Thursday, February 28, 2013

Belgium #3

Ah, Bruges.  A beautiful, old city:

just smell that beauty.  it smells like concrete.


On the way to visit Chocolatier Stephan Dumon's flagship store -- probably the most famous chocolate shop in Bruges -- I found a small outpost and stopped in.  I asked for things with a pure chocolate ganache, and they told me no such thing existed.  Quite rudely.  I sorted it all out and ordered a "butter truffle," a dark chocolate bonbon, and a chocolate bar.  The butter truffle was way too creamy and a bit gross.  I could see why they wouldn't call it "pure chocolate."  Even the dark chocolate bonbon was way too creamy.  Liane liked it, but it tasted like candy even to her.  I was so disappointed!  "What a fraud!" I thought to myself.  And I continued on.

Depla Pol:

I stopped by Depla Pol, which was a fairly adorable shop.  I bought a chocolate bar, and from it you can see what I mean:

i imagine those footprints were made by a very tiny person.  then i get SUPER creeped out and stop imagining that.

It was an excellent low-percentage bar, not trying too hard.  It tasted like high quality chocolate trying to imitate a candy bar.  And though Leila would never approve, I appreciated the little white chocolate footprints.  It made the bar look as playful as it tasted. 

The truffle was better than Dumon's, but still too creamy.  I just don't like Bruges' style, I guess.  But the Sao Tome bonbon was excellent and the Venezuela bonbon was even better.  It wasn't Bruges after all -- Dumon had been a real disaster, and Depla Pol was rescuing the town's reputation.


Then I got to the main square and Dumon's flagship.  I immediately realized the previous store had been a complete imposter.  The branding was totally different and a look at the chocolate immediately showed obvious differences.  All it took was one taste to verify.  I wound up purchasing a big box of bonbons, because I felt so guilty about my rash and unfounded original judgment.  They were all excellent.

I saved the bar I purchased for later, and I compared it with the imposter:

the lineup.  i must admit that the fake sustained some travel-related damage.
Just based on appearances, the real one actually looks less authentic than the fake

The "real thing" tasted much more serious than the fake.  It was very good, but it was not the best.  The other bar was actually not bad either.  It was sweeter and more candy-like, so I could tell the two apart just from taste, but some of those I shared the bars with preferred the fake.

I actually encountered a different fake Dumon later in the day.  I was not duped into buying anything, but I asked them for directions, and they were rude to me as well!  Plus they gave me bad directions!

Chocolate Line:

Next stop was The Chocolate Line.  The dark chocolate horse-shaped bonbon with ganache was ok.  I ordered a pumpkin bonbon, but they gave me the wrong thing.  It tasted peanut-y and not great.  Finally, the bar (80%, Uganda-origin) was good but not memorable.

nothing wrong with this.  but what did it taste like again?

Van Oost:

I was basically just machining through at this point.  I got to Van Oost basically just stuffing stuff down.  The truffle made me pause though.  It was just okay by other city's standards, but it was definitely the best among Bruges' creamy crop.  The bar was very good and chocolatey, but it was also very Bruges in that it was sweet and low percentage.  Another candy-like gem.

this may win the award for most massive bar i purchased all trip.


Next was Stef's.  There was a hazelnut-filled shell, which was candy-like in the best sort of way.  There was a chunk of dark chocolate that tasted Ghanaian, standard, and good.  There was a mousse bonbon which was basically what all the creamy truffles wished they were, and arguably the best mousse product of the trip.  The dark truffle was good, and the dark bonbon was great.  Overall, a nice performance.

Choco-Story Museum:

This is a choco-story about how chocolate was brought to your and my town.
It took about six-hundred-and-twenty years, in plenty of time for us, so have no fear.

where there are stories, there are books.  and where there are books and chocolate, leila gets jealous.

In Central America, born-and-raised, with the chieftans is where it spent most of its days.
Heated up, packed in, mixed in with spices, and to add some sweetness, they had  no devices.

a chocolate alchemy kit?

Then a couple of Spaniards, who were up to no good, started committing genocide in the neighborhood.
They took one little sip and *boom* went their brain, and they said, "You are coming with me right back to Spain." 

these will be reviewed later.

