Monday, February 11, 2013

Paris Day 1

Cercle de L'Union Club:

From Berlin, I went to Paris.  I immediately met up with two family friends, who hosted me at the Cercle de L'Union Club for lunch.  It's one of those fancy, private athletic clubs, and we dined overlooking the squash courts.  The food was great, and for dessert I helped myself to their chocolate mousse.  It was surprisingly good, from a non-chocolatier.  Though I guess not that surprising given the general quality of the place.


The first shop on my list to visit from there was the original La Maison du Chocolat location, since La Maison one of my very favorite chocolate spots in NYC.  But before I got there, I ran into the flagship, original Laduree.  That's sort of how it is in Paris.  Oh, there's something famous.  Oh, there's another of the world's best chocolatiers.  It got to be the point that this stuff was in the way.  "Ugh, wat is this giant building blocking my way to the next chocolate shop?!  Oh, that's the Parliament.  Of France."  

Anyways, everyone talks about Laduree's macarons constantly.  I told some guy at the punk show in Berlin that I was going to Paris, and he started going on about Laduree's macarons.  You've probably heard of them.  I'd always preferred La Maison's, so I thought this was a good opportunity to create a macaron taste test. 

hard to miss

Spoilers: their chocolate macarcon, while excellent (and certainly one of the best available in NYC) came in fourth (out of about six -- though all wound up being excellent... spoilers again).  They had a special, Santa Domingo-origin dark chocolate macaron that was even better, and it was both my and my friend's second favorite macaron that we tasted.

I also purchased a "Buvette Chocolat" cake.  It was good but not exceptional.  Not wanting to waste stomach space, I went to throw out a big chunk of it.  But standing over the trash I found myself taking "just one more bite" over and over again until it was almost gone. The thin bottom layer, though, I threw out without any hesitation, as it was made with nuts.

La Maison du Chocolat:

From there, I went to La Maison du Chocolat.  I consider most of La Maison's products to set the standard for exceptional chocolate products.  If you can do better than La Maison, in anything, you know you are making a top-of-the-world-level product.  If Sprungli sets the bar in Zurich, La Maison sets the bar higher in Paris.

I bought two bonbons -- a Ghana-origin, Akasombo bonbon and an "Extreme" dark chocolate bonbon.  The Akasombo was delicious, of course, though my favorite of their origin bonbonbs remains Caracas.  The Extreme was good too, but a bit fruity.  I also purchased a truffle, which was exactly the kind of excellent standard-setting truffle I was looking for.

Finally, I purchased a dark chocolate macaron.  La Maison has three types of chocolate macarons, dark chocolate, dark chocolate with nibs, and milk chocolate.  The former two have always been my favorite macarons.  Unsurprsingly, the dark chocolate macaron was my favorite in the taste test.  Somewhat more surprisingly, it was also my friend's favorite.  Angel agrees with me as well on this, so it is now canon in my mind that La Maison makes the best chocolate macaron.

Jean-Paul Hevin:

From La Maison, I went to Jean-Paul Hevin.  I had been to his outpost in Shinjuku, Tokyo, and it blew me away.  In all fairness, though, I hadn't eaten all day, and Tokyo is not a world's mecca for chocolate.

I purchased his "Guayacuil" chocolate cake, and it was very good -- better than, but in the same league as, Laduree's Buvette.  I think after the Peclard cake in Zurich, my standards were sort of off the charts.

I got two bonbons -- a "Carraibe" (Caribbean-origin)  bonbon and an "Amere" dark chocolate bonbon.  Both were amazing and lived up to my memory of Tokyo.  They actually were better than the bonbons at La Maison, which puts Jean-Paul Hevin in an elite crowd.

I also purchased his chocolate macaron.  It was extremely hard to grade, because the top four macarons were clearly of one type -- fancy and indulgently chocolatey.  But Jean-Paul Hevin's was totally different.  It was darker in color and tasted like a chocolate teddy graham.  (I love chocolate teddy grahams.)  So it just wasn't trying as hard, and it was really a wonderful experience in its own right.  That said, if you had to put it next to the macarons from La Maison, Laduree, or Pierre Herme (to come), it wouldn't stand up.

Finally, I purchased a dark chocolate bar (the silver-wrapped bar on the bottom left of the last picture in this review), but it wound up being too fruity for my liking.

After my amazing experience in Tokyo, I had very high expectations of Jean-Paul Hevin.  While it did not disappoint, it was the first casualty of "not-as-good-by-comparison" -- something that was continually repeated in Paris, a city with an overwhelming number of the world's best chocolatiers.

