TAG | RAW BAR isn't the only cold bar in town. Just a few weeks before the Guards opened their subterranean venture, Lola introduced its own altar to raw fish. Lola didn't have much real estate to devote to the cold bar — its festive dining room and enclosed patio are almost always overrun by diners and drinkers as it is. But still, the restaurant managed to tuck a small prep space into a corner just past the bar, and then open it up to a four-stool counter on the deck.
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From those seats, you can watch an aproned chef pry open oysters, mix up ceviche and construct platters of tuna carpaccio. And while the cold bar has its own menu, you can supplement your order with anything you'd like off the regular dinner board, too. (You can also order from the cold bar while sitting at a regular table.)
A couple of friends and I were lucky enough to grab those stools a few weeks ago, and we ordered just about everything on the cold bar list, washing it all down with cans of Tecate and coin-style margaritas. We started with oysters, downing a platter of plump, briny Miyages from Washington and cold Chesapeakes, just slightly scented with sea spray. They were better with the champagne-habanero mignonette, bracingly acidic with just a wisp of spice that did not overpower the shellfish. The ceviche flight was more uneven. I liked the blend of rock shrimp, tomato and chile aioli (though I couldn't detect the promised melon, I didn't miss it, either). Almost as good was the bay scallop with blood orange and marcona almonds. But the striped bass, which interspersed chunks of fish with pieces of yellow tomato and serrano peppers, needed salt — badly. After we asked the chef to sprinkle more on, the ceviche improved significantly; the spice and acid popped, complementing the firm fish. But all three versions were drowning in too much liquid (either citrus or tomato juice), which made it difficult to eat them the best way, scooped onto housemade potato chips.
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The ahi carpaccio was essentially a mouthful of smoke, the fault of chipotle peppers — smoked and dried jalapeños — draped over the delicate tuna, a slice pounded so thin it was nearly translucent. Not even the salsa verde, drizzled generously over the bottom of the plate and piquant on its own, could penetrate the intense flavor of those chiles. But Lola saved the best for last: a shrimp cocktail that put plump prawns in a breathtakingly fiery tomato sauce studded with jalapeños. After the shrimp was gone, I used everything I could find to get the rest of that sauce: chunks of avocado that festooned the dish, leftover potato chips from the ceviche, even a refill of tortilla chips.
The fare in this corner may be cold, but Lola's cold bar is definitely hot.