It hopped on some ships, and in no time flat, it was mixed up with sugar, and tasted so phat.
If anything, Europeans thought, "This is where it's at!" so it took centuries before they made it solid and flat.

It pulled up to the US around 1765, and it seemed to threaten, "DRINK ME OR DIE."
It moved to New York soon thereafter and sat on its throne as the dessert master.

this is how you make chocolate.  you know.  in the past.

Also, they gave us some chocolate here, and it was pretty good.

Bottom Line: Bruges' chocolate, like Bruges itself, is pretty much for tourists.  It's not bad, but it's very sweet.  Also, we've been in Belgium for three posts, and we still have a whole city left to go.

Talenti gelato

What is the best pre-packaged ice cream available in supermarkets? I have given this matter a lot of careful consideration, and I have reached an answer: Talenti Gelato.

Their double dark chocolate is so goddamn good. Here's how their promotional copy describes it: "Semisweet Belgian Callebaut chocolate morsels are united with dark chocolate gelato and a splash of vermouth."

It's shocking to me that Talenti comes pre-packed, because it's creamier, richer, smoother, and more flavorful than many of the handmade ice creams I've tasted. What is less shocking is its high pricepoint. I got a pint for $6.99 last week, but previously I've paid close to $10 for it. What can I say? It's worth it.

BOTTOM LINE: In my opinion, the best grocery store ice cream on the market.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Chocolate Bars from Argentina

Here at Chocolate NYC, we are lucky to have supportive friends. Sometimes they will even support us by buying us chocolate. Sometimes the chocolate they buy us is bad, but we eat it anyway, because it is still chocolate. And at least they warn us in advance.

We recently received this in the mail from Veronica, a friend of Chocolate NYC:

Here is the email she sent in advance of the package:

I am in Argentina. I just had the a (what I thought was going to be) reasonable conversation with someone at the neighborhood chocolate shop (the chocolate in Argentina is mediocre to TERRIBLE which I've always known):

me: where is this chocolate from?
her: well, we make it in Argentina but import the cacao
me: from where
her: I think Brazil or Colombia (while looking at me like an insane person).

Note: this is a store that EXCLUSIVELY SELLS CHOCOLATE.

So we were fully prepared: this was going to be pretty bad.

Indeed, it was. The amargo tasted like dark chocolate crossed with medicine. The aftertaste was the grossest part. Next we tried the semi-amargo. David immediately commented, "This is way worse."

But we still ate it. Even though it tasted like medicine. I mean, at the end of the day, it is chocolate.

BOTTOM LINE: Argentina is not the place to go to buy bars of chocolate. But Veronica reports they do better with gelato, so if you go to Argentina and get desperate, maybe try that route, instead.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding from Maialino

David and I went to Maialino for dinner this weekend. We definitely did not need to get dessert there, as I had been baking cookies and hamantaschen all day, eating dough as I went, and after dinner we had plans to taste a bunch of chocolate bars from Istanbul.

But then we saw chocolate croissant bread pudding listed on the menu, and, as David pointed out, "How often are you out Maialino?" And so there was dessert.

This was listed on the menu as being accompanied with hazelnut gelato, by the way. Obviously we subbed in chocolate gelato instead.

Here is what we said while we ate this dish:

DAVID: "I am so far from having regrets right now. What is the opposite of regret?"
LEILA: "I don't know, but right now all I am experiencing is delight."

DAVID: "This dessert is literally so good that it makes me feel like I've wasted the rest of my life until now."

LEILA: "Jesus Christ. This thing. How is it like this?"

Here is what our plates looked like when the waitress came to collect them:

BOTTOM LINE: Don't waste your life. Eat this dessert.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Chag Purim

"Whoever heard of chocolate hamentaschen?" Leila and I overheard after services last night.  We just looked at each other and rolled our eyes.
While I can't vouch for the shul's product, I can assure you, dear readers, that Leila's was first-rate.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Belgium #2

Ok, where was I?  Oh, right, Europe.

Pierre Marcolini:

So I stopped by the home base of Pierre Marcolini.  Instead of getting a bar, I got macarons and bonbons.

The grand cru macaron was excellent -- rich and chocolatey -- but slightly too crusty texture-wise.  The regular chocolate macaron tasted a little like candy in comparison.  It had too high of an outside-of-the-macaron-to-inside-of-the-macaron ratio.  This is a common problem for macarons, for me, because the inside is inevitably richer.  Anyways.  It was still really good.  If you offered me one, I would eat it.

