In a previous post, I’ve said that happy hours are a great way of getting people in the door during a slack period, sell some drinks, show them what you can do, and hopefully entice them to spring for a full dinner experience later on. Therefore, I don’t think restaurants should be pussyfooting around when it comes to this critical window of opportunity to win customers.
I’ve been working up the nerve to go to Cacao since Chef Jefferson Alvarez opened it in late summer 2016, but luckily they just opened up their snack bar on their second floor, which gave me and a couple longtime Chowhounders a chance to get a taste of what Cacao has to offer.
The upstairs snack bar is only open Thursday to Sunday, 5pm-12am, with happy hour from 5pm-7pm. It’s a small space that seats ~20(?) people and is available for bookings.
View of Cacao (the restaurant) on street level.
From the small patio upstairs, you get a full view of West 1st and Cypress St.
You can see Ron Zalko and AnnaLena (review here) down the street.
Cocktail list pt 1. I like the flavour descriptions (eg. “sweet / herbaceous”).
Cocktail list pt 2. This is NOT the place for a beer. (I don’t have to drink beer all the time 😛 )
The menu. This was their second weekend of operation, and I believe the menu is going to be changing often. The “Progressive Latin” theme from downstairs continues upstairs too. Casual and accessible, but (as you’ll see below) with a strong sense of aesthetics.
Dining companions’ drinks: Pisco Sour ($10) that uses aquafaba (chickpea water), making it a vegan Pisco Sour! Agua Rosa ($11) with vodka, hibiscus tea, Malbec reduction, dry cassis, aromatic bitters, and lemon juice.
(This Agua Rosa was actually tweaked to my dining companion’s preferences, which they did no problem. Gin was substituted for the vodka, and a white wine reduction was substituted for the Malbec.)
House Made Kombucha ($7) was tart and refreshing. I don’t drink booch that often, but it’s got a lot of similar aromas and flavours to sour beers and ciders, so not that far removed from what I know and love.
Bread & Olives ($8), served on granite (fun but a bit heavy to carry).
I’m assuming this is housemade bread, or at least comes from a trusted supplier. It was hearty, crusty, and flavourful. I love how restaurants are grilling their bread now. Adds another layer of aroma and interest, and makes it come alive.
Flavourful marinated olives. No complaints here.
Arepa with Shredded Beef ($9). The arepas come as three mini-arepas. LOVE the log-as-dishware.
While my dining companions and I could argue endlessly about arepas and crusty dough products, I think these were great (except for the underseasoned filling). The arepas were crusty on the outside, moist and soft on the inside. Texturally very similar to the crusty buns used in the Xian Pork Burgers at Joojak. Even though I’m comparing corn-based “biscuits” to wheat-based ones, both have that dry crusty exterior that’s a delight to bite through. These are far away from the tough, dry, cardboard hockey pucks at El Camino’s on Main St.
Arepa with Mushroom Chorizo ($8).
Same deal as with the beef ones. Beautiful biscuit, slightly underseasoned filling. I would totally get the beef ones again but maybe sprinkle a little salt on them when the chef isn’t looking.
Chicharron ($9). I love how the items are simply named on the menu but arrive with a semi-unexpected sense of refinement and theatre. The chicharron are dusted with smoked paprika and are faultless (people who don’t like smoked paprika should request it without).
Comes with a delicious and balanced salsa verde.
I mentioned “theatre”. These arrive in a stacked two-tiered box with the chicharrones inside and the lid with the salsa verde on top. Inside there’s a layer of stones and a piece of what I think is a piece of lit and smoking kombu (or bark?). When the box is opened and the chicharrones revealed, a puff of smoke is revealed. If the chicharrones weren’t flawless, I’d think the theatrics would be a bunch of bullshit, but luckily in this case it’s not. It completely makes sense, the chicharrones were perfect, and the chef really is telling a story about latin cuisine.
Yuca Frita ($8), aka yuca fries aka cassava fries. Guacamole on top provides the crowdpleasing avocado awesomeness, along with a bit of acidity to balance the fat. The apparent simplicity of this dish hides a lot of technique. The best yuca fries I’ve ever had.
Soft and moist on the inside, maximum crunchy surface area on the outside. No trace of toughness, dryness, or mealiness. This was perfection.
Sorry I couldn’t comment on the cocktail part of this place. My dining companions and the people sitting next to us all seemed to be enjoying their drinks, especially the cocktail with the marshmallow on it.
I’m sure Cacao (and Cacao Upstairs) would be a place that Carrie-Anne Moss would frequent. My heart would skip a beat. Just like when I think about those chicharrones and yuca fries. That “7 Course Journey” for $75 on the dinner menu seems like a journey I’d like to take…soon.