Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Organic Nectars 70% and Hammond's 65% Bee Pollen

Here are some things I ate:

To be fair, the Fine & Raw truffle bar is something I always eat.  It is amazing.  And it was a fan-favorite at our Party.

The Organic Nectars bar was nothing special.  A bit muted in taste.

On the other hand, the Bee Pollen bar was just weird.  The taste was interesting, but the texture was awkward.

Bottom Line: Sometimes, stick to what you know.

Domori Origin Sampler

I don't have pictures of this, but I actually did a blind tasting of a Domori single-origin sampler pack.  By myself.  In my apartment.  Because that is how I roll.

Now we've talked about Domori a lot.  And, while we've consistently liked them -- enough to include their baking chocolate in our Party without any sort of sponsorship -- we have never been quite as excited as when we first tried them.

To my surprise, my blind taste test backed this up.  The Pocelana origin was by far my favorite.

Bottom Line: Domori bars are very expensive per ounce.  Fork over the extra money for the top-of-the-line Porcelana bar.  You won't regret it.

Equal Exchange

In the lead-up to our chocolate party, we had a lovely sit-down meeting at the Chocolate Room with a representative from Equal Exchange.  We learned all sorts of things -- apparently they are completely worker-owned, so every employee is a part owner (a true co-op), and they were among the Fair Trade Chocolate pioneers in the US!  But let's be real here: the important questions is whether it is delicious.

And the important answer is yes.

Here is what David sampled:

There was an 80% (Panama-origin), a 71% blend, a 65% (Ecuador-origin), and a 55% with almonds.  They were all really good, honestly.  

The 55% with almonds compared nicely with the Chocolove.  It did not have sea salt, which made it taste a little more mature and a little less addictive.  For better or worse.

David's favorite -- perhaps unsurprisingly -- was the 80% Panama, and we were very glad to have that at our Party.  We compared it with the Chocolate Room's new, proprietary 80% bar (Ecuador-origin), and the Equal Exchange bar was far better.  It was chocolatier, less fruity, and didn't have some of the weird flavor notes.  The Chocolate Room bar also had a somewhat unsatisfying finish, whereas the Equal Exchange kept its rich flavor throughout.

Leila also sampled the 55% semi-sweet chocolate chips but was not very impressed, maybe because they're only 55%. Fortunately Equal Exchange also offers a bittersweet 70% chocolate chip bag, which may be more her (ahem) bag. The 55% are probably delicious in cookies, just not so great for directly pouring down your throat.

Interestingly, several weeks earlier, I (David) had returned home from a long day (or two) of work, and a friend had left a series of coded notes, leading me on a scavenger hunt around my (one bedroom) apartment.  The reward?  Mini-tablets of 55% Equal Exchange!

We lead charmed lives, you guys.

Bottom Line: Equal Exchange is a great company, with great people and great chocolate.  They're gonna do great.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

NuGo Dark Mint Chocolate Chip

I very vaguely reviewed a NuGo protein bar before.  Well, I had another one, and it reminded me that they are good.

I mean, for a protein bar.  It's not a chocolate bar.  But it does what it does.  Builders Bars are still the way to go, but this is a good option if those are unavailable.  

Bottom Line: Very serviceable, dairy-free, gluten-free protein bar.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Russian chocolate bars

My friend brought me some chocolate from Russia.

It was good, but it was candy.  One of them was that aero type of chocolate, which I don't really understand.  It's a pretty brilliant scam to put less chocolate in your chocolate, I guess, but it adds an interesting, and only mildly upsetting, texture.

Bottom Line: Other countries also have commercially available chocolate, and it is also chocolate.

Chocolove 55% with Almonds and Sea Salt

I generally like Chocolove.  But I generally don't like stuff in my chocolate.  What will I think... of THIS:

Dun dun DUNNNNN.

It's good.

I mean, it's like... if you want to replace peanut M&Ms in your life.  It's sort of hearty and filling, but also chocolatey.  But unlike M&Ms, it won't make you feel gross.  Because it's all quality stuff.

But I mean... my opinion remains that it would probably be better without the sea salt & almonds.  But that's just me.

Bottom Line: Excellent for what it is.

I should not be allowed on the internet.

So I tried to buy chocolate on the internet a while ago, and this happened: is a terrifying place.  In a good way.

Slitti GranCacao 90% bar.  UliMana truffles (peppermint, nib, and dark).  Lake Champlain bars (80% and peppermint crunch).  Artisan du Chocolat Java 72% bar.  Domori Arriba 70% bar.  El Rey Gran Saman 70% bar.  Chocolat Bonnat Trinite 75% bar.  Patric In-NIB-itable bar.

