Coco & The Cellar Bar is one of the most interesting restaurants between Boston and the Berkshires
MassLive, August 24, 2017, by Fran Bellamy
Thirty-plus seats, a five-item menu, and four nights a week reads like a high-risk strategy for restaurant success, yet Coco & The Cellar Bar has thrived under such a minimalist regimen, thanks to a focus on flawless execution.
Coco occupies a storefront on Easthampton’s Main Street; as its name implies, the companion Cellar Bar is located downstairs. Brick and varnished wood dominate the decorative vocabulary of the space, with an open kitchen serving as a focal point.
The current menu at Coco features “New American” creations such as a Coco Fish Fry ($24) that’s served with heirloom tomatoes and skillet roasted potatoes.
Roasted Poblano Macaroni and Cheese is available ($13), as are chilled Honey Miso Noodles ($12) served with greens and garnished with roasted chicken.
Starter selections include green goods like vinaigrette-dress Garden Lettuce ($5) and a Frisee Salad ($10) topped with applewood-smoked bacon and sieved egg.
We started our dinner off with two appetizer offerings from Coco’s menu.
Sweet Corn Soup ($7) seduced us with its creamy distillation of summer sunshine. Delicate yet intensely flavorful, the silken soup was sprinkled and drizzled to give its flavor profile an edge.
Swirled across the surface of the bowl was a bright, savory combination of lime juice, cilantro, and jalapeno blended into a relish-like garnish of young corn kernels. The result was first-rate culinary alchemy.
A dish of Fresh Ricotta Dumplings ($8) was equally impressive. The small, gnocchi-sized dumplings were flecked with herbs and sauced with a rough textured, briefly cooked sauce of minced onion and heirloom tomatoes. Toasted fresh breadcrumbs added a measure of texture, while a dusting of aged cheese introduced a savory umami presence.
Though the menu at Coco gets periodic overhauls, the restaurant’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken ($19.50) is a regular presence.
“Eat your heart out, Colonel,” was our immediate reaction to the dish, which featured a wing-on “airline” breast enrobed in a shatteringly crunchy, judiciously spiced crust. The chicken itself was moist and flavorful, with none of the bland chalkiness that too often afflicts chicken breast.
The chicken was served with garlic mashed (the garlic flavor prudently understated), pan gravy that rivaled a classic French sauce for sophistication, and a freshly made jalapeno coleslaw.
Our second entree, Red Chile Pork Stew ($18), was a tribute to the Old Southwest. The stew’s foundation was rusty-red pot gravy, smoky with chili peppers and cumin. Crema (Mexican sour cream) had been drizzled in to temper the liquid’s intensity; hefty chunks of pull-apart-tender pork moistened by it were garnished with fresh radish slices and pickled red onion, two components that added interesting tartness and crunch.
A fried polenta cake completed what we judged to be a first class main course.
Entrees at Coco come with neither salad nor bread, although the former can be ordered from the starter menu.
Coco & The Cellar Bar is fully licensed and stocks an interesting wine list that describes about two dozen bottles. Prices cluster in the high thirties.
In addition to coffee, espresso, and digestifs, the dessert card currently lists three choices.
We passed up the house-made Ice Cream Sandwich ($6.50) in order to concentrate on the other two selections.
Simple in concept but flawlessly executed, a Blueberry Crisp ($7) featured a jam-like berry filling and an enjoyable crumb topping. Kudos to the kitchen for not microwaving the dessert to heat it; the staff instead used traditional oven technology.
A Salted Caramel Pot de Creme ($6.50) was the evening’s only off note. The pudding itself was dense, ultra-smooth, and delicious, but the sprinkle of sea salt that garnished it was, to us at least, ill conceived. After sampling a spoonful of the dessert, we proceeded to scrape the rest of the offending white crystals off.
On Sundays, the restaurant’s kitchen operates informally, serving a menu of sandwiches in The Cellar Bar.
Coco may be small in size and in menu, but its dedication to carefully curated flavor experiences makes it one of the most interesting restaurants between Boston and the Berkshires.
Name: Coco & The Cellar Bar
Address: 95 Main St., Easthampton
Hours: Dinner Wednesday and Thursday, 5 to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m. Limited menu Sundays, 4 to 9 p.m.
Entree prices: $12 – $24
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa
Handicapped access: Accessible
Reservations: Accepted and always a wise precaution