Co Co Sala: Eat Chocolate, Be Happy

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Co Co Sala is a chocolate lounge and boutique in Washington DC

Co Co Sala is a chocolate lounge and boutique in Washington DC

Co Co Sala’s Chocolate Saga

This is the tale of The Three Chocolatiers. Once upon a time there was a hotshot financial wiz, a smart biochemist who loved to bake, and a savvy chef who had sailed the high seas on the Q E 2, each going their own way.

A steamy passion for chocolate brought the three together to create Co Co Sala, a foodie kingdom dripping in high-end chocolate, coffee and cocktails. This attracted legions of chocoholics, made the fortunes of the Three Chocolatiers, and they all lived happily ever after.

Now isn’t that a sweet ending?

The story, however, is fact and not fiction. Co Co Sala is a hot and happening chocolate lounge, bar, restaurant, pastry shop and boutique on F Street in Washington DC, and three young Indian-American entrepreneurs are behind its big success – Bharet Malhotra, Nisha Sidhu  and Santosh Tiptur.

Co co Sala - the lounge of this chocolate restaurant and bar

Co Co Sala chocolate restaurant and bar

Co Co Sala’s Chocolate Tale

Bharet, who is co-owner with Nisha Sidhu, started out in a world very far from gourmet chocolate, spending the first two years of his life at sea as his father was a captain on a merchant marine ship. The family lived in New Delhi and Nigeria, where his father started an oil trading business. Schooling brought Bharet and his sister to the US, and for a while he even had a brief career as a tennis player.

Why brief? “Well, let’s just say, the ATP Tour has some pretty darn good players and I lost a lot more than I won,” says Bharet. “Also, if I had told my family when I was 10 that I wanted to own a Chocolate Restaurant/Lounge & Boutique, they would have looked at me in a somewhat odd manner, right?  Ultimately I ended up getting a Bachelors of Science in Biomedical/Electrical Engineering and Economics from Duke University.”

Bharet Malhotra of Co Co Sala, a chocolate lounge and restaurant in Washington DC

Bharet Malhotra of Co Co Sala

Bharet was an investment banker with Salomon Smith Barney and later worked with WorldCom, which is now MCI, in mergers and acquisitions. He is currently a vice president of sales at Cvent, Inc in McLean Virginia, a software company. Yet at heart, he’s always been a diehard foodie, having eaten his way through 70 countries.

So when his longtime friend Nisha Sidhu came up with the idea of a chocolate haven in DC, it was a given that Bharet, an ace in marketing, would get involved. Nisha had found her way to chocolate in a roundabout way. She earned her Bachelor’s from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Master’s from Johns Hopkins University in Engineering & Applied Physics in Biomedicine, and became a bona fide biomedical engineer working for the Naval Medical Logistics Command.

At the same time, she continued to pursue her childhood passion for baking. She says, “Working with pastry and chocolate is chemistry and I love science so it was fascinating to me. I also love art and how aesthetic pastry can be.”

Nisha Sidhu of Co Co Sala, a chocolate lounge and restaurant in Washington DC

Nisha Sidhu of Co Co Sala

Nisha continued to pursue engineering until the birth of her children when she decided to enroll in the professional Pastry Arts Program at L’Academie de Cuisine. Graduating at the top of her class, she worked in 2941 Restaurant in Virginia as the chocolatier, creating elaborate pastry buffets, wedding cakes and sculptures. She then started her own company The Sugar Gallery by Nisha before collaborating with Bharet on Co Co Sala.

“I always wanted to open something but was smart enough to know that I needed a hook, something edgy and Nisha had the substance,” says Bharet. “She dreamed big and our team set out to put the thoughts to brick and mortar.” The idea was to have chocolate not only in the patisserie and boutique menus but also in the savory dishes.

And that brings us to the third angle of the Co Co Sala triangle – Chef Santosh Tiptur, who brought his culinary experience to concocting unusual brunches, dinners and lunches, with a touch of chocolate.