The Lake Champlain bars were the least fancy, which actually made me like them a lot.  Chocolat Bonnat was unsurprisingly excellent.  They are often found in very large sizes with price tags outsized even for their weight.  It's worth it.  Everything was good, though.  Except my wallet and waistline.

Bottom Line: Be careful when making internet purchases.  It's not safe out there.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Murray's Halva Update

Better than the last few times, but still not great.

Bottom Line:  Stay tuned as the story develops.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Floss Halva

So our friend Emily went to Turkey or someplace (package indicates Turkey rather than someplace) and picked up some Floss Halva.  She swears by it.  Leila and I don't.

It is sort of like a cross between chocolate-covered halva and chocolate-covered cotton candy and chocolate-covered sweetened plasticwax.  Leila spat it right out.  I didn't, but I did notice the subtle hints of vomit to go along with the heavy refined sugar taste.  Emily assures us that it must be this brand -- whatever brand this is.  She said that it is usually better.  Maybe that is the case.  If you are in Turkey, though, maybe go with the chocolate baklava from Gulluoglu instead (not available in the NYC store -- I checked).

Bottom Line: Nah

Murray's Chocolate Halva

So halva is delicious.  For those not familiar, it is a cake made entirely of calories, by grinding sesame seeds together with copious amounts of sugar.  I don't know the details, ok?  But it's important.  Not the details.  Those aren't.  The halva is what's important.  Chocolate versions often look like this:

Every weekend, my family picks up bagels from Murray's and brings them over to my grandpa's place for brunch.  They also pick up dessert there, which is always their chocolate halva.  It's typically really excellent.  Just the right combo of sickeningly sweet and super greasey.  The key, though, is to get a corner piece to maximize chocolateyness.  I fight my dad over the corners.

Anyways, we'd been getting this halva for years, and it's been really excellent.  But recently it's been totally dry and unpleasant.  As if it'd been sitting in the store for, like, a month.  Our whole family noticed.  We don't really know what's up.  We even asked, with no satisfying answer.  Anyways, we have brunch tomorrow, so I'll let you know if there are any developments.

Bottom Line: A classic product currently in a holding pattern.

Enchanted Chocolates 70%, Chilmark Chocolates Dark Bar, and Roh-Kaolade 50% Mild with Dates and Other Stuff

My parents came back from three trips and bought me three bars, of which two are pictured here:

Actually, those are just the wrappers.  I ate them too quickly.  SORRY.

I've reviewed Roh-Kaolade before, and I preferred the 60% bar with spirulina to the 50% with dried fruits (i.e. trockenfruchts).  The spirulina bar was weird and interesting, while the 50% was just a bit too sweet, and the trockenfructs only made the problem worse.  I mean, still chocolate.  But sweet chocolate, and with fruit.  Tockenfrucht.  

Martha's Vineyard-based Enchanted Chocolates, creators of the "Dark Vader" 70% bar "made with Magick & Love," is better at chocolate than at spelling.  I mean, nothing about this bar is fancy.  There is a pretty good chance it's just re-tempered Valrhona or something.  I am not sure.  Maybe not.  In any case, it was good.  It tasted like chocolate.  Sort of candy-ish chocolate, but what do you expect?

The Chilmark Chocolates bar was the best of the bunch.  Also Martha's Vineyard-based, Chilmark Chocolates is a store that constantly has a line out the door whenever it's open.  It's the premiere chocolatier up there, but it's nothing too fancy, in reality.  But that does not mean it's not good.  They get a surprisingly rich flavor out of whatever-it-is that they use.  Their chocolates (bonbons etc.) are what they are known for, and they are really quite delicious, but their dark bar does the job.

Bottom Line: If you're on Martha's Vineyard, Chilmark Chocolates are definitely worth a try.  Just get someone else to wait on line for you.

ChocAlive Vegan Truffles

These were a gift, and they were actually pretty good!:

The number of chocolate products that can be made successfully as vegan products is swiftly increasing.  Things often come out even better when you do them yourselves, though -- a friend recently made me some vegan truffles, and they were phenomenal.

Bottom Line: Another decent vegan substitute, though not a mandatory purchase.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Gobo Chocolate Cake

This cake was pretty good:

If you're already at Gobo for a meal, I recommend getting it, but no need to go out of your way.

Bottom Line: Another way to put chocolate into your face.

Physical Graffitea Chocolate Tea and Chocolate Chai

So we've talked about chocolate tea before.  I've liked it in the past, including at Physical Graffitea, which is a truly lovely establishment on St. Marks.

That said, I do recommend the Florentine tea over the Chocolate or Chocolate Chai.  Neither of the latter two were sufficiently chocolatey -- which surprised me, given how good the Florentine was (and that was chocolate-hazelnut!).  Honestly, with or without sugar, it was hard to detect much chocolate flavor at all.

