Grilled shrimp, sizzling garlic and chili oil at Cocina Lolo.
Photos by Luis Javy Diaz
The dining room at Cocina Lolo
For our own relaxation, we were happy to indulge in a surprisingly potent blanco sangria, a refreshing swirl of Cointreau, sparkling cava and brandy-soaked fruit. (The deliciousness allowed us to forgive the albino strawberries.) There’s also a nonalcoholic hibiscus agua fresca if you want to stay with a Mexican theme among other more familiar drinks.
Lump crab guacamole
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Since the restaurant opened in July, the menu has been tweaked several times by the James Beard-nominated Sikora, who frets over his dishes like a dad caring for a darling child. What’s evolved is a carefully assembled list of mostly Mexican offerings with a selection of Latin plates like the must-have dates with Ibérico ham. The thimble-size fruit, stuffed with blue cheese, is served warm over thin slices of the Spanish ham. We bemoaned there were only five of these tiny morsels. We also quickly downed three deviled eggs with smoked paprika aïoli and sautéed chorizo. We had to remind ourselves that these dishes were listed under “table snacks.”
Chef Bryan Sikoraâ€‹
Crab, tuna and flounder star in the ceviche, each with its own supporting cast. Our succulent chunks of citrus-laced fish were prettily staged on a pumpkin-hued plate with cubes of avocado, crisp slices of cucumber and radishes, a pool of green salsa verde and crunchy strips of fried dough.
This is definitely a place for noshing and sharing. We also dug into a lush guacamole speckled generously with lump crab, radishes, cucumbers and diced mangoes. House-made crackers were sturdy dippers. The tapas-size albondigas (meatballs) with toasted pine nuts and manchego cheese over rice were a nice twist on traditional paella.
We had a mixed reaction to another small plate—the charred octopus with Spanish chorizo. The spicy pork sausage was smoky and tangy, but its full-bodied flavors couldn’t rescue the bland, too firm octopus, which languished in the mix like an uninvited guest.
The chorizo fundido (there is also a mushroom version), however, woke up our taste buds with its spiced almonds and gooey manchego topping. Served in a clay dish with crackers, the popular party dish, meant to be shared, made the most of the “fun” in its name. (Note: Fundido means “molten” in Spanish.)
We were thrilled to see tamales with three different fillings on the menu. Cocina Lolo’s kitchen staff is 90 percent Mexican, Sikora says. The workers often share their family recipes, and the chef tweaks them with his own adaptations. “Articulating the food is a lot of fun,” he says. In one tamale version, Sikora marries smoked short rib, Oaxaca cheese and pickled island peppers with fluffy masa dough before wrapping the mix in a cornhusk. You may want to order more than one. These are small bundles.
There are also tacos, quesadillas and burritos. The grilled shrimp burrito—practically the size of a swaddled bebé—encases fragrant jasmine rice, black beans, avocado, shredded lettuce, tomato, onion, cilantro and radishes with queso fresco and salsa verde on the side. You can also get the fillings in a “burrito bowl.”
The grilled shrimp burrito encases jasmine rice, black beans, avocado, lettuce, tomato, onion, cilantro and radishes with queso fresco and salsa verde on the side
Four house specials also are available, including a family-style paella. The grilled snapper caught our eye, and we’re glad it did. The slightly singed hunks of sweet white fish straddled piquant chorizo hash, butternut squash and green chili salsa for a tantalizing combo.
Throughout the food delivery, our server darted around the room, juggling several tables. While harried, he was polite and efficient, taking the time to explain the desserts and other dishes to us.
Cocina Lolo’s chocolate pudding erases all memories of the gloppy, packaged stuff from childhood. Coffee anglaise, caramel and chocolate-coated espresso beans create a luxe grownup indulgence. We also applaud the adventurous grilled pineapple, with its orange curd, mango purée, sponge cake and pineapple sorbet. The earnest, cinnamon-dusted churros also won us over. The two elongated doughnuts lounged atop a puddle of spicy hazelnut-and-caramel sauce while two scoops of vanilla-bean ice cream perched on the plate.
Once again, Bryan Sikora has put Wilmington on the map with an interesting restaurant intriguing local palates. We can’t wait to see what the talented chef does next.
405 N. King St., Wilmington, 384-6186, www.cocinalolo.com. | PRICES: Small plates $6–$13; tacos and quesadillas $10-$12; house specials $20-$32. | RECOMMENDED DISHES: Ibérico ham with warm dates and blue cheese, albondigas, grilled shrimp burrito.