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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Looking to fill a dessert gap in the Washington restaurant scene, pastry chef Nisha Sidhu is whipping up an ambitious-sounding lounge and restaurant in Penn Quarter devoted to chocolate, coffee and cocktails. The multipurpose venue, Co Co. Sala (929 F St. NW), is expected to make its debut in time for a particularly sweet date: Valentine's Day.

Sidhu is a 2003 graduate of the pastry arts program at L'Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg and a former chocolatier at 2941 restaurant in Falls Church. Her business partner, Bharet Malhotra , is vice president of sales for Cevent, a McLean-based event management software company. The two hired Santosh Tiptur , late of the Ritz-Carlton in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to serve as executive pastry chef for their 5,000-square-foot, 130-seat candy land for grown-ups, which takes its name from the main sources of inspiration -- coffee and chocolate -- and the Italian word for lounge.

Co Co. Sala aims to be all things to all sweet tooths. The establishment will be open daily, typically beginning early in the morning (for pastries) and extending until as late as 3 a.m. on Saturdays. Servers will dispense chocolate and liqueur from a roving cart. The lounge will display pastries within cases that resemble jewelry counters, and a glass-fronted "chocolate room," replete with cameras, will allow customers to watch the crew at work -- and maybe take lessons. "A lot of the concept is about educating people," says Sidhu, who plans to teach dessert classes at a mini-bar in front of the chocolate room.

Dressing up the restaurant will be the co-owner's blown sugar and other handmade sculptures, displayed in specially created niches.

What would a lounge be without music? Sidhu says Co Co. Sala has a DJ booth, although there won't be any dancing and "you'll be able to have a conversation with the people next to you." For those uninterested in a sugar rush, Tiptur will offer savories: sliders, crab cakes and even macaroni and cheese, each dish served as a trio of flavors -- and each incorporating chocolate or coffee in its recipe.

-- Tom Sietsema


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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