Bottom Line: A really great tea shop, but if you want a chocolatey tea, stick with the Florentine.

Mast Brothers bar with nibs

Here is a beautiful photo of one of NYC's most well respected chocolate bars.

The quality of the photo roughly matches my indifference towards the bar.  We've talked about Mast before.  There's nothing wrong with the quality, but they go for a fruity profile that I'm just not that into.  The nibs definitely help, though, and this is my favorite Mast bar.

Bottom Line: If you like nibs and fruity bars, and want to support the local bean-to-bar scene, go for it. But you can definitely do more chocolatey for cheaper. 

Wink Cocoa Dough Frozen Dessert and So Delicious Chocolate Greek Yogurt

Ok, guys.  This is a PSA.  "Cocoa-Dough" sounds like the most delicious thing in the world, but apparently it tastes like NYC roadside slush.

The yogurt, like most of the So(y) Delicious products, was palatable.

But really, it's stuff like this Wink junk that gives vegans a bad name.

Bottom Line: Be careful out there.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Amedei launch event

As you may recall, we've been fans of the Italian chocolatier Amedei for a while now, which is why we were so excited to be invited to the opening party for their first U.S. store, right here in New York City!

When we arrived, we were handed shot glasses of hot chocolate, which was excellent. Then we were introduced to Cecilia Tessieri, Amedei's founder and the only female maƮtre chocolatier in the world, who was in town from Tuscany for the store's opening. In fact, it was her first time in New York City, but she politely turned down our offers of a tour.

Starting in 1990, Cecilia spent seven years traveling the world to find the finest cacao beans harvested at plantations held to stringent ethical and humanitarian standards. We had a great conversation while we were there about how important it is to support chocolatiers who make a point to steer clear of slave labor and are willing to pay a premium to do so.

To this day, Cecilia maintains complete supervision over the production process from bean to bar. She showed us around the room and told us about the various chocolates they had out for tasting. From our earlier post on Amedei, you know that they do single-origin bars very well, and those were prominently displayed. Here are some of the other goodies we tasted:

Incidentally, "nut brown" is milk chocolate, "Toscano black" is the dark chocolate, and "9" is a dark chocolate blend of nine plantations, and probably our favorite of the four.

Another of our favorite items was this Nutella-like spread, using hazelnut butter instead of actual dairy.  It was even richer than Nutella, if you can imagine.  Very highly recommended.

This was a fondue pot with melted chocolate, and you could dip vegetables into it, you know, for vitamins and health and stuff. This is a carrot bathed in chocolate, which is how all carrots should be.

There were delightful truffles with white, "black," and "nut brown" coatings. The store is open now, and it sells these truffles and bars and the single-origin napolitains, as well as chocolate spreads and hot chocolate mix.

BOTTOM LINE: Go to the Amedei Store. Welcome them to the neighborhood. Eat some chocolate. That's what we did!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Chocolate Show! an Off-Broadway musical

Chocolate, as we know, is really important. So it makes sense-- it's almost necessary-- that somebody has now created an off-Broadway musical about this wonder food, entitled (appropriately) The Chocolate Show!.

The premise of The Chocolate Show! is that the Chocolate Lovers Association of the World (CLAW) needs to select its newest Queen of the Cocoa Bean, as its previous Queen (played by actress and comedienne Emily McNamara) is being forced into retirement.

The next Queen/King of the Cocoa Bean will be an audience member, and volunteers get to compete for that honor by going up on stage for various feats of "talent," "intelligence," and "style." (If you go to the play, you will understand why these words are in quotation marks.)

PRO TIP: if you compete in one of these challenges, you will get a chocolate prize. Even if you lose. And you probably will lose, since, at least in the performance I saw, the winners of each contest were the adorable child competitors. Which makes sense, since they would be the most upset if they lost. Anyway, all I'm saying is that it doesn't matter if you win or lose, all that matters is that you throw your hat into the ring, that's how you get the chocolate prizes, so for God's sake raise your hand.

Incidentally, the prizes for each competition round are from Knipschildt, City Bakery, and 2Beans, which means we have tasted every chocolate prize at this musical. Also, every audience member gets a square of 2Beans chocolate just for walking in the door. And you will need it, because it's damn hard to watch an hour and a half of people singing and dancing about chocolate without needing to eat some yourself.

The audience participation scenes are alternated with scenes that humorously relay the history of chocolate, and musical numbers that celebrate familiar chocolate-eating experiences. Some of these musical numbers include "The New Wine," which is about the artisanal tasting craze surrounding chocolate (which I know I am guilty of with this blog), and "The Secret Life of Cupcakes," which about the challenging process of selecting a cupcake at a bakery.

