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These were all presented gorgeously, on dark, heavy rectangular plates in the case of the tunas and in a big, square, white bowl, artfully overlapping inch-thick slices with bits of daikon radish and vegetable fripperies to make it all look pretty. As instructed, I tried a bit of the toro without either soy sauce or wasabi, fully expecting a mouthful of bliss. Toro's flavor has been described as like butter or like excellent filet mignon; it's pale red to pink, and a good piece should entertain your palate with an indescribable fullness, as if the coldest, lightest seawater had been condensed and enriched. Unfortunately, the toro we had at Coco that night was stringy, bitter, fishy, and tasted of iron. It was awful. The regular bluefin wasn't much better, fishy rather than cleanly flavored. Toro, like oysters, is supposed to be best in winter, so it may have been a mistake to order it in May. But still, shouldn't the restaurant just refrain from serving it?
We plowed on through the sashimi sampler the thick, overly chewy octopus, fine slabs of salmon and hamachi and found that all the sashimi was at different temperatures. Some pieces were room temp, too warm to be palatable. Some were coolish. And the tuna in the sampler was partially frozen, so I chomped down on tiny ice crystals. In short, disgusting.
If I'd been a plain old civilian rather than a food writer, I would have folded my napkin at this point and signaled for the check. I was saddened for a lot of reasons. From what I know of him, Mike Ponluang is a sympathetic creature, and I wish him no harm. I also have friends and acquaintances who've gone to Coco and absolutely loved it. A lot of people have put care and attention into so many of the wonderful details colors, textures, plating techniques that I positively yearned to adore it. But things didn't improve enough post-sashimi to quell my misgivings.
It's unfortunate that once you taste yucky sashimi, you approach anything that follows it with a suspicious eye and a nose trained to detect off-odors. We ordered a few of the rolls and nigiri, and they were mostly fine, if none of them too subtle. A special yellowtail sushi "with aioli and cilantro" had substituted scallion for the cilantro. Salmon sushi with mango and dill (both two pieces for $9) was attractive, fresh, and innovative. A tanzana roll ($9) combined hamachi, asparagus, avocado, scallion, and masago into a combination that seems too ubiquitous to be interesting. And a volcano roll ($12) was a superrich dish of crab, cucumber, cream cheese, and avocado, topped with dynamite conch in spicy tobiko mayo. I enjoyed the fattiness here that I didn't get from the toro, but these ingredients together, honestly, are major overkill creamy crab, creamy cheese, creamy avocado, creamy mayo. It's yum yum yummy, but not for the sushi snob who cares one whit about authenticity or a clear palate.
Has it happened? I've turned into that snob. Dear reader, you may go to Coco and have the time of your life a plate of panang curry or the beloved filet mignon with avocado, portabella mushrooms, potatoes, and curry sauce that everybody raves about from the Thai Pepper. Or a dish of coco sea bass with chili sauce, a roasted duck with tamarind. Wash it down with a mango mojito and you're in heaven. I have no quarrels with you. It's just that I'm inhabiting an alternate universe these days, cranky and exacting, where I want my next som tum green papaya salad ($6), which I had at lunch the following week, to teach me something I don't already know, to inspire me or quarrel with my preconceptions. Coco's som tum never rose to meet even my lowest expectations. The shredded papaya was soggy, and the execution lacked balance too spicy hot and too sweet, although I appreciated the weird salty tang of those dried shrimp. A bowl of tom ka kai soup with chicken ($3 at lunch, $5 at dinner) had the same flaws silky coconut milk was overly sweetened, and none of the lemongrass lime-leaf flavors had managed to poke through. When I'm in search of the famously beautiful, unexpected flavors of Thailand, it isn't to Coco I'll be turning. In fact, I'm already planning a winter flight to Bangkok.
I've obviously grown too precious for this world.