Thursday, May 30, 2013

Fine & Raw truffles and bonbons

We have already reviewed Fine & Raw favorably before -- twice.  But I have definitely discovered their best line of products: the truffles and bonbons.

Here is a truffle bar:


It is shaped like a small chocolate bar, but it has the consistency of a truffle.  The real magic?  No heavy cream (or any other dairy) involved!

They also make bon bons, which have a slightly softer consistency:



The truffle bar is exceptional, but the bon bons are maybe better -- really special.

Lastly, they have a "bonbon bar," which is exactly as described -- a thin layer of bonbon on a dark chocolate bar:


It's also great, but it's the weakest link.  The real strength of the bon bons and truffle bar is turning the ingredients and taste of regular dark chocolate into a different and awesome texture.  This is very important to me.  While the bonbon bar is unarguably delicious, its texture is less distinctive than the truffle or bon bons.

Bottom Line: Truffle and bonbon texture with pure dark chocolate taste.  Genius.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Rabot Estate 90%

Seriously, I do have the best friends:


Ok, so I am gonna be honest GBP 4 for a bar of chocolate is not shocking to me, even at only 35g.  Also, on some research, I think Rabot Estate is somehow related to British chocolatier Hotel Chocolat, but I don't really understand how.

Especially given how pretty it looked.  Here is what was in the package:


Sure, it looks beautiful, but how does it taste?

Let Rabot Estate answer that: "[m]ultilayered flavours soon reveal themselves -- dried fruits, roasted nuts and a hint of jasmine."

Let me answer that better:  It tastes delicious.  It has interesting flavor notes, but it is rich and chocolatey.  It makes you think without being overpoweringly fruity or citrusy.  It's not sharp.  It's complex and great.  And the flavor notes, I think, would make it palatable to someone who normally is more comfortable with something closer to 85% than to 90%.

Bottom Line: Thank you, Annie, for getting interesting, new chocolate from England, to Nairobi, to Chicago, to New York.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Organic Avenue: featuring Gnosis, Hail Merry, and Keen-Wah Decadence

You may have noticed I have recently been posting a lot of vegan items.  That's because I spent a whole month vegan.  During that month, I stopped by Organic Avenue, which seems to be some sort of high-end, pre-made juice bar, with lots of salads and other "organic," vegan items.  And lots of chocolate.  I got something lame for food, but I also got some chocolate:


I got some sort of flourless, chocolate, mint tart from Hail Merry and some sort of chocolate protein bar from Keen-Wah Decadence.  I quick examination of the interiors will tell you which was better:


The Hail Merry tart was great.  I have previously had their chocolate macaroons, which are also great, even though I don't like macaroons.  On the contrary, the Keen-Wah Decadence bar was just gross.  I took a few bites, then threw it out.  I never throw out chocolate.  But it was definitely the Hail Merry tart that was the decadent chocolate item.

I also got a little, bite-sized piece of Gnosis 70% dark chocolate:


Gnosis is another one of those raw, organic, agave-and-coconut-using brands that I wish I hated more than I do.  The square was actually quite good.  It will never be able to hold its own against the great bars out there that actually roast their beans and use real sugar, but still, this was pretty delicious.

Bottom Line: I am finding these "aggregator" stores, on the Dean & Deluca model, are actually pretty good places to try a variety of chocolate items.  We had the Manhattan Espresso Cafe, we had Treehaus, and now we have Organic Avenue.  Among the items, I highly recommend Hail Merry.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Rescue Chocolate "Forever Mocha" 66% and "The Fix" 66%

Another couple stops at Treehaus, and another couple bars of chocolate.  


I had seen Rescue Chocolate offered before, and I was not interested.  My chocolate does not need a cause -- Chocolate is the cause.  Plus, if they can afford to donate proceeds anywhere, then they are probably skimping on quality to raise more money.  

So I ignored rescue chocolate until I tried one of their free samples.  Honestly, I was blown away.  It was the "Forever Mocha," and I don't even like mocha.  It was amazing.  


I later went back and got the more straight up version -- "The Fix."  It was also excellent, but not as good as the Forever Mocha, for some reason.  It was a little fruity, I think, which the mocha flavor helped cover.


In any case, Rescue Chocolate has made a believer out of me.  It was only later that I discovered the chocolate is made by Tumbador, with whom I have had a good experience before.

