Monday, November 25, 2013

2 Beans again: featuring Pacari 85%, Aeschbach "Special" 80%, SPAGnVOLA 70%, Aesbach "Amer" 60%, Venchi 56%, Domori Javagrey milk chocolate, and Aeschbach Hazelnut

It was a friend's birthday, which seemed like a good excuse to go nuts at 2 Beans.  Hint: Anything is a good excuse to go nuts at 2 Beans.

So this is a lot of chocolate, and all of it was good.  I didn't try the Domori Javagrey milk bar or the Aeschbach hazelnut bar, but they were probably great, because those companies are great.

Of the other five bars, the lowest percentage was actually my favorite.  But that's not really fair -- the Vench 56% has long been my favorite low-percentage (under 60%) dark chocolate bar on the market.

Other than the Venchi, the two Aeschbach bars were expectedly amazing.  I especially liked the less fancy, 80% bar, though I am not sure if it is due to the less-fanciness or due to the higher percentage.

The SPAGnVOLA bar, though, was surprisingly excellent.  I had never heard of the company before, and they stacked up well with Aeschbach, which were one of my favorite companies from Zurich.  Pacari was bringing up the rear this time, likely because it was slightly fruitier than the others, but all four bars come recommended.

Bottom Line: Sometimes you hit the jackpot.  Most of those times are at 2 Beans.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Bedford Cheese Shop: Middlebury Chocolates 75% Dominican, Dick Taylor 70% Ecuador, Ritual Chocolate 75% Balao (Ecuador), Twenty-Four Blackbirds 68% Dominican, and Zoe's Chocolate Co. Raw Bar with Nibs

This was a surprise.  I got tipped off by a friend of a friend that Bedford Cheese Shop on Irving Place had a great chocolate selection.  And they did!

I had not tried any of these before, and I really stocked up.  With all the fancy, single-origin chocolates, my favorite was actually Zoe Chocolate Co.'s "The Raw Bar" with nibs.  Because it was the chocolatiest.  Obviously.

But the Dick Taylor bar was great too.  The consensus was that the Ecuadorian origins had a leg up on the Dominican origins.  We had lots of complicated things to say about these bars, but honestly, who really cares?  They were all delicious.

There was a split over whether the Ritual bar (above) was better than the Dick Taylor bar.  I had a mild preference for the Dick Taylor, but they were both excellent.

The Middlebury bar (above), had SO MUCH WRAPPING that it made the chocolate look tiny, even though it was a totally respectable quantity of chocolate.  It was good, but not quite as rich as the others.

The Twenty-Four Blackbirds bar (above, smaller than it looks) suffered from some bloom (as you can see).  As a result, it was probably the weakest of the four.  In other chocolate-offs, though, it could easily have been the best -- it was up against stiff competition and not in top form.

I did not get to try the Poco Dolce toffee, because it had dairy in it, but it seemed to go over pretty well.

Bottom Line: A great haul from a surprisingly great chocolate shop.  Or cheese shop.  Details.

2 Beans: featuring Domori 100% Criollo, Domori Biancomenta, Domoro Velvet Cremini, Mitzi Blue 80%+90%, and Konnerup & Co. 70% Peppermint

So after the Ghiradelli tasting, Leila and I had only one thing on our minds: more chocolate.  So we went to 2 Beans, where we purchased about 100 chocolate bars:

2 Beans is a phenomenal place, by the way. They have gelato and a coffee bar and just shelf after shelf of brand after brand of chocolate bars, including many of our favorites that are usually hard to find, and including some that we had never even heard of before. That is why we had to buy so many.
Take a look at what goes on inside this store:


We started with the Mitzi Blue bar.  It was a large disc of 80% chocolate with caramalized chili nibs, and with a smaller disc of 90% chocolate embedded:

It was good, but the smaller disc seemed a bit unnecessary.  Leila and I are also not the biggest fans of spice, but I guess this one was really on us, since we bought the bar with the chili nibs.

We also got some Domori "velvet cremini."  I am still not sure exactly what they are, but they are soft and chocolatey and creamy and sweet and delicious.

