Diner: Tried and True

Coco's holds up well over the years with a few minor glitches

Coco's is an old friend, for years an employer, a friendly watering hole, and a favorite dining spot. And while I always enjoy my visits, these days they are not as frequent as they used to be. Imagine my surprise when I walked in after a prolonged absence and saw televisions at the bar. The interior is the same: Familiar dark woods brightened by Southwestern paintings and wall-hangings. Yet the noise from the televisions and boisterous golf enthusiasts at the bar was a little distracting.

My dining partner and I examined the menu in search of our favorites. We decided upon a tried and true favorite, the baked brie ($8), and something new and different, the smoked salmon rolls ($9). The salmon presentation was excellent: four rolls of delicately smoked salmon filled with cream cheese and fresh rosemary. They were arranged in a wheel with fresh minced red onion, chopped egg and capers between, laid opposite a bed of romaine and crackers. The romaine was a bit wilted and cried out for some kind of vinaigrette.

I particularly enjoyed the fresh rosemary, which provided a nice zip to the salmon and cream cheese. The baked brie, however was a disappointment. The pastry was golden brown and flaky, but the brie inside was warm rather than melted and bubbling. The melon wedges were huge and just laid on a plate smudged with fingerprints; the raspberry sauce tasted watery.

The salad selections are quite appealing and can be ordered as an entrée ($8) or à la carte ($4). I chose the side portion house salad, a mixture of fresh lettuces with smoky pimentos, sweet nuts and golden raisins, all tossed in a sweet almond honey mustard dressing and topped with pungent feta cheese. The delicate balance of flavors has long made this one of my favorite salads anywhere, and while I was delighted to see crisp lettuce on the plate, the salad was simply swimming in a sea of dressing. My friend's Caesar salad, however, was superb. The crisp romaine was lightly glazed in a tangy dressing and topped with freshly grated parmesan, crisp croutons and coarsely ground black pepper.

Entrée selections run the gamut from pasta to seafood, steaks and chops and my personal favorites, the Southwestern house specialties. The wine list is varied, including a fine range of house and by the glass selections. My partner decided on the herb grilled pork chop ($18) and a glass of the house pinot noir ($5). I, true to habit, went southwest, and chose the Coco's Rellenos and a Corona. The chop, butterfly cut and grilled to perfection, was tender and moist. It rested on a mound of homemade mashed potatoes, complete with skins. The potatoes were creamy and light with just the right touch of pepper, perfect for dipping the pork. The vegetable was an interesting arrangement of mixed squash medallions and carrot ribbons, lightly sautéed in a delightful citrus and butter combination.

The Rellenos arrived en masse. Two huge poblanos en croute, stuffed with Monterey Pepper Jack cheese and baked to a golden brown, were artfully presented in triangle wedges with sour cream and salsa. A well-seasoned black bean and rice combination was topped with melted jack and cheddar cheeses. Overall the dish was pleasing, but again, the cheese-filled pastry could have been hotter.

Desserts were excellent. Despite being stuffed, my dining partner and I could simply not pass up the Chocolate Dream Cake ($6.95) and the Kahlua Mousse Cake ($6.50). The dream cake was divine — layers of moist cake and velvety icing, topped with a creamy rosette and chocolate-covered espresso bean, and garnished with a cloud of homemade whipped cream. The mousse cake was also spectacular: light and airy mousse with Kahlua, balanced by a flavorful chocolate crust.

Coco's is a well-established destination with a reputation for good food, generous portions and friendly service. While pleased with our experience, my friend and I were reminded of how important small details, like wiping down plate edges and cooking dishes for a few extra minutes, can dramatically affect the overall experience. Small concerns aside, Coco's remains a recommended favorite. ©

Go: 322 Greenup St., Covington

Call: 859-491-1369

Hours: Sunday-Thursday 5-10 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday 5 p.m.-midnight.

Prices: Moderate

Payment: Major credit cards

Vegetarian Friendliness: Wide selection of salads, pasta and fish

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