Bottom Line: If a mocha-flavored chocolate bar sounds up your alley, then I can't imagine a better bar for you than the Forever Mocha.  I have certainly never had one.  If that's not your style, the regular dark chocolate is still a great option.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Epicerie Boulud Flourless Chocolate Cookies

Angel brought me some cookies from Epicerie Boulud, which is, as far as I can tell, not an epicerie at all, but rather a bakery.  That said, "flourless chocolate cookies" sounds up my alley.


The cookies, though, weren't for me.  They look fudgey, but they are actually too crispy, and they have bits of hazelnut in them.  The real problem is that Epicerie Boulud is so close to Levain that there is really no reason to go there for cookies.  There are plenty of reasons to go to Epicerie Boulud -- it's a very good bakery -- but if you are in a cookie mood, take the walk to Levain.

Bottom Line: Didn't get anything quite right with this item.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sandcastles

I got these cookies at Treehaus:


They are delicious and, surprisingly, vegan.  The kind of cookie that just crumbles and melts deliciously in your mouth -- thanks to the power of coconut oil, maybe?  They were sufficiently chocolatey to earn my approval, though not that kind of intense, decadent chocolatey that you can get at Levain.  I mean, let's face it -- Levain makes a puddle of chocolate with a little cookie visible if you hold it up to the light just-like-so.  This is a legitimate cookie through-and-through.

Bottom Line: Delicious chocolate cookies.  For people who like cookies.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Treehaus again: Fine & Raw 83% with nibs, Nibmor "Daily Dose" 72% mint + nibs


Treehaus continues to be my primary provider of chocolate bars, given its selection and proximity to my office.  On a recent trip I picked up a Fine & Raw 83% & nibs bar:



Leila recently reviewed the Blueberry bar and really liked it.  I had a similarly good experience with the 83% & nibs.  I tend not to prefer raw, but this was really excellent.  Also pretty:



I have reviewed NibMor twice before, to good and bad results.  The NibMor 72% & nibs was also really good:


It might not be the #1 mint bar around, but especially as a nice $1 bite, it really hits the spot for getting that chocolate & mint flavor without being overwhelmed.

Bottom Line: Two more successes with two brands we already liked.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Tokyo Mini Truffle Cake

My dad was in Tokyo for a few days, and brought me these:



I have eaten them all, and I still have no idea what they were.  The ingredients were all in Japanese.


They were pretty delicious, but I feel a little gross.

Bottom Line: Whatever these are are pretty delicious, but you might feel a little gross.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Nature Valley Oats n Dark Chocolate

I don't like things in chocolate.  They make chocolate worse.  What's the point?  But I do like chocolate in things.  Because it makes things better.


So, if you are going to do something "healthy" like have a granola bar (and for the record, the Nature Valley granola bars are way better than the mushy alternatives), you might as well throw some chocolate chips in there.

Bottom Line: Why eat a granola bar without chocolate chips when you can eat one with chocolate chips?

Royce' Pure Chocolate: Venezuela Bitter & Ghana Sweet Box

Royce' is a Japanese chocolatier, whose name is explicable only by way of its country of origin.  They make a lot of different things.  They are famous for something called "Nama," which seem a lot like pav├ęs.  After studiously exploring their West Village pop-up, I purchased a box of "pure chocolate," since they did not have any of their chocolate Nama.  



The box  had my two favorite origins -- Venezuela and Ghana.  The percentages were 68% and 60%.  I later realized something bizarre: they had milk powder and flavorings!  Why bother making such a high percentage only to add a tiny bit of milk and mess up the tempering process?  Why bother to make a single-origin chocolate only to add flavorings?


I must admit, there is an answer: because these were totally delicious.  Now, there were two problems: (1) The Ghana and Venezuela origins tasted the same, due to the flavorings, with the only noteworthy difference being the sweetness. (2) As a result, they soooorta make you feel a little gross when you eat too many.  But those problems are not really that bad.  You are eating delicious chocolate.  Somehow the tempering managed to last even with the milk powder.  Stop complaining.

Bottom Line: Maybe not as high quality as they look, but still delicious.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Vegan Treats at Viva Herbal Pizzeria


I know it's hard to believe for non-vegans, but delicious vegan pizza exists.  As a non-vegan, I eat it regularly instead of normal pizza.  My go-to spot is Viva.  (This spot is no secret to vegans, and in fact it has been probably 10 years since it was all the rage.)

