Wednesday, January 27, 2010

kee's chocolates

The next stop on my New York Chocolate Tour was Kee's Chocolates. This is one of the chocolate stores that comes steeped in legend. The people I know who consider themselves foodies, or a serious cacao connoisseurs, (note not "chocolate connoisseur" but a "cacao connoisseur" - you know the kind of person who is always saying "ca-ca-o" and you want to grab them sometimes, tie them up and force them to say "chocolate") all seemed to violently come to the conclusion Kees was "really goooood." Not the ordinary kind of good that comes out as one short syllabic burst but the kind of good that requires lots of extra o's, some inflection, and making an ecstasy face when saying it.

Kee's is conveniently located near a subway stop. You need to take the C/E line and get off at Spring Street. Don't take the B line like as I did even if someone tells you that you can because you end up in the Bronx. Then you have to reverse your steps, which is especially troublesome if you're channeling your inner Crazy Chinese Bag Lady and have a puffy coat on, a bag, purse and snow boots (because the heels of your cute boots snapped off at the airport the minute you walked off the plane. I realize my heel snapping off doesn’t explain the puffy coat but that’s too lengthy to get into here).

If you're not on the look out, you will walk right past the storefront. There is an awning that is clearly marked Kee's - but somehow it's easy to miss (though keep in mind that I am the kind of person who gets lost going home). However, for me this just added to me, the mystical allure of Kee's, as if I were discovering a secret.

The door is properly creaky and the store is really, really teeny, tiny. Miniscule. There is a counter and a narrow aisle so it's just you and the chocolate, not that that's a bad thing.

The first chocolate I inhaled is the one you see pictured, the
Crème brûlée. If a bon-bon can be sexy this bon-bon defines sexy. Composed of a dark chocolate shell and filled with fresh Crème brûlée this is a bon-bon that comes with instructions: you are recommended to put the whole thing in your mouth. Do not take this instruction lightly or assume it is easy because as bon-bons go - this is a large one, about one and a half inches in diameter and three quarters of an inch tall. Of course, I didn't have to be asked to do this twice. In it went. When I bit into the dark chocolate shell my mouth was filled with creamy, fresh, rich Crème brûlée. Divine. Heaven. Needless to say, I greedily purchased all the remaining Crème brûlées while saying in my head (I hope just in my head) "Mine, mine, all mine" like Daffy Duck. These have to be eaten promptly as they are made daily and last at most two days and only if they are properly refrigerated. Honestly, I just couldn't take that risk and therefore ate all of mine that evening. I know, the lengths I am willing to go for Chocolate Grail is really incredible. I deserve the Chocolate Heart of Valor.

The second chocolate I tried was the Black Sesame, that is currently featured on Kee's homepage. I have to admit that this particular chocolate has kept me up at night. It is a dark chocolate truffle coated with toasted white and dark sesame seeds. The rich, earthy dark chocolate just had a simply wonderful thick texture and the crunchy sesame seeds were toasted perfectly, one second from toasted-seed oblivion (all you cooks out there will know what I mean). It is so good that once you tasted Black Sesame you will instantly know that it appears on Kee's Chocolate's home page with good reason.

These first two chocolates precipitated a chocolate frenzy, which helped me begin to define how much chocolate I can eat in one sitting. Of note, I loved: the Almond- White chocolate truffles coated with toasted almonds; Honey Saffron - dark chocolate saffron with a taste of honey; and especially the Black Rose - dark chocolate truffle with black tea infused with rose petals - so unusual but wonderful.

When I left the store, clutching my bag of Crème Brulee’s, another woman was walking in. She asked me what I thought about the chocolates. I made my ecstasy face and answered "goooood."

kees chocolate contact information

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

jacques torres chocolates

I was inspired after reading in the Los Angeles Times about Zoom Media Chocolate Tours in NYC (yes the Times good for something)...I decided I had to go on a Chocolate Tour myself. However, it was not to be. I could only go on a Friday, and because of the near-record cold and rain, not enough people signed up. Can you imagine? A little cold and rain getting between you and chocolate? So, I did what any self-respecting chocoholic would do: I laced on my clunky winter boots (this is because the heel snapped off on my stylish boots at the airport right after I stepped off the plane - dashing my dreams of looking cute in New York and leaving me looking like a crazy Chinese bag lady) and went on my own chocolate tour.

