Dining

Coco’s Bistro in Midtown offers comfort, food in style

By Paula Johnson

Photo: Duck Ramen at Coco’s Bistro in Midtown; photos: Paula Johnson

When you look at the Coco’s Bistro website, you will see an enticingly lovely photo of an elegant dining room with these words in a banner overlay: Comfortable. Neighborhood. Warm. Romantic. Business. Friendly. It’s all true. Coco’s atmosphere pulls off something that’s hard to do—it’s that restaurant for all occasions. The website’s cuisine description is modern American comfort food with a twist: “We try to create a menu where you can come for a casual dinner when you just don’t feel like cooking, or bring a potential business partner out for the wine and dine experience.” It’s the little black dress of Dayton dining—always appropriate, chic, and stylish, whether dressed down for business, or dressed up for celebration.

Eat in elegance

My previous visits have been to enjoy the bar—possibly my favorite bar in the city—or to dine on the patio. This was my first time dining in the aforementioned dining room, and I was completely taken. My companions, PIP (Palate In Progress) and Wily Banker Tom, were in agreement that the understated elegance and ambience of the room set an expectant tone for a lovely meal. Indeed, the décor and trappings of a dining room should telegraph something about the quality, care, and attention of what will be coming out of the kitchen. Something else to be noted about the design of Coco’s space: we could easily hear one another, comfortably surrounded by the pleasant enveloping hum of other diners in the near capacity room. The inability to hear or see well can, and has, undermined even the most expertly prepared meal, and we all commented with relief that this was not the case.

A Perfect Serve

I mentioned the bar and wanted to start off with one of the cocktails I hadn’t tried from the list. However, I spotted a standard but delicious old favorite, the Kir Royale ($8.00). I looked no further, despite more daring and creative options, before moving on to wine with dinner. I will jump ahead to talking about the wine because my experience with the wine selection brings up the topic of service, a topic that usually ends with me griping. However, I can’t say enough about the absolutely excellent and personable Jason, who guided and served us in an exemplary way from start to finish, always anticipatory, meeting our needs practically before we were aware of them. Case in point: I wanted a red that would work well with my entrée, a duck dish. He had described a red blend, and offered a taste to help me decide. It didn’t send me, but I didn’t have to tell Jason: “I can tell just by looking at you this isn’t the one. Let me tell you about another wine that might surprise you.” He proceeded to describe a Sangiovese that was fuller and more complex than might be expected. He returned to the table with the Sangiovese plus a nice cabernet to try. How refreshing to experience a server who accurately articulates the wine’s characteristics, who was able to diagnose what I was looking for, and who made sure I was completely satisfied. It’s going that extra mile that makes the diner feel well cared for.

Strong Start

I also hold Jason responsible for our appetizer choices, the Scallops ($18.00) and the Charcuterie Board ($17.00), both great successes. The Charcuterie featured sopressata, local ham, smoked snapper, whiskey glazed onions, house boursin cheese, whole grain mustard, and deliciously tender cheddar garlic biscuits (these would be the grown up version of those things they serve at Red Lobster). Beautifully presented and ample to share, the smoked snapper and whiskey-glazed onions were particularly delicious. The scallops wouldn’t have been my first choice, as the menu listed cranberry relish and fried daikon as accompaniments. I feared the cloying, sugar-laden relish of the Thanksgiving table, a fine match with turkey, but the absolute wrong note for the sweet delicate flesh of a scallop. But our server advised, and I consented. Three plump, blackened nuggets arrived, decorated with a zesty cranberry compote and a toss of earthy fried daikon, an adept marrying of flavors and textures. Even PIP, not a scallop fan, was won over on the first bite.

We moved on to main courses, Duck Ramen ($32.00), Porterhouse Chop ($28.00), and the evening’s dinner feature, a grilled Salmon ($28.00). The duck, rich hunks of confit done Korean-BBQ-style, was piled over soba noodles in a sesame broth accented with napa cabbage, shredded carrot, yellow onion, zucchini, crispy daikon, soy sauce flakes, and scallions. The bowl was crowned with crunchy duck skin cracklings, quite possibly one of the most delicious things ever. There was a lot to like, but the main detraction with this (and the other two entrées) was temperature. The broth was more on the tepid side than steaming and both of the other entrée were not quite as hot as they should have been. I also found the broth, while flavorful, to be sweeter than I would have liked, preferring a saltier, more savory note to offset the BBQ.

Sweetness was also a problem overpowering the pork chop. While the meat was perfectly done, barely medium with a pleasant surface char, the house sweet pepper glaze didn’t allow the taste to shine through sufficiently. The side skillet bean cassoulet complemented the pork nicely as a savory foil. Overall, this was a fine effort and one I would consider again, perhaps with the glaze on the side. PIP’s salmon entrée was well prepared, grilled simply to highlight the fish’s flavor. On the side were rich, creamy scalloped potatoes and a tasty heap of crunchy, flash fried spinach. The tomato jam served with the fish, while fresh tasting, seemed a little out of season and a bit incongruous with the rest of the dish—suggesting mid-summer rather than the dead of winter.

Strong Finish

We closed with three lovely desserts: a Pecan Tart, Caramel Apple Streusel, and a Chocolate Torte ($7.00 each), with the table favorite honors going to the Apple Streusel. Coco’s Bistro gets honors for a job well done. The issues I had with the entrées were relatively minor considering the quality of ingredients, the skill of preparation, and the total experience. “We’ve really got to come here more often,” observed PIP. I agree.

Coco’s Bistro is located at 250 Warren St. in Midtown. For more information, please call 937.228.2626 or visit 228Coco.com.

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Paula Johnson
Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

One Response to “Dayton’s little black dress” Subscribe

  1. Pat Nies January 27, 2017 at 5:14 pm #

    I read your review of Coco’s Bistro with interest. We had been patrons since their opening on Wayne Avenue, but have not dined there for several years due to one of your observations–that the food sounded great on the menu but was somehow less than expected, usually in a minor way. What I don’t agree with is that at one of the higher price points in the city, this can be ignored. We stopped dining at Coco’s because, even though the wine was lovely, the atmosphere conducive to conversation (admittedly a rarity in Dayton dining choices) and the service extraordinary, we couldn’t get past the idea that we had just spent a large amount of money on entrees that didn’t wow us. There are better options, in our opinion: Meadowlark, Rue Dumaine (looking forward to their new concept) and Roost to name a few. Keep up the good work! I love that there is a paper in Dayton regularly writing about what great food is available in our little city.

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