Viva also has some good (and vegan) chocolatey desserts.  So, there is this bakery in Pennsylvania called Vegan Treats.  Prior to the giant vegan explosion of the last few years, their baked goods were THE ubiquitous vegan baked goods.  And for good reason.  

Viva has three chocolatey items from them -- brownies, cookies, and whoopie pies.  I can't really get behind the whoopie pies (or basically any whoopie pies), and the cookies are pretty good, but the brownies really shine.  They are up there with PeaceFoods and Vegan Divas for best vegan brownies in the city.


Vegan Treats are available elsewhere.  They are available a lot of elsewheres.  I don't know which of those places sell the brownies.  But do yourself a favor and give them a try -- they are delicious even if you are not vegan.

Bottom Line: One of my most-frequented establishments in NYC.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Chocolate Class at the Brooklyn Brainery

The other week, I went to a chocolate class at the Brooklyn Brainery, taught by Andrea Booth. What follows are some of the key chocolate facts that I learned, though frankly I'm only going to be able to hit some of the high points here, as the class was an hour and a half long, and there was an awesome powerpoint and everything. If you live in NYC and Andrea offers the class again, you should go.



Anyway, Chocolate education, coming up:

- 75% of the world's chocolate comes from Africa, yet Africa comprises only 3% of the world's chocolate consumption. There's an equatorial line called "the Chocolate Belt," which is the region of the world where cacao trees can grow. Hawaii is the only place in the U.S. that lies inside the Cacao Belt.

- There are three varieties of cacao: 1) criollo, the original cacao plant, from the Amazon basin, which is the "purest" cocoa. 2) forastero, mostly found in Africa, which is heartier than criollo but less complex in flavor. 3) trinitario, which is a neatural hybrid between the criollo and forestero and represents 75% of world chocolate production.

- For a long time, chocolate was a beverage only. In Mayan culture, everyone could drink cacao, regardless of their social class. The Aztecs lived further north, therefore they could not grow their own chocolate, and therefore only the wealthy had access to cacao. The first chocolate bar was manufactured by Fry's Chocolate in 1847 -- previously, all chocolate had been in beverage form.

- The Catholic church formally declared that chocolate was not a sin, and that Catholics were allowed to drink it while fasting.

- Raw cacao has twenty times the antioxidant levels of red wine. i.e. it's a health food, duh.

- Askonsie runs a program called Cocoa Honors, which sent a group of teens to Tanzania to work with cacao farmers there. Seriously. How much would I have wanted to do that when I was in high school? Or right now? I would do that right now.

We also tasted an Aztec cacao drink called xocoatl, which Andrea had made. Xocoatl is made of chilli-water, cacao powder, and vanilla. It smelled good, like chocolate and vanilla. Doesn't sound that bad, right? But it tasted like spicy water. Not like chocolate. Drinking it was an interesting experience. But I would not advice whipping up a batch for your next party.

And we did a taste-test of eight bars. Look at them! We got to eat as much of each bar as we wanted!



My favorite, and the overall winner of our class's taste test, was the Pralus Sao Tome and Principe 75% bar. Andrea cleverly hid a Hershey's bar in the taste test, and that wound up getting voted third place out of eight. People were pretty chagrinned when they realized they'd voted for Hershey's over the fancy Pralus and Mast Brothers bars that were also on the table. My notes on the Hershey's bar say, quote, "Kind of weird," which is ironic and I guess goes to show that packaging is everything. Or at least it is many things.

Andrea also recommended some of her favorite chocolate producers, which I'll list for you here because she is obviously an expert, and we should all try whatever she recommends (except for the Xocoatl!):

- Pascal Caffet
- Francois Pralus
- Michel Chaudun
- Patrick Roger
- Jacques Torres

BOTTOM LINE: We can all always learn more about chocolate. And then eat more of it. Obviously.

sNice

sNice is a vegan cafe and sandwich shop in the West Village.  They have all sorts of things.  Like a muffin made mostly out of seeds and a chocolate cookie:


The chocolate cookie was legitimately delicious.  I find vegan cookies typically quite lacking, but this one was definitely worthwhile.  It will never hold a candle to Levain, but if you are vegan or lactose intolerant or just in the West Village rather than the Upper West Side, these cookies are a good option.

Bottom Line: Chocolate cookies are delicious, sometimes even when they are vegan?

BLU Boy and Jacques Torres Bon Bons

I have previously made the bold statement that Jacques Torres is overrated.  This may be slightly true for the hot chocolate, which is excellent but which is a bit unfairly considered the best in the city by many. However, it is far more true for things like their bon bons.  

