By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
Lobster spring rolls came with a cognac plum glaze. Ideally, as we know, anything fried at the right temp is supposed to emerge crackling and airy. I won't say these rolls were inedible, just greasy, heavy, and damned skimpy on the lobster. I ate them all anyway; I was starving. Banana shrimp, served with chili sauce, were another mild downer; you took a bite and got a mouthful of oily breadcrumbs. A failed experiment with a fancy name, Lotus Blossoms were endive leaves stuffed with dry, bland, ground chicken. Only the tempura shrimp roll, with ripe avocado, asparagus, sesame seeds, and fish eggs, was a success.
I might have been tempted to cancel our order and hit the road, but creeping inertia had soldered me to my seat. A bad expensive restaurant exerts a kind of sick fascination. Is that handsome couple at the next table feeling as ripped off and dissed as I am? Has Chef Peng ever actually tasted the Lotus Blossoms? Could I have bought a new dress for the price of this glass of wine?
Anything that starts out this badly isn't going to end well. It's one of life's immutable lessons, as true for amorous relationships as it is for restaurant meals. Indeed, the Pad Thai ($23), requested sans chicken, arrived strewn with big chunks of fowl. This is an evil thing to do to someone who doesn't eat meat. We sent it away. While we were waiting, we ordered another pinot grigio. Our waiter came back with a glass of something else. "Tastes like a mixture of air freshener and Boones Farm Peach Orchard," my friend said.
"This isn't my wine," she told the waiter, and handed it back. The mishap had raised questions no well-bred ladies should ever have to contemplate over dinner. Viz: An honest mistake? A switcheroo hoping we wouldn't notice? Bartender too frugal to open another bottle of Santa Margherita? I used to think it was just extra finesse when restaurants brought the bottle to the table to pour my single glass. Now I understand: It's fraud insurance.
The Pad Thai came back, and we all dug in. But the shrimp was off -- mushy and rotten. Attentive and gracious, General Manager Victoria Stogryn, bless her, noticed our pained expressions before we'd had a chance to utter a word. She whisked the offending crustaceans away with apologies, removed the charge from our bill, and offered to bring something else. Shrimp "not so fresh" had been the sole complaint of the critic who'd recommended CoCo -- but this shrimp was well beyond unfresh. As one of my guests commented, it "smelled like cat litter."
One rotten shrimp, unfortunately, can spoil a barrel of meals. I've eaten bad shrimp in so many restaurants that it barely fazes me anymore, but my mates weren't as hardy. We picked our way gingerly through a Taste of Citrus ($21), Angus beef over stir-fried Chinese shoestring potatoes, in a sauce made with orange peel and chili peppers. The beef was a little tough and chewy but flavorful, the sauce rich and piquant, the potatoes undercooked. Ahi tuna steak crusted with sesame seeds ($26) was the seared rare fillet we've all had in dozens of restaurants, livened up slightly by a scallion pancake. We did like the lobster roll ($14) inside-out with scallions, asparagus, and avocado. Avocado and asparagus appear, together or separately, in almost every roll CoCo offers, apparently for economy's sake. Satisfying as it was, this roll won't win any contests against the ones made a block away at Echo or, for that matter, against the much more glamorous and funky versions at Sushi Jo, a couple of miles south.
We stifled irritable yawns, paid our $250 bill, and trudged out. Maybe the kitchen has cut back on quality for the slow season (gotta stretch those shrimp!); it's possible, I suppose, that Peng will get it together in October, when the beautiful people start to drift back to town. Whatever. This beautiful person will be drifting in other directions.