Is there any other restaurant space in Orlando whose short life has been so fraught with failure as the one mid-block in the Sanctuary condominium building?
It started out, in 2007, as Fifi’s Patisserie, then changed to Sanctuary Diner. Nick’s Italian Kitchen came next, in 2011 and closed in 2013. For three years after Nick’s closed, three concepts were proposed, including a champagne lounge to be called Pagne. None ever opened. Then Gaviota, a fine dining Peruvian restaurant, decided to give it a go in late 2016, and it lasted more than a year.
So we’ve had French, American, Italian and Peruvian in just 12 years.
Now comes Mexican in the form of Coco Cucina, a project from the owners of Oudom Thai, the restaurant next door. (That space has had its own multiple tenants.)
Coco Cucina is apparently striving for authenticity, and it certainly has an ambitious menu. You have to give them props for putting such things as braised beef tongue, huitlacoche (corn smut)quesadilla and cactus worms tacos on the menu. Those are tough sells even to people who live in Mexico, tasty as they may be.
But there are plenty of other things less adventurous. In fact, the menu is larger than it really needs to be.
Complimentary chips, crispy and salty, and salsa, pulpy and mildly seasoned are served upon seating.
My guest and I started with the Albondigas Enchipoladas con Queso Doble Crema. You may prefer to call them meatballs. The four beef orbs were served lollipop style sitting in a puddle of a sauce tinged with chipotle peppers and sprinkled with cheese crumbles. Substitute the pepper sauce with marinara and they’d fit right into any Italian restaurant.
The Tamal de Mole Poblano was an oversized slab of masa filled with shredded grilled chicken, served on a banana leaf (presumably because a corn husk would have been too small) and the rich mole, made with myriad chilies, almonds and just a touch of chocolate. It was served with a conically molded tower of rice with plantain slices at its base. I assume it was meant to resemble an ancient pyramid. Whatever, it was a nice presentation and the flavors were good.
The Aguachile Negro, one of a half dozen ceviches, featured chunks of red snapper “cooked” in lime juice and tossed with red onions and chopped scallions. The fish was surrounded by rows of sliced avocado, cucumber, green bell pepper and a few radishes. The texture of the fish had just the right chew and it was all cool and refreshing.
Our server was accommodating and patient as my guest and I took our time with each dish.
The starburst chandeliers that look like some glassian sea anemone with suckers at the end of tentacles remain from the previous tenant. The chairs and tables, too, though the white cloths have been removed. A day of the dead-themed mural graces one wall, but otherwise the decorations are rather spartan.
Certain restaurant spaces around town are said to be cursed because businesses come and go with rapid velocity. I don’t believe in curses. If I did I’d almost certainly have been turned into a toad by now. I believe in lousy locations with little parking. I believe in poor business plans that don’t properly account for costs associated with running a restaurant.
And I believe that if a restaurant can offer its customers good food at a good value and treat them as though they want them to return, even a restaurant in a “cursed” location can survive.
Whether Coco Cucina can do that will remain to be seen.
Coco Cucina is at 100 S. Eola Drive, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. The phone number is 407-601-5750.