For my birthday, I received in the mail a package of BLU Boy-brand bonbons from a chocolatier in Bloomington, Indiana.  Maybe they are famous in Bloomington, but their fame has not made it to NYC.  I also received a box of bonbons from Jacques Torres, which is famous worldwide and extremely beloved in NYC.


The Jacques Torres bonbons were delicious.  They were chocolate bonbons.  But the BLU Boy bonbons were clearly multiple tiers better.  This was true both of the pure chocolate ones and the flavored ones.


They were even prettier!  Which is not to say I did not eat and enjoy the Jacques Torres ones:


It's just that I don't quite get the hype.

Bottom Line: Here at Chocolate NYC, we love chocolate from NYC.  But sometimes New Yorkers overrate things from New York because they are from New York.  Jacques Torres is a classic example.  Bonbons sound fancy, but it's something that a random chocolatier in the Midwest is capable of doing, and doing well.  This is a lesson in keeping an open mind.

Baked Hazelnut Chocolate Pudding? at Cornelia Street Cafe


What the heck is this and why is it so unfairly delicious?????

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mothers' Day!

Chocolate milkshakes at the Chocolate Room as "dessert" after our innumerable chocolate desserts at Smorgasburg.  Happy mothers' day to me?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

L.A. Burdick

After Leila visited L.A. Burdick in Boston, it stoked my memory, and Angel and I went to L.A. Burdick in Flatiron.  I had not been in about 4 years.  (Which of course has not stopped me from expressing opinions.)  Of course this meant we needed to buy one of everything:


LA Burdick is especially known for its selection of single-origin hot chocolates.  When I went four years ago, I got a sampler of hot chocolates and... a lot of other things.  Here is the email I sent to Leila and Angel immediately after getting home:
LA Burdick has not great bon bons and chocolate mousse, BUT it has a really interesting hot chocolate situation.  they have 6 different single origin hot chocolates.  the madagascar, ecuador, and venezuela were GREAT.  the bolivia, dominican republic, and grenada were not good.  the first three were, like, around vosges-level good.  which is really good.
Yes, we have been serious about this stuff for many years now.

In any case, my previous suspicions were confirmed on my return.  The bon bons were nothing special.  The cake was a disaster -- there was some fruit situation hidden sparsely inside.  The macaron was adequate.

But the hot chocolates were great.  We got Madagascar and Venezuela, having pulled up my old email (though a few of the flavors had changed).  I of course preferred the Venezuela.  Angel preferred the Madagascar.  But, in any case, two satisfied customers.

We also got two chocolate bars:


They were clearly crafted with love:


And in fact they may have been the highlight of the whole stop.  Both bars were excellent.  I had never seen this before, but they had a percentage range -- 69%-72% and 70%-72%.  Not that much of a range, but still.  The former was a blended origin with nibs and the latter was a simple Venezuela origin.  Both were delicious, and both were devoured within a few minutes.

Bottom Line: If you keep it simple here, you will do very well.  Just don't get carried away.  In other words, don't be us.

Friday, May 3, 2013

how to make the best hot chocolate ever

As you may recall from our Best Chocolate of 2012 list, my current favorite hot chocolate in the city is from Fresco, in the East Village. The reason why it's so good is because Fresco doesn't use chocolate powder, or chocolate syrup, or chocolate pieces-- they create their hot chocolate by melting their amazing chocolate gelato with some milk.

Earlier this evening, I was idly thinking about Fresco's hot chocolate, as I so often do. Then it occurred to me, "Hey. They're not the only ones capable of melting chocolate gelato and milk together in a mug."

So I tried it myself. Fortunately, I had some Talenti gelato in the freezer, and some milk in the fridge. I put a scoop of the gelato into a mug, added in some milk, and microwaved it.

I know I'm no chef, but trust me when I tell you: this was phenomenal. Truly, truly phenomenal.

BOTTOM LINE: Now you know how to make amazing hot chocolate in your own kitchen, using only two, readily-available ingredients. You're welcome.

Fearless 75% and 70% Green Tea Mint

During passover, I needed a bar without soy lecithin.  From a bodega.  In Gowanus/Park Slope.  It was an emergency.  Enter: Fearless:


I devoured this bar really quickly.  I loved it.  It tasted super chocolatey.  I discovered later that they are based in Berkeley and all their beans are sourced from Brazil, which honestly surprised me, because Brazil is usually to fruity of an origin for me.  But the 75% bar was terrific.