The above is white chocolate, somehow.  Mint white chocolate.  I actually liked it, but obviously Leila did not.  She has no patience for that.  But if you like white chocolate and mint, the Domori bar is highly recommended.

Similarly the Domori 100% bar was great for what it was.  It was bitter, even for 100% bars, so Leila was not down, but I gobbled it up.

I think our consensus favorite, aside from the Cremini, was the Konnerup & Co. peppermint bar.  It was chocolatey and refreshing, and can go along with the many, many other delicious peppermint-dark chocolate bars out there.

Bottom Line: The real bottom line here is that 2 Beans is incredible.  Aside from the Meadow, which is geographically very far away, it has the best chocolate selection in NYC.  Truly global in its reach, with excellent taste.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ghirardelli "Holidays in July" party and tasting

A few months ago, David and I went to a Ghirardelli party where we were introduced to a new line of Ghiradelli baking products which can be used to prepare Christmastime treats. We didn't write about it then because, hello, it was not Christmastime. But now it (almost) is!

Let me start by telling you something about my identity: I love Ghirardelli. I always have. I swear by their brownie recipe. The Ghirardelli Original Chocolate Cookbook was my first--and for many years my only--cookbook. I refuse to go on a trip without a bag of Ghirardelli semisweet chocolate chips in my carry-on luggage. So when they invited me to a party, I felt kind of like I was in high school and the girl I had always idolized had invited me to her kegger. Or something.

We showed up and there were savory passed appetizers. As you may recall from our chocolate seder, we have a particular interest in savory chocolate foods (though we always find that they are not chocolatey enough). At this party I ate turkey quesadillas with mole, and polenta with caponata and chocolate nibs. Tasty stuff, but I was mostly saving my appetite for the main attraction: desserts.

So Ghirardelli is launching a few new products, and they had baked for us to show us how these products could be used in the kitchen. Sissy Biggerton, a TV host and 'lifestyle expert,' was demonstrating. I don't exactly know what a lifetstyle host is, but it sounds like a great job, and I think I'd take it if somebody offered it to me. Apparently it involves hanging out with chocolate baked goods sometimes, so, I'm down.

One of the new Ghirardelli products is candy making and dipping wafers, in both white and dark chocolate. I am psyched about this because on occasion I have baked chocolate chip cookie dough truffles, but I can't do it very often because it's so hard to find chocolate candy making wafers. Now Ghirardelli is making these, which you can buy in a normal grocery store and melt in your microwave, so I have no excuse not to make cookie dough truffles all the time.

Also you can melt these wafers around a balloon and then remove the balloon and then you have an edible bowl, as per Sissy here:

One of the other new products is hot cocoa. Obviously Ghirardelli already made hot cocoa, which I know because I drink it just about every night before I go to bed. But now it is in a new package, and in addition to the Double Chocolate and Chocolate Mocha flavors, they have created a new Chocolate Caramel flavor.

Below you can see something else they fed us, a mandarin espresso hot cocoa sip. Maybe David should have drunk this, since now he likes coffee in his chocolate. Personally I liked the orange flavoring, but I still don't like espresso. I tried it, though. Bravely I tried it. For you, dear readers.

They also fed us--and gave us recipes for!--a dense, thick, delicious pumpkin spice chocolate cupcake; a lighter mint-chocolate cupcake; and a chocolate cookie with wonderful chocolate frosting. The idea behind this party was something about "small bites," like people will come to your holiday party and they will only want to eat bite-sized portions of your dessert dishes rather than sitting down with a huge hulking piece of cake and a fork. I like this in theory, though in practice it meant that I ate like five of those pumpkin spice cupcakes. Because they were small.

BOTTOM LINE: Ghirardelli is my favorite way to bring quality chocolate, hot cocoa, and baked goods into my home kitchen without going to a lot of trouble or expense. This party helped remind me of that. And I hope this post helps you with your upcoming Thanksgiving entertaining. Cheers!