My favorite out of all these numbers, hands down, was "Hot Chocolate," which is a vibrant ode to my favorite beverage, hot chocolate (of course). My feelings for hot chocolate are so deep and so strong, and this song perfectly encapsulates that. It also makes me wonder that in a world of love songs, nobody before has ever managed to capture the love a human being feels for hot chocolate. You can listen to a clip here.

The plot is thin, and there's little in the way of character development or narrative tension. But it is a fun show with great energy, and it goes by quickly, peppered with small bits of humor and wisdom, such as the Queen of the Cocoa Bean's comment, "As far as I'm concerned, if it's chocolate, it's a meal" (so true), and CLAW's motto: "Everyone deserves chocolate." It would be an excellent show to take older children to (not least because they might get to win a crown), and it's fun for adults, too. I just wouldn't suggest taking anyone who doesn't like chocolate. They wouldn't understand.

The Chocolate Show! is open now and runs for the next two months at the 47th Street Theater.

BOTTOM LINE: Everyone deserves chocolate!

P.S. Photo credits in this post go to the show itself--you can view more stills from the musical on their website.

some thoughts on chocolate calzones/pizzas/panini

There's a new artisanal pizza place in Clinton Hill called Emily. Let me be clear: Brooklyn has more artisanal pizza places already than any one city could ever need. But let me also be clear: artisanal pizza is not about "need." So I went.

Obviously Emily's greatest draw was its s'mores calzone. But I have to admit to being disappointed.

The chocolate was melty, and the marshmallow was melty, and the dough was fluffy, and all that was good-- but those three components didn't really work together right. There were a lot of bites that were just dough, which is wasteful. Also a fair few bites that were just dough and marshmallow, or just dough and chocolate. But too little of this calzone included both chocolate and marshmallow, and it was in those brief tastes that I had the full s'mores experience.

For a better delivery of chocolate pizza from an artisanal Brooklyn pizzeria, I recommend Forcella's nutella pizza. I was already obsessed with Forcella for savory reasons-- their montanara pizza is literally paradigm-shifting-- and when I tried their nutella pizza, I was even more on-board with this place. This is an excellent chocolate-to-dough ratio.

The one that I most seek out, though, is Bocca Lupo's nutella and banana panino. It's just perfect. I would eat any of these Italian desserts again, but Bocca Lupo's is the one that I would journey farthest for.

BOTTOM LINE: Have you noticed that these restaurants call these "calzones," "stuffed pizzas," and "panini," but they are all basically the same dessert? Discuss.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Valentine's Day is nigh!

Some folks hate Valentine's Day. They think it's a holiday invented by the greeting card industry to make single people feel bad about themselves. I respect this viewpoint. But I don't agree. As far as I'm concerned, Valentine's Day is a holiday invented by the chocolate industry to give all people, whether single or coupled, an excuse to eat more chocolate. And what could be bad about that?

Here are a few special Valentine's Day chocolate-eating opportunities:

Winter Warmers, in Park Slope, is doing a $24 per person s'mores tasting menu, complete with a personal hibachi for roasting your own marshmallows. More details on their facebook.

The Chocolate Room is doing a $10 per person, two-course Valentine's Day tasting menu. Details here. This is a good choice if you're into Riesling as well as chocolate.

City Bakery will be offering their traditional Love Potion hot chocolate, which is available once each year, on Valentine's Day. Last year David finally tried it. Spoiler alert: it's basically City Bakery's normal amazing hot chocolate, PLUS a layer of fudge on top. WINNING. Incidentally, if you can't make it to City Bakery on Valentine's Day, don't forget that all of February is their Hot Chocolate Festival, a.k.a. our favorite month of the year.

Similarly, February is Pancake Month at Clinton Street Baking Company. Not every day's pancakes involve chocolate, but their Valentine's Day special obviously does: chocolate chunks, fresh raspberries, and raspberry-caramel sauce.

Also, just in time for Valentine's Day, both Amedei and Laudree Soho are now open, so if you want to buy yourself or your loved one some brand-new-to-NYC chocolate products, those are your best bets.

If you don't want to eat chocolate for Valentine's Day, but you just want to think about eating chocolate, then you can go to The Chocolate Show!, a musical about, well, chocolate, running from now until early April. No show on Valentine's Day itself, but tickets are still available for February 15 (or, as we like to call it, the Boxing Day of Valentine's Day).

Finally: a fantastic round-up of Valentine's Day chocolate gift boxes, thanks to NYMag:

Did we miss any important Valentine's Day chocolates? Tell us in the comments, or tweet at us @NYCChocolate.

BOTTOM LINE: We don't really need an excuse to eat chocolate. But we'll take it.