Later, on a Treehaus run, I spotted Fearless again.  The 70% Green Tea Mint sounded super appealing -- I love green tea and mint, after all.  It was very good, but not nearly as good as the 75%.  The green tea brought out the fruitiness of the bean a bit too much.


Which is not to say that I didn't devour it just as quickly as the 75%.

Bottom Line: Among my favorite Brazil-origin bars.  Also, I really want to be friends with that adorable, winged elephant on the package.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Chocolate Bread from Le Pain Quotidien

As you may recall, I've had some bad experiences with chocolate bread. But I'll try anything twice-- sort of-- I mean, if that anything is chocolate, then yes.

Le Pain Quotidien is a multinational French/healthy/natural/organic(?)/bakery place. It's like the healthy, sit-down cousin of Au Bon Pain. Their hot chocolate is pretty good, but when I was there recently, I decided to branch out and order their chocolate bread.



As you can tell, Le Pain Quotidien's chocolate bread came with cream and jam, as if it were a scone. Delightful. The chocolate chips in it were a little melty and quite lovely. But there weren't enough of them. There was a lot of bread that was brown-colored, so I guess it had some cocoa powder mixed into it or whatever, but it did not taste very chocolatey. It mostly just tasted like bread, unless you bit into a part with a chocolate chip in it.

BOTTOM LINE: If you're looking for breakfast, this chocolate bread is a good option. If you're looking for chocolate, I think you will find this insufficient. It's okay. Just go eat a chocolate bar.

Noi Sirius 70%

Early on in this blog's history, I mentioned how much I love this bar.  I love this bar so much that I am obsessed with anything made from it.  Tragically, I hadn't seen it in whole foods for a while, partially because I avoid Whole Foods wherever possible, but just this week we were reunited:



Yeah, the odds that I was going to get this back to my office before tearing into it were zero, but at least I put it back together enough to get a picture.


I also finally figured out why this bar is so unbelievably good.  Most chocolate involves the following ingredients: cocoa mass (basically roasted beans ground into paste), sugar, soy lecithin, and vanilla.  Often, bars will add some cocoa butter (the fat from the bean, separated out) for texture.  Noi Sirius does the opposite -- they add cocoa powder (the non-fat from the bean).  For flavor.  It is the most intensely chocolatey bar you can get at a mid-percentage.  Basically every chocolate lover who tries this utters some sort of profanity-laced exclamation of joy.

The other thing about this is that it avoids a classic paradox.  Most high quality chocolate is savored, maybe because it is very fatty.  Low quality chocolate, as we've discussed, is devoured, and regrets and illness quickly follow.  Noi Sirius is a chocolate bar that can be devoured without any regrets at all.  Except for the regret that you realize that the package contained two bars totaling over 1000 calories, and you just ate them both in 10 minutes, and maybe you should go to the gym?  

Nah.  In any case, you'll feel great.  They were probably Good Calories.  Right?

Bottom Line: Is it bad manners to stuff two entire chocolate bars in your mouth at once?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Chocolate Crisis

Today I was a Chocolate Hero.

Here's what happened:

I was at the kitchenette in my office when I overheard a co-worker cry, "Oh, no."

I turned around to see her standing by the vending machine. Here is what had happened inside the vending machine:



Now, I can't think of many things worse than paying for chocolate, believing you are about to eat chocolate, and then not eating chocolate. "I guess this is a sign," my co-worker said, "that I shouldn't eat M&Ms."

I was like, "Damn right. It's a sign you should eat something better than M&Ms."

I made her come with me to my office, and then I opened up the chocolate drawer. The chocolate drawer in my desk is pretty big, and filled to overflowing. I was so upset by what my co-worker had been through that I offered her everything. I offered her my Chocolove Orange bar. I offered her my fancy Amedei I Cru napolitains. I even considered offering her some of my Zaabar mint bar, but I'm not that heroic.

Eventually she settled on some Thin Mints. She was like, "You have a lot of chocolate in here." I was like, "I know."

BOTTOM LINE: The workplace is full of dangers and disappointments. That is why we keep chocolate drawers.

Churros and Chocolate at Tortaria

Tortaria is a perfectly serviceable... tortaria.  But don't bother with dessert:


The churros were too hard, and the "chocolate" was probably 99% corn syrup.

Bottom Line: Nope.