Hu Kitchen 72%, Almond Butter + Puffed Quinoa, and Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding

Hu Kitchen is an interesting place -- it's a restaurant, but they also make their own chocolate bars.  The bars use coconut, and you can sort of tell, but the "Simple" 72% was still pretty good and chocolatey.  The Almond Butter + Puffed Quinoa bar was less appealing -- too heavy on the almond.

But the surprising star was the Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding.  I love pudding.  Especially from Puddin'.  But since going vegan, my options have been severely limited.  My previous two attempts did not go so well.  The vegan creme-freche or whatever it was they put on top was actually pretty good.  What interfered were the candied walnuts.  Look, I like candied walnuts.  Throw them on a salad.  Bam!  More delicious salad.  Because sugar.  But I am eating chocolate pudding, not salad.  Candied walnuts are not an upgrade from what I already have in my cup.  They are in the way.  So, when you order, I recommend asking them to hold the walnuts.

Bottom Line: Worthwhile in general, including for chocolate, and especially for the chia seed pudding.

Trader Joe's 72%, chocolate covered espresso beans, and chocolate covered cherries

Trader Joe's: people have opinions.  But good news: I love opinions.  And ain't nobody gonna out-opinion me, no sir.

So here's my opinion: nice.

Trader Joe's makes a 72% bar.  It tastes like chocolate.  You know what chocolate is supposed to taste like?  Chocolate.  So let's just consider that a success.  It's sort of like a quality upgrade from the Food Emporium or CIBO Express bar, but it's a similar principle.  Nothing fancy but likely to win plenty of taste tests.

I also got my hands on dark chocolate-covered cherries, which I gave away (cherries are not my thing) and dark chocolate-covered espresso beans, which I should have given away, but instead devoured over two long nights at works, winding up shaking pretty noticeably for about a week straight.  Remember that I have only recently come to tolerate coffee and chocolate, so this was a pretty intense experience.  But I'll say this: I ate them all, and I wasn't complaining.

Bottom Line: There is a reason the lines are so long.  It's for the chocolate.  Right?

SOY's Chocolate Tofu Pudding

SOY is a wonderful little restaurant on the Lower East Side.  It serves delicious Japanese home cooking, with a nice emphasis on tofu dishes -- though plenty of other options are available.

Unfortunately, the chocolate tofu pudding was not quite up to par.  Probably because the emphasis was on the tofu and not the chocolate.  I definitely recommend the restaurant, but look elsewhere for dessert.

Bottom Line: Just not chocolatey enough.

Raaka "Heartbreaker" Espresso 75% and Fine & Raw Truffles again

Another day, another trip to Treehaus.  As usual, I picked up a Fine & Raw truffle bar.  I eat so many of these that it could bankrupt a small country.  There are three types -- Almond Chunky, Truffle Chunky, and Cacao & Coconut.  Truffle Chunky is my favorite, as it's the richest and chocolatiest, followed by Cacao & Coconut -- a bit much on the coconut -- and Almond Chunky -- definitely too much almond.  But all three are really incredible.  They also happen to be vegan, but it's one of those things where you keep checking the ingredients, because it is so good it is hard to believe.

Okay, so I have a confession to make.  Leila, look away.  Guys, I don't hate coffee so much anymore.  I still don't love it.  I still prefer my chocolate without it.  But I can definitely tolerate it.  I also typically prefer my beans roasted rather than raw.  But somehow Raaka's espresso bar works.  I don't think I'd take it over a good, plain 75% bar, but a coffee lover should definitely check it out.

Bottom Line: Coffee lovers should go for the Raaka espresso bar, and every human should basically subsist off the Fine & Raw truffles.

Food Emporium 64% and Scharfen Berger 62% "Nibby"

Sometimes you just need an emergency fix.  I stopped by Food Emporium and could not decide between the store brand, plain 64% bar or the Scharfen Berger "Nibby" 62% bar.  So obviously I bought both.

