Friday, December 24, 2010

Choco-Sutra at Oliverio – A Chocoholic’s Pilgrimage

After the transcendent Thanksgiving brunch at L’Ermitage this year, when I received the invite to check out an AYCE of another sort at another boutique hotel in the Viceroy family, I was beyond excited. This one is at Oliverio in the Avalon Hotel, and is a decadent experience dedicated to unlimited amounts of one of the most important – as far as I’m concerned - basic food groups…chocolate. Choco-Sutra is a premium chocolate buffet that promised all kinds of confections to tantalize the palate – from classic Chocolate Dipped Fruits, to White Chocolate Panna Cotta, to such original creations as Chocolate Ganache with Mint and Wasabi, and Triple Chocolate Truffle Pizzettas.
As a unapologetic chocoholic, I considered it my duty to pay pilgrimage to Oliverio (and the fact that it would be a free was definitely a bonus!). The feast normally runs $28 per person (reduced to $17 pp with dinner at Oliverio), or $50 per couple. I grabbed ‘Lindyhopper’, my go-to fellow chocolate addict, to check the place out in its second weekend after launch.

Photo courtesy of Oliverio at Avalon Hotel
 The Avalon Hotel is another reclusive boutique hotel in Beverly Hills that most people have probably passed by a million times and never knew was there. Tucked away on Olympic just past Beverly, the hotel sort of gives off the vibe of a 50s/60s vintage apartment complex, converted.

The Oliverio restaurant is just to the side of the lobby – on a regular SoCal day, Choco-Sutra would have been served on tables set up at the chic, modern looking poolside. But as we had nearly record breaking amounts of rain the day of our visit – we were seated inside, and our waiter was to bring the food to us, however much we wanted of whatever we wanted.

White Chocolate Martini
 I knew we were off to a good start when a beautiful White Chocolate Martini swirled with chocolate syrup arrived to kick off the evening.

Then, to give us a sampling of all that’s on offer – we were provided first with a plate that’s a ‘Noah’s Ark’ of sorts, presenting two of every kind of bite-sized confection available. It was a lovely plate, and pastry chef Monica came to our table to introduce each piece.

There were a variety of flavor profiles – from sweet/tart chocolate dipped fruits, to sweet/nutty hazelnut chocolate cream mini-tartlets and chocolate enrobed nuts, to sweet/spicy chocolate dipped Serrano peppers and chocolate ganache with mint and wasabi. There were also bite-sized takes on classics like chocolate brownies, baby chocolate cupcakes (with raspberry frosting), chocolate-banana bread pudding, malted milk chocolate balls, and chocolate dipped marshmallows. My favorites from this plate were the Bailey’s balls, chocolate ganache with mint and wasabi (though I would have liked the mint and wasabi flavors to come through in a bolder way – with such a creative combination of ingredients, I would have liked to see the innovative flavor come through unabashedly. As is, the mint and wasabi were nearly undetectable – but I still say this piece was one of the best-of-plate, because of the more refined consistency and rich flavor of the chocolate ganache itself, and presentation of the piece) and the chocolate dipped Serrano peppers (which took some getting used to, and was too spicy for me at first - but that I came to love because of the cool sweet/hot combo). Though in hindsight, I should have been more strategic in planning the progression of our ‘meal’ – moving from lighter treats to those that are stronger in flavor (especially the spicy pieces) in order not to have the latter overwhelm or reduce my ability to truly taste the former – for example, I might have loved the hazelnut chocolate mini-tartlet (one of Lindyhopper’s favs) if I had tasted it before the chocolate dipped Serrano peppers.  The classic pieces were good, but did not impress with any innovation in design or exceed expectations in execution. 

South-of-the-Border Pot de Creme, White Chocolate
Panna Cotta, White Hot Chocolate
We also received with that first delivery, a White Chocolate Amaretto Panna Cotta with chocolate biscuit sticks in a martini glass, a South-of-the-Border Chocolate Pot de Crème, and a cute little White Hot Chocolate served in a tiny ceramic cup.  All three were amazing – the White Chocolate Amaretto Panna Cotta was smooth, creamy with skillfully controlled flavor, while the Pot de Crème was rich in chocolate taste with red chilis adding a little kick to finish. The White Hot Chocolate was one of Lindyhopper’s favorites – rich, whipped into a foamy consistency, and tasting (to me at least) of almond layered with the white chocolate.