Then I got 7 grand cru, single-origin bonbons.  Like you do.  (You do do that, right?  Good.)  Anyways, I started with the Pierre Marcolini Grand Cru Bonbon, which tasted a lot like the Venezuela Grand Cru Bonbon, which tasted exactly like you'd expect a Venezuela Grand Cru Bonbon to taste -- delicious.  The Ecuador was fruitier than expected, with a coffee finish.  That is what my notes say, at least, but that sounds pretentious even for me.  I called the Madagascar one "raison-y," but that's just because that's probably what I expected it to taste like.  The Brazil was fruitier than the Ecuador bonbon, and then one of the two unmarked bonbons was fruitier still.  The last bonbon, unmarked, was relatively nondescript.  

I didn't get pictures of any of the Marcolini stuff I got in Belgium, but here's a picture of the bar I got in Paris but forgot to upload with that post:

you can tell i got this in paris and not belgium from the way the picture was taken somewhere between atlanta and north carolina inside of a car

In summary: a decent use of my stomach space.  Marcolini obviously has his reputation for a reason -- his chocolates are high quality, complex, and varied.  The bonbons really did taste notably different.  That said, while I enjoyed it all, he was far from my favorite chocolatier in Brussels.

Planete Chocolat:

Next stop was Planete Chocolat.  The Chocolate Planet.  To answer question, yes, they do make you wear a space suit for the duration of your visit.

No they don't.

I lied to you.

I apologize.

Why would I even do that?

So here are the things I bought (minus a dark chocolate bonbon):

what i mean is this plus a dark chocolate bonbon are the things that i bought.  math.  space math.

The bonbon was excellent and rich, surpassing probably all of Marcolini's offerings.  

I purchased two chocolate bars: a 100% bar and a speculoos bar.  For those of you who don't know speculoos... you've got problems.  I'm not even going to tell you, because you might buy the last jar at Trader Joe's, and then they'll be sold out for a month again.  Anyways, the speculoos bar was amazing.  Obviously.  It was probably the best flavored bar I had all trip.  The 100% bar... wasn't.  By that I mean it wasn't 100%, despite being clearly marked "100%."  It was probably something like 85%?  It wasn't sweet, but it was definitely not 100%.  Perfectly good, though.

I got a box of hazelnut shells, because I secretly love Guylian-brand chocolate seashells more than anything, and these looked similar.  And, to my complete lack of surprise, they were!  In fact, they were near-identical.  On the one hand, that speaks very well of these, because I totally love Guylian.  On the other hand, it speaks very well of Guylian, because they are mass producing world-famous-artisanal-chocolate-hazelnut-shells-quality chocolate-hazelnut-shells.

And then I got that bag of cocoa beans.  Now here's the thing.  The first few times I ate them, it sort of triggered a gag reflex.  But it was still delicious.  I don't know how that's possible.  In any case, I got over that, and now they are regular delicious, and they are sitting on my desk at work.  Since writing this, I've reached over about 5 time to eat one, but then I realized it was Ta'anit Ester.  I'm breaking the fast this year with City Bakery's Darkest Dark Chocolate Hot Chocolate.  Last time I tried to get it, it was sold out, and I almost broke down in public.  Wish me luck!  (Ok, this took a little longer than I expected to post.  End result: success.)

Tourist Shop:

My next stop... was a tourist shop. 

but i'm no tourist!  i'm different from all those people!

I walked past about one hundred tourist shops selling chocolate, but this one sold Dolfin-brand chocolate, and that is important.  I tried Dolfin's 88% bar when I was in Boston with Kasey a year or two ago, and I thought it was the bee's knees.  Actually, the bees' knees.  The knees of every bee.  There was no bee knee that it wasn't.


I wound up going overboard:

tourism: a boon for belgium's economy.

They gave me a speculoos-almond-chocolate mini-pile to taste.  It was surprisingly excellent.

I then bought a bunch of bars from Dolfin, from Zaabar (a Brussels-based chocolatier that I did not have time to visit directly), and from the store itself.  

The store's bar was actually quite good.  It was straight up decent milk chocolate.

