Chocolat: One of N.Y.C.?s guest-friendliest restaurants

ChocolatHave you ever walked into a restaurant and immediately felt so relaxed that you wondered where the place had been all your life? First, there?s the warm, friendly, sensual and fun atmosphere and just the right music filling the air. You feel you could go there alone, with friends, with family or with a lover, and it would still be just right. On February 8, at 111th Street and Fifth Avenue in New York City, such a place opened its doors. The restaurant is Chocolat, the one with the blue door. Its African-American owner, Leon Ellis, says he chose the name Chocolat (French for ?chocolate?) because he loves chocolate, yes, but more because saying the word evokes, unlike its English counterpart, a sensuality he wanted to be associated with his restaurant.

Sensuality is what you get indeed. The restaurant is softly lit with candles on each table and soft ceiling lighting. The walls exude sensuality, with lovely, Afrocentric paintings in various shades of brown by Christopher Cumberbatch. They depict strong Black women?some of them naked?and couples. Beneath these paintings, comfortable couches line the walls. Small white tables stand in front of the couches and, on the other side of the tables, are soft brown leather seats. The evening outside is visible through large picture-frame windows covered with a sheer fabric. A disc jockey pipes in some of the best music. He?ll play whatever you ask him to, whether it?s music for listening or for dancing.

Chocolat takes the idea of putting the patron?s wishes first to another level. The music you hear on any given evening of the seven days a week that the restaurant is open depends solely on the customers. ?We don?t predetermine the kind of music we?re going to play. We go with the flow of how the audience is feeling. One night you may listen to Bob Marley and Reggae, or mild hip-hop, light jazz or Aretha Franklin. We are trying to create a guest-friendly environment. The whole intention is to enhance [the] dining experience,? says Ellis.

The three-page drink menu surprises you. All the different types of martinis and specialty drinks are available with chocolate. The cuisine is a fusion of Caribbean, American and Southern. Although there aren?t very heavy meals, the salads are delicious and plentiful. The chicken finger or fried shrimp Caesar salads are complete meals. If you?re in the mood for seafood, there?s coconut shrimp and catfish fritters. Dishes range in price from $10 to $14.

Ellis believes that people have strong feelings about chocolate and the sensuality associated with it. He wants his restaurant to be a place where patrons can explore their love of chocolate and share their chocolate stories. There?s no pressure to order food. ?We want our guests to create their own personal experience,? Ellis says. ?The restaurant is in its infancy, but we understand our responsibility to provide the highest level of service for our guests so we can develop their loyalty.?

Chocolat is open Sunday from 5 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., Monday-Wednesday, 5 p.m.-1 a.m.; Thursday, 5 p.m.-1 a.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-4.a.m. For reservations, call 212-996-1212.