Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Dish on Dining: Shokolaat

Modern Bistro Accented in Chocolate
516 University Ave., Palo Alto
PH: 650.289.0719
Opened lunch, 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m.; dinner, 5:30–10 p.m.; closed Sundays
Major credit cards accepted

A few weekends ago when I was strolling along Palo Alto’s University Avenue, I discovered the elegant Shokolaat and decided to have lunch there. From the outside, with its large patio, it looked like the perfect spot to eat and people watch.

When you walk inside, you see a pastry counter that resembles a Parisian patisserie. Stroll a bit towards the restrooms in the back and you walk by a private dining area perfect for business meetings.

So is Shokolaat a bistro? A patisserie? An elegant restaurant? Well, according to its owner-chefs, it’s all of the above.

Shokolaat opened last November at the eastern edge of University Avenue. It’s the brainchild of the husband-and-wife team of Mark Ainsworth and Shekoh Moossavi. The couple has culinary ties to the Ritz-Carlton chain and now has ventured off on their own. He’s the chief chocolatier responsible for the desserts, pastries and chocolates while she’s the chef for the rest of the food.

The European-style chocolates are the showcase of the restaurant, which gets its name from the phonetic spelling of chocolate if you say it in French (you know, like the movie Chocolat).

I was actually intrigued by Moossavi’s lunch menu, which featured some unusual combinations of sustainable, organic ingredients. For example, I started with the Orange-Scented Cauliflower Soup ($7). I love cauliflower soup and wanted to see what it could be when infused with orange blossoms.

The soup arrived looking like an off-white cream soup with just a hint of orange fragrance. When I ate it, it was the first time my palate felt confused in a long while. Sometimes it was savory, sometimes it was sweet. Sometimes I liked the combination but most times I was just conflicted. The texture was good enough, with some slight cream and bits of cauliflower to remind you that it really is cauliflower soup. But in the end, it was one of those creations that seemed good on paper but not successful in real life.

For my main dish, there were a lot to choose from on the menu. From an ahi tuna salad, sea bass, pasta and an aged rib-eye hamburger. But I settled for the Lobster Salad Croissant Sandwich with avocado and micro greens ($19). It came with a side of baby greens in a lemon vinaigrette.

The overall sandwich was a bit soggy, so it was difficult to pick up. It seemed like not all of the moisture was removed from the lobster before it was mixed with a light mayonnaise because the mixture just totally dampened the croissant, which didn’t seem very flakey to start with. The lobster meat was slightly stringy, giving it more of a crab texture than lobster, and the overall taste was lacking. To put the final nail in this lose-lose situation, the dressing in the baby green salad was very tart and unbalanced.

Because I was in town to do a taste test of some frozen yogurt shops, I skipped dessert although I have a suspicious feeling that the chocolates and pastries may have been more pleasant to have on a sunny day than the lunch I just had.

Shokolaat is an amusing venture of bistro and patisserie, but its dishes lack taste or balance, giving eaters a very mixed experience. Perhaps it’s more suited as a chocolate lounge because for now its main menu looks better on paper than it tastes.

Single guy rating: 2.25 stars (pretty but average)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Shokolaat on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Chef Ben, you're so adventurous going all the way over there to try orange cauliflower soup! And the price for that sandwich! I hope that the chocolates are better than the food.