The Zaabar mint bar and Dolfin mint bar were reviewed as part of Leila and my tasting on my return -- so you will see the results shortly.  

But the Zaabar dark chocolate was quite good.  It was very rich, but very sweet and fairly candy-like.  I didn't like it as much as some of my friends, even ones who like high percentage chocolate.  If I had to give it flavor notes, I would say nutty and cinnamo-yn.  My friend Josh thought it tasted of spices.

The Dolfin dark chocolate bar, though, was spectacular.  It was just as good as I remembered it.  Not only did it blow me away (again), but it equally impressed a big group of people who are not high-percentage fans.

I also tried two different Dolfin milk chocolate bars.  Both were quite good -- similar, with different percentage cacao -- but neither stood out the way the 88% did.


So the next stop was Mary.  I was really excited about Mary from my San Francisco stop.  After having been to most of the best chocolate shops in the world since, I wondered if my standards had changed any.  I had a feeling I wouldn't be when I realized they had 7 different pure chocolate bonbons, without even getting into origins.  I bought all 7.  Plus a dark chocolate truffle.  Plus a gianduja bonbon (because why not).  ... Plus a bar.

davidlabs researchstation.  aka the airport.

So four of the bonbons were called "Lady," and they had a Lady printed on them.  They were four different gradients of dark.  One of them was the one I had in SF.  The darkest one was immediately possibly the best bonbon I'd ever had.  It wasn't even sweet at all.  I'd never had a bonbon that wasn't sweet before.  Next was the dark chocolate bonbon, which I suspect is what I had in SF, because it was basically the platonic ideal of a dark chocolate bonbon.  The milk chocolate bonbon was unsurprisingly the platonic ideal of a milk chocolate bonbon.  The last one was of a certain, very creamy style that is not for me.  It is featured quite prominently in chocolate from Bruges -- as you will soon see.  But basically they upped the cream to chocolate ratio beyond my tolerance.  Still, it was better than any of the Bruges-based versions of this that I had.

I also bought two mousse bonbons -- a dark chocolate mousse coated in white chocolate.  Amazing.  Then an extra dark chocolate mousse coated in milk chocolate.  Even better!  I find mouse bonbons usually not to be as good as regular ganache bonbons, but these beat just about any ganache bonbon I'd ever had not from Mary.

Even the Gianduja bonbon and milk chocolate bonbon were amazing.

Finally, I had the dark chocolate truffle again, and I was again blown away.  I knew it was between that and Chapon for best on the trip.  Upon returning home with a larger supply and sampling more of each, I decided that Mary did indeed make my favorite truffle.  It was less the platonic ideal of a truffle -- the cocoa powder coating was less intense than Chapon's, and the inside was fudgier than it was creamy.  And it was definitely sweeter than Chapon's.  But it was just so intense and chocolatey that I was totally sold


That said, I purchased a bar (probably 70something percent), and while it was good, it did not stand out among the many amazing bars I purchased.  Accordingly, I will pronounce Mary my favorite in the world for bonbons, but perhaps the overall prize will rest with Passion or Chapon.

Francois Manon:

Manon was right next to Mary.  It had a very unpretentious vibe, which I really liked.  My expectations were somewhat low coming in, for some reason, but as soon as I started talking to them there, I realized it might be a sleeper.

The truffle was the low point, but only because it went for that creamy Bruges-style that I don't really like.

That said, the milk ganache bonbon was great.  The dark ganache bonbon was even better.  And the extradark palet d'or ganache bonbon was really wonderful.  At this point in my trip, I was not about to have this kind of reaction to anything but the very best, and that bonbon was at that level.

Frederic Blondeel:

My last stop in Brussels was Frederic Blondeel.  I sat down to take a break and wayyyy over-ordered.  I started with a 100% dark chocolate hot chocolate, sweetened only with honey.  It was delicious, and its bitterness (and relative thinness) reminded me of Taralucci e Vino in NYC -- one of my very favorite hot chocolates in the city.