“While growing up, I always helped my mom as she cooked — that is where the inspiration started,” he says. “However my inner goal was to become a pilot in the Indian Air Force.  There was no way my parents were going to let me go to the Air Force, so I had to opt for something else.” And that something else turned out to be baking, which he had experienced in a family friend’s bakery.

Chef Santosh Tiptur of Co Co Sala, a chocolate lounge and restaurant in Washington DC

Chef Santosh Tiptur of Co Co Sala

“I came to understand pasty is more an art than just cooking and that is where the love affair began,” he says. After earning a degree in Bakery and Confectionery Technology from the University of Agriculture Sciences in Bangalore, he went abroad to hone his skills at the Culinary Institute of America in New York.

Since then, Santosh has worked as the executive pastry chef at the Ritz Carlton Hotel San Juan Spa and Casino, and also participated in new hotel openings for South Beach Ritz Carlton in Miami and Grand Cayman Island. He has consulted for the Ritz Carltons in the West Indies, and was on the Pastry Advisory board.

He then took all this experience to sea, cooking for several upscale shipping lines, including the Q E 2. “The people I met and places I traveled gave me the most important ingredient and a lifelong lesson – an open mind to different ideas, creations and being adventurous,” says Santosh who also cooked on the Food Network this year.

Co Co Sala serves food, drink and desserts revolving around chocolate

Co Co Sala serves food, drink and desserts revolving around chocolate

Co Co Sala’s Chocolate Nation

So at Co Co Sala, he serves global cuisine, juggling sweet and savory flavors. “I am able to leverage my pastry background and incorporate a variety of flavors that include chocolate and infuse them in many of the savory dishes,” he says. “When it comes to chocolates and desserts, I think of what is bold and what will evoke emotion – perhaps a spicy dessert or the recreation of American childhood favorites, like the Strawberry Cheesecake Lollipop with Pop rocks.”

Using no artificial flavors or preservatives, Nisha and Santosh strive to create offbeat flavor combinations while using the best quality chocolate. “It comes at a cost but the patrons can see and taste the difference,” he says. “I like to incorporate chocolate with most of the dishes – that’s a monumental challenge but one I love taking on. For example, who would mix chocolate and bacon? Well, I tried and it worked! We have apple wood smoked bacon enrobed with dark chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt — this is served as a garnish on top of bacon mac and cheese, one of our most popular dishes.

A popular dish, a lobster salad on a bed of crushed avocados, is served with passion fruit and chocolate vinaigrette. Yet another dish has four cheese fritters served with tomato, chocolate and chipotle pepper dip.  There’s also a dessert you won’t forget in a hurry – fiery Chipotle Chocolate Soufflé.

Co Co Sala, which opened in 2008, has received critical acclaim including ‘hottest bar scene of the year’ by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, and reviews from The Washington Post and Washingtonian magazine.

Besides dinner, chocoholics can also stop by the 200 square foot boutique to try chocolate bars and artisanal chocolates created by Santosh and Nisha, including the famous chocolate-enrobed bacon, cognac truffles and hot Co Co Pops.  The chocolate flavors include Banana Ginger and Mango Lassi, and on festive occasions there’s also Champagne-infused Chocolate Ganache or Om chocolate bars.

While the chocolate devotees come in every size and shape, Nisha says women are big on Co Co Sala. “It’s very fulfilling for me as a woman entrepreneur to know it’s a haven for women to indulge in their favorite food group – chocolate! The best part is the five course dessert tasting in the evening.”

Co Co Sala chocolate boutique is also restaurant, bar and lounge in Washington DC

Co Co Sala chocolate boutique is also restaurant, bar and lounge in Washington DC

Passion for bringing people together through chocolate keeps the three going. “Nothing is more exciting and rewarding than seeing the expressions, the emotions, the thoughts, the reviews, the chatter that people share with each other,” says Bharet.

“In most cases we are the source of laughter and getting relationships tighter and closer.  I think if there is any other reason you get into the business, you got into it for the wrong reasons.  If you make these things happen, the rest will fall in place.”  At Co Co Sala, sinfully rich chocolate becomes not a vice but a virtue, a heavenly treat.

