On March 14, 2006, Nisha Sidhu made her pitch to longtime friend Bharet Malhotra. She wanted to open a chocolate lounge—and wanted him to sign on as her business partner. Sidhu would bring the dessert skills—she had completed L’Academie de Cuisine’s pastry-arts program and worked as special-events pastry chef and chocolatier at 2941 in Falls Church—and Malhotra, a vice president of sales at a software company who has lived all over the world, would provide the business savvy.
More than two years later, their chocolate-focused lounge and restaurant, Co Co. Sala, opened last Friday in DC’s Penn Quarter. How does Malhotra remember the exact date when the chocolatey plan was hatched? He laughs: “It happened at my birthday brunch.”
While dessert lounges have sprung up in New York and Las Vegas, Co Co. Sala will be DC’s first foray into the world of dessert tasting menus complete with wine and cocktail pairings. To run the kitchen, the owners recruited pastry chef Santosh Tiptur, whom Sidhu had met at a pastry conference, from the Ritz-Carlton in Puerto Rico.
There are a choice of five $30 five-course tasting dessert menus to choose from, all of which riff on a different theme. The Italian voyage menu includes an amuse bouche of vanilla panna cotta with chocolate-praline soup, followed by three flavors of tiramisu, an intermezzo of lemon sorbet, parmigiano reggiano three ways, and a petit four plate of Tuscan ricotta bites. Tiptur’s menu at Co Co. also has a savory side, with snacky foods like variations on sliders and mac and cheese. “We realized that after work, some people wouldn’t be craving something like tiramisu,” Malhotra says. “We wanted to incorporate some salty, savory foods.” Still, Co Co.’s namesake ingredient sneaks its way into dishes such as crab cakes with chipotle-chocolate-tomato glaze, and bleu-cheese beef sliders with Mexican-chocolate sauce.
Coffee is also a focal point of the space, which hopes to draw morning business crowds with its breakfast pastries and local brews from Caffe Pronto in Annapolis. There’s also a wide selection of tea from the Tea Source in Seattle and, naturally, a dozen different hot chocolates.
A glass-enclosed “chocolate room” is like a grown-up version of that ride at Hershey Park where you get to peek into the magical chocolate factory. Watch the chocolatiers create chocolate sculptures and coat bonbons—perhaps filled with peanut butter and jelly or Linzer jam—in the “enrobing machine.” Malhotra says they hope to offer chocolate-making classes in the future.
In addition to jewelry-store-like cases filled with pastries and chocolates, decorative accents around the sleek lounge include colorful sugar sculptures created by Sidhu and two flat-screen TVs displaying artsy photos of some of Co Co.’s confections. The screens will also serve as Co Co’s high-tech chalkboards, announcing each day’s specials.