I moved on to the set of four bonbons I ordered, plus the two that came complementary with the hot chocolate.  The Sao Tome-origin bonbon was very good.  It was bright but not fruity, similar to Venezuelan origin chocolate, but I think I'm more used to Venezuelan brightness at this point.  I kept expecting to get hit by fruitness but didn't.  Good experience.  Kept me on my toes.  The Papua New Guinea-origin bonbon was not bad but not as good.  It had some hints of raisons.  The Venezuela-origin bonbon was sweetened with honey, which threatened to overpower the chocolatey taste, but the bonbon managed to hold it together and keep a solid B+.

Aside from the origins, I got a truffle, which had a slight coffee-ish taste (though it was not made with coffee), but despite that was still pretty good.  The hazelnut bonbon (complementary with the hot chocolate) was surprisingly great.  That said, the speculoos bonbon (camouflaged in a silver wrapper) was not so great.

remember that this was like my twelfth or thirteenth stop of the day.

I also got a brownie.  Texture-wise, it was fudgey -- just how I like it.  But it was somehow unsatisfying.  Perhaps it did not have a sufficiently rich and deep flavor.  It wasn't bad.  I couldn't really point to the problem.  Maybe the problem was that I was full.

i tried to science it and could not uncover its mysteries.

Lastly, I purchased two chocolate bars.  A 75%, Venezuela origin, which was excellent, and very Venezuela-y, but not as good as the Idilio or the Richart.  Next was an 85%, Ghana origin, which was also very good, but did not really stand out amongst all the great chocolatiers in Brussels.  As a comparison, it was not as good as the Ghana-origin bar at Chapon.

As I was sitting there, I heard someone comment that it was time to "make like a tree and leave."  I hadn't heard that one since the 90's, but you know what?  That dude was totally right.  I hopped the next train to Antwerp.

Bottom Line:  Brussels legitimately rivals Paris for being the best chocolate city I've been to.  Its top tier was better than Paris', led by Passion, Mary, and Gerbaud, but Paris was just an unending assault of quality.

The Whoopie

If there's one thing we love here at Chocolate NYC, it's mail. Particularly mail containing chocolate. So you can imagine our joy when we received this at Chocolate NYC headquarters:

What's inside? What's inside?

This big white package, that's what!

But what is inside this big white package?


For those of you who are unfamiliar with whoopie pies, they are a popular New England baked good that basically takes a cupcake and turns it into a sandwich. This is a genius design for those of us who love cupcakes but can't eat them without getting frosting all over our noses (which is, frankly, a waste of frosting). This particular brand of whoopie pie is called The Whoopie and is created by Chococoa Baking Company, in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Here are some key facts about The Whoopie:

-It's made with organic ingredients; local, free-range eggs; and other things that are good for the environment. This is why we eat chocolate, folks: to save the environment.

-It's petite; only two inches in diameter. One of our Chocolate NYC taste testers described it as "just about enough whoopie pie." I described it as "just about enough whoopie pie" after I ate three of them in a row. But I also have a notably high tolerance for baked goods.

-It's sold at twenty-five Whole Foods Markets in NYC! So we do not even have to travel to Massachusetts to get more of these bad boys. We can get them within blocks of where we live, which is lucky, because these things are delicious, and we are lazy

The Whoopie comes in four flavors, all with chocolate cakes, but with different fillings: vanilla, espresso, and raspberry buttercream, and chocolate ganache. There are also seasonal specialty flavors. Here's how each one fared in our taste tests:

I liked the chocolate ganache one best, obviously, because it was the chocolatiest. The filling was really fantastic. Actually, almost all the fillings were top-notch, with excellent consistency. The cake was a little too dry for my tastes (not a surprise in pre-packaged baked goods), but the frosting in the middle really helped provide balance to the cakeiness.

The one filling that didn't please me was the raspberry. It tasted too artificial to me. The vanilla one, on the other hand, was particularly lovely, even rivaling the chocolate-on-chocolate whoopie. The vanilla one tasted like a classic whoopie pie of my childhood, only higher-quality and clearly doing a better job of saving the environment.

BOTTOM LINE: If you're not getting boxes of these in the mail, you should probably go to Whole Foods and buy some. And then throw a dinner party, and invite me. The Whoopie would make an excellent post-dinner party nibble.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Belgium #1

From Stockholm, I flew into Brussels, to begin a two-day tour of Belgium.


Brussels is the city with the world's coolest carousel:

mechanical. dinosaur. skeleton.

icarus the aeronaut?

But is its chocolate as good as its carousels?  Let's find out!