Typically, I'm not the biggest fan of Scharfen Berger, because they intentionally make a fruity blend.  People who like that love Scharfen Berger, but it's not my thing.  That said, as has been the case previously, I find the presence of nibs really cuts the problems of a fruity bar, and so I love Scharfen Berger's "nibby" bar.  But the Food Emporium bar is just... super chocolatey.  I mean, it's nothing special.  It's the most generic "real" chocolate you can get.  In many ways, it is very similar to the CIBO Express bar I got at Laguardia.  But I never was snobby about this stuff.  This is chocolate.  It tastes like chocolate.  And that's a great thing.  Nothing fancy.  Next to that, the "nibby" just seemed to be trying to hard.

Bottom Line: I am a big fan of the "Nibby" bar, but sometimes you just want some plain ol' chocolate.

Madecasse 80%

I typically don't love chocolate from Madagascar.  It's supposed to be extremely sought-after, but I have talked to many chocolate lovers recently who share my opinion.  Not naming names.

As a result, Madecasse has never been my favorite brand -- all their chocolate is from Madagascar.  But I decided to give them another shot.  They try to describe their flavors on their bars, which is a nice touch, so I picked out a bar that seemed less fruity.  This one did the trick.  Indeed, it did not taste quite so... Madagascar-y.  80% is a nice percentage, too, with just the right amount of sweetness.  The bar worked.  Obviously, if given the choice, I'd take a Venezuela origin bar over this, but anyone looking for a chocolatey, less-raisin-y, less cherry-y, less citrus-y, less... well.. Madagascar-y Madagascar bar can find a nice one here.

Bottom Line: Chocolate is great, and it's generally worthwhile to give things a chance.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Food Emporium Chocolate Shop: featuring Niederegger Marzipan"Classic" bar, Amedei 70% Venezuela, and Christpher Michael 61% Cacao Nib Bar

Food emporium has a chocolate shop.  It's sort of built into the store on 69th and 3rd.  It used to be more standalone, and the selection was deeper then.  But it's still there, and there are still interesting options.  Observe:

None of these three bars totally blew me away.  The Christopher Michael and Amedei were totally adequate.  Remember that the Venezuela origin was my favorite of the Amedei Cru chocolates, but nonetheless, there are better options.  It's got the flavor notes you'd expect, but they're not as powerful as in some other bars, nor is it as chocolatey.  The same can be said for the Christopher Michael, which -- despite being lower percentage (61% to 70%), I slightly preferred.  The nibs helped.  The nibs always help.

I also got a Niederegger marzipan bar.  Leila loves Niederegger, and I like it too, but I honestly prefer the Rittersport version of this bar.  I think maybe the marzipan is fresher in the Rittersport bars?  They are both German companies, so I'm not sure why that would be.  But it's how it tastes to me.  I also prefer the chocolate in the Rittersport bar.  The only advantage to the Niederegger is the chocolate-to-marzipan ratio is slightly higher.

Bottom Line: While this may not have been the best haul, the Food Emporium chocolate shop has a big enough selection to give you a diverse, new experience each time.  Definitely recommended, and possibly the best bet for a broad pick of bars on the Upper East Side.

Maison Kayser Chocolate Tart and Chocolate Mousse

Angel and I reviewed Maison Kayser when it opened in NYC, and we loved it.  We went back to the original, though there are now three other locations, and we still love it.

Angel still loved the mousse.  She still loved it more than I did, but I liked it a bit more the second time around.  I think I let her deal with most of those brownie bit things on top this time.  

The tart, though, was steller.  Perhaps a bit too much crust -- as is often the case with mini-tarts -- but that is easily ignored.  It's an intensely chocolatey experience.

Bottom Line: This place is really great, and everyone should go there.  Period.

Taza 87%

Taza discs are not my favorite.  That said, this was a nice bar:

I think the thickness may have helped a little, but the fact that it was 87% (as opposed to 70%) helped a lot.  Took away some of the sweetness, and the richer flavor better complemented the stone ground texture.

Bottom Line: Those Taza discs are easy to find, but if you can find one of their high percentage bars, I definitely recommend those instead.

Kyotofu and The Bean Vegan Brownies

Honestly, I have yet to find the perfect brownie in NYC.  If you count the bouchons at Bouchon, that would be the closest.  But trying to find an excellent vegan brownie is even more challenging, though I have had some success.

