I know I'm very much in the minority on this, but I don't really like dessert. I'll take salty over sweet anytime, and a pile of sugar doesn't present itself to me as the obvious punctuation for a meal. The culture of indulgence that surrounds sweets, the guilty-pleasure bullshit, appalls me, particularly as it relates to women; I reject the sisterhood of shame that craves chocolate, the comic-strip Cathies who eat a whole gallon of ice cream and then their pants don't fit and it's hilarious and poignant and we're all out of control and in it together, because of, you know, our hormones.
Eating dessert out has an I'm-worth-it hair-coloring-advertisement feel to it. Just this enormous piece of molten chocolate cake, just this once.... There are a lot more interesting ways to be a bad girl; there are a lot more interesting things to put in your mouth. The trend of the dessert lounge makes going out for a sugar fix sleek/chic in a Sex and the City way, and Seattle's now on board with Coco la ti da. The name alone demands a hair flip. However, the name behind it demands respect: Sue McCown, renowned pastry chef formerly of Earth & Ocean, a dessert innovator of the highest order. And Coco Etc. is in a marvelous space in the Loveless building (recently, all-too-briefly occupied by the restaurant Fork): another potential plus.
A "Liquid Dessert" seemed a good entry point. I chose Carrot Cake: vanilla vodka, carrot juice, toffee liqueur, and cinnamon schnapps in a martini glass. Despite large, color-coordinated sugar crystals around the rim, it did not cloy; the cinnamon was prominent, the juice fresh and earthy-sweet. The glass had a couple of marzipan carrots stuck to it and a spun-sugar sculpture also of carrots, these ones a little Dali-esque; precious, yes, but for $11 you want extras. Lemon Meringue Pie (limoncello, lemon juice, simple syrup; $9) was admirably tart and more restrained in the garnish department, with just a button of meringue adrift in it.
In the nonliquid department, Baby Cakes on a Stick (two, $5) proved to be exactly that; cakes of a few bites each, stylized in appearance, on wooden popsicle sticks. It's dessert in a humane, sensible portion, and you get to try different kinds. They're smart, fun, moist, and delicious—especially ginger-spice cake made with stout and frosted with cream cheese. On another visit, sheer ridiculousness made Between the Sheets ($10) compulsory: "Mr. Cherry meets Ms. Fig between sheets of warm shortbread...." As far as I could discern, Mr. Cherry and Ms. Fig dwelt, separated, as the filling in superrich, buttery little pillows. A miniscoop of non-gender-specific lime sorbet acted as an extremely sour mediator, not agreeing with either side. Mr. and Ms. were not as high-concept as anticipated, but they were good; the leftovers were splendid with morning coffee (perversely, the only time I want sugar).
The ultimate retro-revival dessert is, of course, fondue, and Coco Etc.'s is visually stunning, a white parallelogram of a plate laden with lovely dainties for dipping in a cunning little pot of melted bittersweet chocolate ($10). It exhausted my palate in approximately three bites, and the leftovers have been sitting on my kitchen counter untouched for three days. However, a sweet-hot chocolate-chili cookie that came with it was my favorite thing at Coco Etc.—except for the roasted tomato soup ($9). Yes, they have savory-snacks, too, and the soup's poured tableside, thick and slightly spicy, with teeny brioche grilled- cheese sandwiches on the side and a flourish of rosemary-flecked cotton candy that slowly melts in the middle. Brilliant, delicious, not dessert.
Coco Etc.'s décor is determinedly cute and modern, and it clashes with the space's Deco murals in a way that makes me miss the heavy, royal, lodgelike furnishings of Fork. The communal table, under cheerfully colored lights, hosted a party of six middle-aged women giggling and drinking bubbly and indulging one night; on another occasion, a Michael Moore look-alike sat solo there, demolishing one of Sue's exquisite creations and downing a German Chocolate Cake drink in about four minutes flat while reading a book. Mostly it's couples on dates, though beware of parties of sorority girls taking over the entire place.
Coco Etc. isn't perfect, and it isn't for me. But if you're not a dessert hater, you're very likely to find something to love.