Michel Cluizel:

I also stopped by Michel Cluizel's flagship.  Because he has a nice shop in NYC, I did not feel the need to go nuts -- his 99% bonbon is my favorite bonbon in the world, probably, but since I can get it anytime in NYC, I let it go.

I did purchase a chocolate macaron.  It was actually similar to Jean-Paul Hevin's, in color and taste.  It was a bit crusty, texture-wise, but nonetheless excellent.  I made a mental note not to neglect the macaron next time I'm at the NYC shop.


I needed a break, so of course I went to the home of one of the densest chocolate products in Paris -- Angelina, famous for its extremely thick hot chocolate.   It was a weekday during the day, and there was a line out the door:

a dignified wait

Surprisingly, the line moved fairly quickly, and quite soon I was upstairs, looking down on the poor suckers waiting:

what suckers

I ordered a hot chocolate (obviously) and the Chocolat Africaine Cake.  That's "African Chocolate Cake," for those of you who don't speak french.

I was prepared to be unimpressed by the hot chocolate.  Afterall NYC has City Bakery, DT Works (or had it least), D'Espresso, Grom, and tons of other super-thick hot chocolates.

i definitely made myself at home

It still totally impressed me.  I don't think I'd rate it more highly than City Bakery, but City Bakery is my childhood favorite and may get an unfair boost.  It definitely at least holds its own with any other thick hot chocolate in NYC.  It's very thick.  So thick the top layer becomes a film if you let it sit too long, much like in the chocolate pudding you probably made when you were a kid.  Only this isn't pudding.  It's hot chocolate.  (I think.)  But taste-wise it was just as impressive as texture-wise.  It's incredibly rich and chocolatey.  When you use so much chocolate in your hot chocolate, the bean really matters, because the flavors of it will dominate the drink.  Angelina chooses wisely.

The cake was slightly less impressive.  It was probably my least favorite of the Paris cakes I purchased.  That said, it was still totally excellent, and I was unbelievably full already.  So I'm not sure it got a fair shake.  The bar in Paris is just ridiculously high.

Debauve et Gallais:

I then stopped by Debauve et Gallais, but I pretty much only had the stomach to eat a piece of dark chocolate.  It was excellent and chocolatey -- I guessed it was Ghanaian, but they would not confirm.

I also purchased two bars -- 85% and 99%, both blends.  Both were a bit melty when I ate them -- they melted more easily than some of the other bars I purchased.  Also, neither was bitter at all, particularly surprising from the 99%.  That said, the 99% did include sugar, soy lecithin, and extra cocoa butter, which probably explains both the meltiness and the lack of bitterness.  I preferred the 99% to the 85%.  I thought their solution to the bitterness problem was creative and worked just right.  It's definitely among my favorite 99%s I've ever had, if not my favorite (I usually like things around 91%, so 99% can be a bit high for me).  The 85% bar was less exceptional, but still completely excellent.  

I finished my Debauve et Gallais experience totally impressed.

Pierre Herme:

Next stop was Pierre Herme.  I picked up a chocolate macaron for the taste test, and it beat expectations by the most.  Given my preference for La Maison, I tend to trust a store full of chocolate to make chocolate macarons rather than a store full of macarons.  But Herme did an unbelievable job.  The macaron came in third in our taste test -- right between the special and regular Laduree macarons.  Later, when talking with some French friends, they were surprised Herme did not come in first, so I guess the secret is out in France much more than in the US.

I also bought a Chuao, Venezuela-origin dark chocolate bar.  It was excellent.  It was really good even amongst all the high quality bars I was purchasing at the time.  Like I took a bite and was like, "This is great," and then started to go on with my day, but then had to go back and be like, "No, this is really great."  That said, the flavors and textures were not all that memorable over time.  All I really remember is how much I enjoyed it.  Which I guess is what is most important here.  Let's not let all this chocolate blog glory go to our heads.  We're just looking for something delicious.


My last stop of day #1 was Richart, and by then I did not have the stomach for, well, anything.  I picked up a chocolate bar that actually did not get eaten until I got to Nairobi, almost a month later.  It was excellent.  Two friends and I, starving at the time, wolfed it down in record time.  Much like Idiolo bar I purchased at Truffe, it was a quintessential Venezuelan bar, with all the flavor notes one would expect from there.  And it was almost as good as that memorably exquisite bar.

Bottom Line: This was just day one.  Will David's stomach survive day two?  The suspense must be killing you.

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