One of my stops was Jacques Torres. What was nice right off, was for the directionally challenged like me, were the gaily colored flags - announcing chocolate: you know immediately and unequivocally that you've come to the right place.

Jacques Torres BuildingThen, before you walk in, you get to peek in the windows and see real life chocolatiers, working away on mounds of delectable chocolate. By the time you've walked inside you are positively drooling and dizzy. It gives you the feeling of being in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, even though there are no squirrels shucking nuts - or Oompa Lumpas for that matter. But trust me on this one - you do get that feeling.

When you enter you see that the Jacques Torres store is delightful inside: full of gift boxes, a counter top of truffles and bon-bons, baked goods and a little espresso/hot chocolate bar. It's all the chocolate you could ever dream of - so you can OD on chocolate conveniently in a really adorable place.

Naturally, I had to sample all the truffles for the sake of Chocolate Grail and I was not disappointed. Jacques Torres makes a mean bon-bon. Each chocolate I sampled (before going into a chocolate coma) was wonderful - rich, creamy, with a deep chocolate taste. And what really special was that each flavor was intense: you don't need to consult the brochure or have a master palette. Yet, none of the flavors was so intense it overwhelmed the chocolate - a perfect balance. I also liked that there really is something for everyone, whether you like white, milk or dark chocolate.

Some of my favorites included: Ginger - fresh ginger root with a dark chocolate ganache, Cinnamon Praline - cinnamon ganache and ground hazelnuts; Pistachio Marzipan - homemade almond and pistachio paste; Wicked Fun - chocolate ganache spiced up with ancho and chipotle chilies; Golden Expresso - rich espresso with a touch of gold; and one of the Jacques Torres signature chocolates, Almondine - crushed candied almonds.

However, the two that knocked me off my feet were the Earl Grey (premium Earl Grey tea infused in a dark creamy center) and Fresh Coconut (fresh coconut suspended in white chocolate with dark chocolate). The latter was so creamy, so fresh I felt transported onto a sandy beach with palm trees fluttering ahead. And in this economy, that's a sweet deal.

jacques torres contact information

Labels: , ,

Friday, January 8, 2010

derry church artisan chocolates

Derry Church Chocolates
Sampling a collection of Chef Eric Cayton stunning creations posed a tantalizing chocollectual dilemma: is chocolate greatness achieved by height of taste, balance of flavor, or richness of texture?

Rome, a cappuccino and milk chocolate truffle, started the discussion. Initially, savor the rich espresso flavor—Ah, TASTE! Then, subtly, the creamy white chocolate mousse cap adds depth and BALANCE, and you pause, enjoying—you guessed it—a combination of superb TEXTURES which suspend the experience in your mouth. And so it is with each Derry Church Artisan Chocolate.

But Cayton is clearly not afraid to take chances! Take for example the Palermo truffle, which features lemon juice, Italian Limoncello liqueur, bittersweet chocolate and white chocolate ganache, topped with thin roasted almonds. Can you imagine? It’s marvelous! And sure to extend your flavor universe.

We also thoroughly enjoyed Cairo, the result of smooth medjool date paste meeting aged balsamic vinegar reduction in a bittersweet chocolate ganache. This is not your standard truffle. Rather, it is a delicacy which makes one wonder what they just experienced. Was that for real? Did I just taste dates and vinegar and chocolate and love it? I did!

And then there are also the (almost) traditional chocolates. Caramel lovers will swoon over the Derry Church as we did. London presents crisp butter toffee underneath a crust of roasted and crushed almonds. Dublin mixes Bailey’s Irish Crème, Arabica coffee, and milk chocolate ganache. Each of these borders on mainstream, but somehow accomplishes just that much more than you expect. Why? We suspect it’s because Chef Cayton gets it. Taste, balance, and texture!

Derry Church ChocolatesWe end our journey with a few of the most creative and provocative chocolates you will find anywhere. New Orleans will captivate, as it offers Bananas Foster ganache (fresh banana puree, brown sugar rum sauce, a splash of cinnamon) with two chocolates. Forget about it! This is greatness! San Francisco proves that Mother Nature can participate in the Derry Church adventure very well, thank you: think Northern California Black Mission figs, organic molasses, roasted walnuts, bittersweet chocolate and bittersweet chocolate ganache topped with sugar crystals. And Savannah may have won our Blue Ribbon, combining peach jam in white chocolate ganache inside a bittersweet cup, topped with toasted oat/brown sugar, cinnamon crisp, and a drizzle of white chocolate.

