial curry or coconut “flavor,” but the real stuff is decadent when done right.
Coco Sala offers something decadent for everyone. Cocktails for ladies’ night or bachelorette parties, romantic five-course desserts for proposals, and chocolate classes, such as chocolate and champagne tastings, and instructional classes to make mini chocolate sculptures.
And gentlemen, listen up. If you’re wondering, “Where are all of the single ladies?” the answer is Coco Sala. Tiptur said, “This place gets filled with women. We get a mixture of clientele. People like to propose here. It’s very romantic. After 9:30 or 10 o’clock, people come from the area restaurants to enjoy dessert here. There’s no competition for us. Restaurants in the area will send clientele to us for dessert.”
For Coco Sala, the notion that location is everything couldn’t be truer. Sidhu said that the economic slowdown felt by many other businesses did not impact her restaurant for a couple of reasons. “In 2009, if people went out they wanted something different. We’ve been lucky with a unique concept. And the location helped, too.” Situated between the Metro Center and Chinatown subway stops, Coco Sala is near private offices, government buildings, the Verizon Center, museums, hotels, movie theaters and other destinations. Since the area underwent these significant changes (particularly taking the “China” out of “Chinatown”), I’ve started calling it “Georgetown East” and others have named it “Washington’s Times Square.”
From a business standpoint, Sidhu said they’re doing well. “I appreciate where the chef is coming from and work to find balance between managing the front and back of the house. My business partner [Malhotra] and I complement each other. He may not understand the culinary side of things, but we have a great relationship.” Sidhu mentioned that they are considering other major cities for Coco Sala, though no firm plans are in place to expand just yet.
And as for how Coco Sala stole my heart: the Stolen Heart dessert is truly one of a kind. It’s a raspberry mousse with a cake base, crunchy hazelnuts and raspberry center. Remarkable.
Such a dish speaks to Tiptur’s philosophy in the kitchen. “Working in a confined space, you must hire people who work from their heart. I’m calm in the kitchen, and the staff understands how I work. The current kitchen crew has been here for a year and a half. This is not a typical restaurant. This is about managing people and you need a great team to support that.”
With the intensity I quickly came to expect from both Tiptur and his dishes, he said, “I’m very dedicated. I want to do it and do it right.”
DISCLOSURE: The author enjoyed a variety of chocolate treats during her visit, though none of them influenced the way she wrote this article. Not even the chocolate-coated bacon.
For more photos of the interview, visit http://staceyviera.zenfolio.com/chefinterviewcocosala