From Chapel Hill, we drove up to Washington, DC. This is another tale about the value of friendship: I did not have time to procure any chocolate for myself, but my friend Mick came through in the clutch (again) and delivered three chocolate bars (of which I selected two to keep)! They were both from Salazon Chocolate Co.
The first was "sea salt and coffee," which does not sound like something I would like, but I found myself shocked to be enjoying it thoroughly! It's easily the best coffee-infused chocolate bar I've ever had, though in all fairness this is a low bar. The other bar was pure sea salt. And I mean that (almost literally). It is honestly one of the saltiest things I've ever tasted. Like, it's saltier than just eating table salt. Which is something I've been known to do. But my personal problems aside, this bar is for the intense salt fan, who does not stop at pouring bottles of Morton's down his or her throat.
I finally returned home, accompanied by the tiniest baby. Waiting for me at home, to my near-chagrin, were boxes of chocolate. My real estate agent, with whom I have not spoken since getting my apartment over 6 years earlier, had sent me a box of Richart bonbons.
Hot off that stunninig success, I was quite excited. Alas, even the "pure" chocolate pieces were not rich enough, and the flavors were uninteresting. It came with a sheet of pure chocolate, which was a little waxy. Perhaps Richart in the US is very different from the Richart in France.
That said, I also had waiting a box of Chocolate Bar bonbons, which knocked Richart right out of the park. They were excellent.
They were not quite at the level of, say, Stephan Dumon, and they were about a half-step behind the offerings at the Chocolate Door, but they were still really excellent -- closer to the near-perfect Dumon bonbons than to the box of Richart I'd just sampled. This is our third time reviewing Chocolate Bar, and we've had consistently great experiences.
But honestly, that was just the beginning. There was also a milk chocolate bar, from Anne Taintor, which was almost indistinguishable from the one I bought at the Belgian tourist shop -- same ingredients, with the same cacao content.
The US bar had a slightly creamier texture, but they were so similar that it would be impossible to pick a favorite between them.
I also received a Fairytale-brand brownie.
Actually, two of them. They were surprisingly excellent, not just for prepackaged brownies, but for any brownie. They were fudgey, fun, and delicious.
Lastly, my friend Ellie brought over her amazing chocolate cake and her dad's literally professional chocolate mousse. Wow.
Seriously, guys. Friends: I recommend them.
Finally, I had a chance to sit down with Leila and my friend Austin and do a tasting of a few of the chocolates I'd saved from Europe.
First, we went over the five bars from Del Ray in Antwerp. This was an interesting experience, because first we ate them in decreasing percentages, but then i did a blind taste test to pick favorites. I never believed that the order was too important, but boy was I wrong. When you do a blind taste test, switching back and forth among the different percentages until you settle on an ordered list of favorites, it becomes very clear that the sweetest will win. If you eat a piece of chocolate and follow it up with a higher percentage piece, it just won't taste as good. While my initial list was probably 66% Carribean, 72% Venezuelan, 54.5% Blend, 70% Sao Tome, 85% Ecuador, my blind taste test list was 66% Carribean, 54.5% Blend, 70% Sao Tome, 85% Ecuador. Basically, the 72% Venezuela bar really suffered for its higher percentage. That said, the lower percentage bars here were truly excellent. When I tried the blend, I was shocked at how uncandy-like it was given how sweet it was.
Leila and Austin did not agree with me, but they didn't like any of the bars as much as I did. Their order was the same -- Venezuela, Sao Tome, Ecuador, Carribean, Blend. They did not appreciate the sweetness of the lower percentage bars. That said, we all generally agreed that the Sao Tome was just sort of a more bland version of the Venezuela
We made a spreadsheet of our comments:
Anyways, we also taste-tested three different mint-flavored bars. I didn't like any of them. But we all agreed that the Zaabar bar was the best, followed by the Dolfin bar, and the 1888 bar wasn't even in the running. We all hated the 1888 bar. Leila noted that it tastes like the Dentist. The Dolfin was definitely the most complex flavor wise. I was dubious of the overly-natural taste in the Zaabar bar, but Austin and Leila loved it.
We also tried the two "original recipe" bars from the Choco-Story Museum. Both were stone ground, which Leila cannot tolerate and Austin thought was weird. The Aztec bar was more finely ground than the Spanish. But flavor-wise, we all agreed that the Spanish combination of flavors was vastly superior.
Whichever peppers and spices they put in there were definitely a historical improvement. I actually enjoyed it, despite the spice, which I never would have expected.
Lastly, we reviewed my top two truffles from Europe.
We agreed that the Mary truffle tasted like fudge, and childhood. I preferred it slightly, but Leila and Austin agreed that Chapon had created pretty much the Platonic Ideal of the truffle. Hard to dispute.
Bottom Line: I lead a very difficult life.