After tasting so many of these chocolates, it did not surprise that Mr. Cayton has chosen only the finest ingredients, sourced from around the world, and fresh local butter and cream, for his creations. What did surprise was how marvelously each works together, without a hint of gratuitousness or pretense. The result is some of the most distinctive chocolate treats that we know of, which we intend to enjoy often! And who knows? Maybe help us understand if we’re drawn to Derry Church Artisan Chocolates mostly because of their taste, balance, or texture.

derry church contact information

Labels: ,

Thursday, January 7, 2010

clarine's florentines

Clarines FlorentinesThere are so many ways to describe Clarines Florentines it's hard to know where to start.

The first thing that comes to my mind is that feeling you get when you're snacking on a bowl of nuts and then you get that nut that is just perfect. It's been perfectly roasted and seasoned and you think - this is a good time to stop because I tasted the perfect one. Well, every sliced Almond that goes into Clarine's Florentines is like that one perfect nut - it as if she toasted each one individually by hand. Look at them! Each one is perfectly caramel colored and slightly toastier and browner around the edges.

The next thing is the high nut to brittle ratio making these a more sophisticated Florentine plus the brittle is just right - buttery and rich but not too buttery and rich and the perfect combination of crunchy and chewy. Clarines FlorentinesClarines FlorentinesNow you're thinking - this is excellent. I need to try these now - and you do - but I haven't finished describing the full experience of a Clarine's Florentine yet because it gets better. This very excellent Florentine is also coated on one full side - not a chintzy corner dip - but with a nice generous full side of Guittard bittersweet chocolate. So when you bite into this crunchy, chewy, nutty delectable treat, you also get this creamy bittersweet chocolate melting in your mouth. It's heaven really.

However after devouring my last bag, I think perhaps the best way to describe a Clarine's Florentine is 60 seconds because that is about how long they last before the only things left are a ripped cellophane bag, a pretty, yellow silk ribbon…and a dreamy memory of something that was really, really gooooood.

clarine's florentines contact information

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

cake monkey cakewich

Cake Monkey CakewichThere might be better things than a Cake Monkey Cakewich but if there are, they don't yet exist in my plane of reality.

Just the name - "Cakewich" fortells good things. I mean when you hear the word "cake" alone - you know that it's going to be pretty good. Then you hear the "wich" part which tells you that it is going to be better than pretty good and believe me it is better than pretty good. Much, much better. Phenomenally, "I am not going to share this with you not even a bite, even though I honestly love you and you are my life partner" better.

Let's start with the fact the Cakewich comes in a little foil package with a sticker of Cake Monkey's adorable logo on top. This allows you to peel all the crinkly foil away to reveal this perfectly sized bittersweet chocolate coated cake. Can you say anticipation? I mean say it without drooling.

Then you get to taste the Cakewich. When you bite the cake you get this mouthful of rich, fresh, chocolate cake - not too sweet, filled with real vanilla cream. And you can see the layers - the top chocolate layer, the filling and the bottom chocolate layer, all encased in bittersweet chocolate - (did I mention that yet?) I don't know why but visually it is extremely satisfying - like you accomplished or discovered something important. This already sounds pretty good, huh? But it doesn't end there. Inside the cream are Valrhona Crunchy Pearls, kind of like of a Rice Crispies but chocolate. They give the Cakewich some crunch. And something about the mix of different textures - the bittersweet chocolate coating, the soft rich cake, the crunchy pearls - tells you a higher power really does exist.

Cake Monkey CakewichCakewiches come in several flavors, Black & White (my personal favorite), Raspberry Red Velvet and Peanut Butter and Marshmallow. There is much chocolate goodness at Cake Monkey: Yo-ho's, Inside Out S'Mores, 'Nuff Said Chocolate Crumble Cookies and adorable mini Cakes - perfect for weekend indulgences - Must Love Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Caramel Cake, Monkey Crunch Cake...and more, enough to keep you in Chocolate Nirvana for a while.

I discovered Cake Monkey Cakewiches last year at Unique LA, and have been addicted ever since.

Cake Monkey Cakewiches are so amazing, I pre-order and drive a two hour round trip - and I hate driving, to satisfy my addiction - but good news is on the horizon for Cake Monkey fans - owner and master pastry chef Lisa and Elizabeth will be opening a storefront soon!

cake monkey contact information

Labels: , , , , ,