I started CornĂ©.  I like to start with places that i think will set a good bar.  While CornĂ© perhaps set the bar lower than La Maison in Paris, it was almost (but not quite) as good as Sprungli in Zurich.  I got a truffle and a 77% dark chocolate bonbon, and both were very good.  It was my favorite of the mass-produced Belgian chocolates, at the end of the day, and the one I spent my last Euros on at the airport for gifts.


Next stop was Galler, another internationally-distributed, mass-producing chocolatier that has a good reputation.  I got an Extreme Chocolate bonbon, and it was legitimately bad.  I avoided Galler the rest of the trip.


My next stop was Neuhaus.  I have always liked Neuhaus, certainly preferring it to Godiva at that price/availability point.  But compared to what I was eating on this trip, it didn't quite hold up.  The dark chocolate truffle was edible, but nothing special.  The marzipan/hazelnut bonbon was better, but not great.  And the speculoos truffle was not too good.  Overall, I think maybe their flavored bonbons are a bit better than their pure chocolate ones, which is why the place wasn't really meeting my purist needs.

Laurent Gerbaud:

Ok, having hit up the big, well respected mass producers (I skipped Leonidas and Godiva), I started on the artisanal chocolatiers.  Laurent Gerbaud is quite famous.  I think he has some connection to the even-more-famous Pierre Marcolini.  Not having had any exquisite chocolate all day, we went a bit all out.

The 75% bar was amazing:

shot taking on the subsequent road trip.  obviously.

It's definitely my favorite Madagascar bar I've ever had.  True, I am unnaturally adverse to the origin, but the nibs were the perfect counter to the somewhat citrusy bar.  The best comparison I can draw is Scharfen Berger -- most of their bars are too fruity for me, but their Nibby bar is actually quite excellent.  This is like that, but a step or two above.  A real gem.

I then went through five different single-origin bonbons, and all were excellent.  I could see why Gerbaud got his reputation.  Each bonbon was chocolatey while still being unique and interesting.

While the piece of dark chocolate they gave me was too fruity, the hot chocolate was great.  It was not sweet, and it had a great thickness to it -- thick for drinking chocolate, but not so thick as to be a heavy dessert.  That said, it developed the same pudding-film I observed at Angelina if I let it sit for too long.  I begin to suspect that this is a sign of an elite hot chocolate.


I then walked into Passion Chocolate, still equipped with my Laurent Gerbaud bag.  They gave me a look.  I was sort of apologetic but explained my mission.  They just looked at me in that Belgian way and said, "Well... you'll see."

And I certainly did.  Passion was arguably the top chocolatier in all of Belgium, taking me by complete surprise.  The "Double Coeur Noir Bonbon" was exquisite, dark, and super chocolatey.  The milk truffle totally blew me away.  My notes say, "WOW."  It was dark for a milk truffle.  It was liquidier than it was creamy, which surprised me.  But it was definitely delicious.  Finally, the mousse bonbon was delicious, but included some crunchy-textured things that were not quite for me.

But I would be extremely remiss to ignore their 72% Carribean bar with nibs:  

i don't care what you do, but you need to track this down.

When I ate it I basically started exclaiming profanities out loud, in my room alone, because it was so good.  This was easily one of the best chocolate bars of any percentage I've ever had.

So, okay.  Haughty Belgian chocolatier at Passion Chocolate: you were right.  I saw.  And I am impressed.


Next stop was Wittamer.  If you ask someone in Brussels who makes the best chocolate, I feel like Wittamer is often the answer you get.  Wittamer is certainly more available than something like Gerbaud or Passion, but it's not like they were selling boxes of this stuff at the airport.

The summary is that Wittamer was better than something like Sprungli, for sure, and definitely better than Corne, but maybe not as good as something like La Maison.

The bar was excellent, but not too memorable:

i apologize for not taking good pictures as i went along.  i was busy eating.  i got excited.  at least i got photos of the bars!

The “Wittamer” 70% bonbon was totally excellent.  It was super chocolatey, and it could hold its own next to any bonbon at La Maison.  The Venazuela bonbon was also very good. It was more complex, but I preferred the Wittamer.

Bottom Line: There are still three more posts on Belgium.  We're only halfway done with BRUSSELS.  Be patient.