The nerve. Another reviewer grabbed the Sex and the City image I had intended to use in writing about Coco, the tall, dark, and sensuous bistro that recently opened on San Antonio’s far north side. Now I have to trot out my second-best movie comparison: Moulin Rouge . Actually, they both work: I can see the four Sex pistols on one of Coco’s red velvet banquettes, appraising their latest boy toy while dipping ripe fruit in chocolate fondue. But I can also imagine Nicole Kidman in a scarlet gown at the bar devouring a Kiss, Coco’s diet-be-damned dessert of crème brûlée swathed in chocolate mousse.
You have to hand it to owner and former Las Canarias maître d’ Philippe Placé: The man understands marketing. If I were to coldly analyze Coco’s menu, I would say it’s interesting but not terribly unusual: a solid base of French bistro fare (salade niçoise, mussels and pommes frites) jazzed up with culinary fusion (duck spring rolls with blood-orange ponzu) and rounded out by upscale apps (sweet-potato fries). What makes it special is Placé’s shrewd chocolate come-on.
Expecting a culinary Kama Sutra of chocolate variations, two friends and I descended on the place and breathlessly perused the menu. Hmmm. Cocktails and desserts were chocolaty to the max; the rest of the food, not so much. Still, our curiosity was piqued, so we plunged in.
Our first choice from the menu of chef Pedreaux Cuellar (who previously cooked at Silo) was a dark and intense shrimp bisque with a squiggle of white-chocolate crème fraîche, but the chocolate was barely detectable except for a hint of sweetness in the cream garnish. Our second appetizer was a wonderfully moist roasted quail that had been “massaged” with a fig purée and drizzled with an ultrasubtle chocolate-and-balsamic reduction. We were getting the kitchen’s drift: Go easy on the chocolate in the savory dishes.
For our main courses, we settled on a (beautifully cooked) rack of lamb with a (too acidic) chutney of spiced orange and white chocolate. And, of course, we had to order the chicken in mole poblano, a classic dish that by definition has a fair amount of chocolate in it. Strangely, this version had less than any mole I’ve ever tried. Yes, the fowl was nicely cooked, but the one-dimensional ancho chile sauce hardly did it justice.
By the time we got to dessert, we were ready for the chocolate to be kicked up a notch or three. Happily, pastry chef Rebekah Meyers, formerly of La Mansión del Rio, rose to the challenge. Her signature, the Kiss, was blissful if stupefyingly rich. But what really seduced us was the quintet of ethereally light profiteroles filled with vanilla ice cream. Noticing that the excellent dark chocolate sauce that accompanied them was in short supply, Placé materialized at our table with an emergency pitcherful. “Pour it on,” he urged. “You shouldn’t be able to even see the profiteroles.” Now, that’s a man who has his priorities straight. Bar. 18402 U.S. 281, at Loop 1604, northeast corner (210-491-4480). Open Mon—Wed 3 p.m.—midnight, Thur—Sat 3—1 a.m., Sun 3—10. Reservations accepted. $$—$$$ W+