© Lavina Melwani

(This first appeared in Hi Blitz)

Co Co Sala is a chocolate boutique and restaurant in Washington DC

Co Co Sala chocolates

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About Author

Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who writes for several international publications. [email protected] & @lassiwithlavina Sign up for the free newsletter to get your dose of Lassi!

22 Comments

  1. Wow Lavina – I get so inspired when I read these stories. Would have so loved to visit Co CO Sala but alas the distance… It’s like a story with a happy ending. Thanks for the post – it was wonderful reading about the 3 achievers.

  2. Swati Bhattacharya on

    Ummmm my mouth is watering. Hats off to them, I really want to do something like that too….thanks for sharing Lavina, reminded me of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory :)

  3. Wow, I love chocolates and was drooling over my brand new Sony Vaio, while reading this sinfully delicious article by my favorite writer, Lavina. ‘chocolate and bacon?’ – adore the idea of this eccentric and innovative dish, would love to taste it some day. The other dishes that I’d like to try are ‘apple wood smoked bacon enrobed with dark chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt — this is served as a garnish on top of bacon mac and cheese.’ Unthinkable, right?
    There’s also a dessert I want to try, ‘Fiery Chipotle Chocolate Soufflé.’
    Thank you for making me forget my resolve to lose weight and reach for the poor imitation of your chocolate, Lavina.

  4. Sudesh Kannan on

    Lavina – You find great niches and interesting sidelines for your readers. If you look beyond the “sugar-loaded” cheap candy, moderate amounts of dark chocolate can be a great source of antioxidants leading to reduced stress, blood pressure and other health benefits. Readers should check Knechtel – a chocolate consulting company in Chicago http://www.knechtel.com, that churns out delectable chocolate confections for entrepreneurs like CO CO Sala – similar to the fictional Willy Wonka!

  5. Lavina Melwani on

    Hi Kriti – thanks for your comments! Yes, it’s really a fun story and shows what different things Indian-Americans are doing. Hopefully they’ll do a branch in NY!

  6. Lavina Melwani on

    Sulekha, sorry for disrupting your healthy eating! Chocolate is meant to be sinful, isn’t it? Loved your comments and yes, the chocolate concoctions seem pretty way out.

  7. Lavina Melwani on

    Yogasavy, well-said! I believe in NY they even have yoga classes where they indulge in chocolate after the yoga session!

  8. Lavina Melwani on

    Sudesh, thanks for your comments – the fun is in finding offbeat stories. It is so great that doctors actually endorse a piece of dark chocolate for good health – it makes my daily fix totally legal!

  9. Lavina Melwani on

    Swati, that makes two of us! Wish we could all run a high end chocolate factory!

  10. Lavina Melwani on

    Michelle, thanks for stopping by! This may be an incentive to visit the capital of the nation!

  11. Yummm! I will have to go to DC again to pay a visit to this delicious place, thanks for sharing with us… Now I crave chocolate 😛

  12. Lavina Melwani on

    Debbie, thanks for stopping by. Look on the bright side – you could crave worse things!!

  13. Sanjay Ahluwalia on

    Via Facebook

    Great job, Will look forward to Enjoy some More of Yum Chocolates from Co Co, Spl. Thanks to Team and Lavina

  14. Lavina Melwani on

    Glad you enjoyed it, Sanjay! Everyone seems to be hankering for chocolates!

  15. Good evening Lavina et. al,

    My name is Bharet and I am the co-owner of Co Co. Sala.

    I just wanted to take a second to THANK YOU Lavina – and everyone for such gracious comments. Lavina – thank you for the time, energy and effort regarding the article. I hope to meet you during one of my very frequent trips to NYC. Should anyone be in Washington DC area, feel free to email us at [email protected] and let us know you heard about us through Lavina. Of course, it goes without saying, you will be very well taken care of.

    It’s these comments and articles that serve as the catalyst for us to be better and remain focused and inspired.

    Respectfully,
    Bharet and the entire Co Co. Sala Team

  16. Lavina Melwani on

    Bharet, what a pleasant surprise to hear from you here! As you can see you have a growing fan base here so maybe the next step is a NY Co Co Sala!