Time for just a short overview of our dinner at HotChocolate last night.
Things started off poorly when we couldn't even find the place, despite knowing the exact address and correct side of the street. We drove past it twice without seeing it: there is no sign (none!). The only indication is the name painted in dark brown on the front wall, which is entirely glass. Dark brown set against a dark interior is next to impossible to read. Even when standing right there. And no valet parking in a neighborhood that has become so upwardly mobile that all the surrounding streets are permit- only parking. Most definitely an inauspicious start.
Got there about 6:45 and snagged one of the last free tables. They won't take reservations (except for the table in hailing distance of the kitchen). From 7 until we left (about 8:45), not an empty seat in the place. (Though you need to understand that there are only about 15 tables.) Next bad sign: two-tops lining the wall are so close together that everytime a waiter came to a table on either side of us, I was in the way and had to move or be jostled. Even the water guy had no room to stand. Very off-putting.
No bread, no amuse, nothing to snack on. Which ordinarily might not be a concern except that the kitchen clearly has some timing issues. We waited extraordinarily long times before the appetizers, before the entrees, and again before the desserts. Inexcusably long times. No explanations, no apology.
The menu is interesting in an odd way. Nice, if not large, selection of appetizers. Great selection of desserts, especially chocolate (no surprise here). Remarkably thin selection of entrees (maybe five!)
We had appetizers: manila clams with chorizo and the lovely dining companion (LDC) had a spring vegetable soup. The clams were a generous portion, the chorizo mild. The broth was flavorful but salty from the chorizo. Not much else to the dish, despite a fascinating description containing many other items. The soup was, simply put, nearly without flavor.
Entrees. Well, actually, the LDC had an asparagus salad appetizer for her entree. It was beautifully presented and she pronounced it top notch. My pork chop with polenta and wild mushrooms was...odd. All the items had excellent flavor. Both the polenta and the mushrooms were small portions (particularly surprising was the remarkably small portion of polenta). The pork chop was nearly a disaster: not well trimmed and, worse yet, not a well-cut piece. I don't know what kind of chop this was; clearly not a center-cut or a rib chop. (My guess: a sirloin chop, generally not a particularly desirable one because of its leanness). Mine had multiple bones, more fat than was necessary, and was dismayingly thin (perhaps a half-inch). Although I love a good thick chop, I don't mind other varieties, but even the excellent flavor and juicy meat couldn't save this one: there was just too little meat and too much work to get at it.
Dessert: LDC had carrot cake that was over-the-top. The cake was fine (though way too much frosting) but with all the accompaniments, it was just too precious. I had a rhubarb pot pie, complete with what appeared to be--and I could be wrong--a production-line pastry cut-out on top. It had nice but unexceptional flavor and wasn't especially generous in portion. Came with a sorbet whose flavor I don't recall. We also split a blood orange sorbet (my favorite flavor in the world). Intense flavor but only somewhat reminiscent of blood orange. Served with two cookies. The portion was $2 and was one small scoop.
Oh, the noise. What is it with all these new places? Create your own buzz?? I can't tell you how many times I had to repeat myself, ask LDC to repeat herself, or just resort to shouting. All solid surfaces, nothing to absorb sound, people packed too close together. Then, they decided to turn on the sound system. Foolish compounded by stupid. Way, way too loud.
Service (notwithstanding the extraordinarily delays) was efficient but warm in a bloodless sort of way. (It's not impressive when every time he took an order at an adjacent table, he would remark, "Excellent choice. That's one of the best things here." The tables turned often, so we learned that nothing was less than excellent!) He took the dessert order and didn't bother to ask about coffee or anything else. Turning over tables right now seems to be a priority--despite the kitchen's timing issues.
All in all, not to be repeated. I'll be very curious to know how busy this place is a year from now.