Kyotofu was a great restaurant and bakery in Hell's Kitchen, but it has closed.  That said, you can still buy some of their baked goods in packaged form at stores.  We got some of their packaged brownies, but sadly they were not up to par.  At the store, they were fresh, moist, and delicious.  And you should have tried their (frostingless) cupcakes!  But in a package, the brownies were left too crispy and dry.  Alas!

The Bean's brownie did much better.  It was appropriately moist, and, though extremely sweet, it was fudgey and chocolatey.  A nice job!

Bottom Line: Kyotofu was better in-person, but the Bean is promising.  I'll have to try more of their stuff.

Jomart Chocolates Smores Bar

At a recent trip to Treehaus, I tried their S'mores bar, just to make Leila jealous.

Unlike Leila, I am not nearly as big a fan of S'mores.  So the fact that this was not an authentic experience did not bother me.  But I think this is closer than most, with nice graham gracker and (vegan) marshmallow to go with a heapin' helpin' of dark chocolate.  Definitely delicious.

Bottom Line: While not yet cleared by our resident S'mores lover, this bar is approved by a chocolate lover.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Chocolate Room Kickstarter Campaign

As you are probably aware, we are big fans of the Chocolate Room in Park Slope. One time we drank milkshakes there. One time we ate a cupcake there. One time we just went chocolate bar shopping there. One time we even took a chocolate-tasting class there!

Okay, fine, just kidding: we have done all those things more than once.

Sadly, the Chocolate Room has to move out of their Park Slope storefront. Luckily, they have signed a new lease on a new shop just down the road, at Fifth Ave. and Bergen Street. Sadly, moving is expensive. Luckily, they have a Kickstarter you can fund.

Even more luckily, the Kickstarter rewards are exactly what you'd hope they'd be; i.e. chocolate. If you pledge $5 you get a chocolate chunk cookie. I have eaten that cookie before and it is delicious. If you pledge $2,500 you get to make truffles with the Chocolate Room's executive chef, but frankly, the odds seem to be against your having $2,500.

There are a lot of Kickstarters for baked goods out there, and clearly we do not post them all, but this one is one of my most beloved food venues, so I encourage you to take a look before the campaign ends on November 25. Here's the link again:

BOTTOM LINE: How could you be anything other than in love with a place called the Chocolate Room?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Winter Warmers

Winter Warmers is a brand-new, seasonal s'mores and hot chocolate shop that opened on Halloween in Park Slope.

As you know, I have tried many s'mores-related food products. None of them have ever compared to the experience of lighting a campfire and pulling out the Nabisco grahams, the Hershey's milk chocolate, and the jet-puffed marshmallows. Some things are just better non-artisanal. But that doesn't stop me from hoping.

In Winter Warmers, I have found my so-far favorite non-campfire s'more product. It does not succeed in replicating the campfire experience. But that's just fine because it's not trying to. It's doing something different.

First, you choose your cookies: graham crackers or homemade cookies? Next, you choose your marshmallow flavor from four different options. Then your chocolate: milk or dark? Finally, you can put on toppings from this wall of candy jars, which is an intriguing s'mores addition.

Then everything goes in an oven-like device for a moment, until it's all melty. Below you can see what Emily and I ate. We wanted something as far off from typical s'mores as possible, so we went with the homemade cookies, the pumpkin marshmallow, the dark chocolate, and some crushed nuts.


My one critique of this place was their hot chocolate. They offer three options: a pumpkin white chocolate (not interested--you know how I feel about white chocolate), a milk chocolate (you know my feelings on that as well), and a spiced dark chocolate, which was obviously what I went for.

The flavor and richness of the hot chocolate seemed good, but it was not warm enough, and they didn't have a way to heat it up any more when we asked. I am going to let this go, though, because I showed up on only their second day in business, which may be too soon to be making demands. I would re-order this hot chocolate at a later date, once they've figured out their temperature controls more.

BOTTOM LINE: Winter Warmers is only around until March, so don't wait! This is a great way to bring a summer campfire dessert into the winter months.