Triple Chocolate Truffle Pizzetta
We were already feeling a little stuffed at that point, when we were presented with the highly anticipated piece de resistance: Triple Chocolate Truffle Pizzetta on a huge oak stand. This turned out to be an individual sized pizza, with real pizza dough topped by Nutella, dark and milk chocolate, then nuggets of white chocolate…what we didn’t expect was that it would also be topped by truffles of the fungal variety. In theory, this was a dream piece offering many of my favorite ingredients in the world, and several of the things I would want in my last bite on earth.  The truffles were gorgeous, shaved beautifully thin, and provided in very, very generous portions on the pizzetta.  And the piece was a clever play in concept with truffle on truffle. However, in practice, the disparate elements in my opinion were missing the thread that would hold it all together: though savory and sweet have been proven in some cases to complement and enhance each other in chocolate confections (e.g. sea salt caramel chocolates), in this case the aromatic mushroom truffles clashed with their chocolate counterparts, and the salty, fluffy pizza dough did not pleasantly cut through the chocolate flavors, but became overwhelming when combined with the gunky chocolate spread.

I wanted desperately to hail this pizzetta as a triumph in culinary innovation – and the piece that would on its own justify the cost of Choco-Sutra, but unfortunately it just did not work for these two diners. This dish might have been better served if it were first deconstructed, then put together with only the basics that define a pizza – toppings on baked dough – I could imagine it possibly working well with a thin, crispy pretzel crust, thinner layer of chocolate spread, and a barely detectable sprinkle of truffle salt (instead of large ‘slices’ of actual truffle mushrooms).

Nutella Filled, Sugar Coated
Donut Holes
 We finished off with a small plate of Nutella filled, sugar coated donut holes, which were fairly delicious, and one more round of White Hot Chocolate for Lindyhopper before we called it a night.

The experience was good, celebrating love for chocolate - but Lindyhopper raised a great point which is that a key item was missing – some sort of mousse creation. It would have also been nice to have another chocolate tart item (besides the mini hazelnut chocolate tartlet) and a token sculptural piece for visual interest. Which led to the minor notes from these two diners – to look at the offerings as a curated collection, each piece as part of a whole chocolate themed experience – to select items that hit key textures and visual presentation points as well as flavors. Also, given that even seasoned chocoholics like us can only eat so much at one sitting, quality of the pieces should be balanced with quantity. I may have been ‘ruined’ by the dessert buffet at the L’Ermitage Thanksgiving buffet ($80 per person inclusive of brunch with caviar and raw seafood bar), and had set my expectations for Oliverio to that high level – but at $17 per person with dinner, Choco-Sutra is a deal for the White Chocolate Martini and White Hot Chocolate alone (knowing that martinis can run $12-$15 at comparable bars).

Another great thing I should mention about the Oliverio is that valet parking is complementary for restaurant diners, practically unheard of for Beverly Hills hotels like the SLS that charge $12 for valet.  Also, reservations made and fulfilled are eligible for OpenTable points.

All in all, Choco-Sutra is a great concept and I hope that as the menu evolves that it will be very successful – and a concept that I hope catches on in LA.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5.5 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 5.5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 5.5 bites
Price - $$ (2 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 80%


Choco-Sutra - Oliverio at the Avalon Hotel
9400 West Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Ph: 310.277.5221

OpenTable:  Look for reservations

Oliverio (Avalon Hotel) on Urbanspoon   Oliverio Restaurant in Los Angeles on Fooddigger


  1. my goodness that looks NUTS! I thought: what an insane idea! when I read the PR release but... why not, chicks gotta love this!

    I really enjoy Oliverio's entire menu.

  2. For sure a pretty insanely brilliant concept. Would def make a great date night activity, especially with the cool poolside setting :)

    Haven't been for dinner yet, but plan to at some point when I'm back in town!



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