K’s 5-star review: Through a narrow lobby and off the street, Chocolat Moderne is tucked on the 9th floor off the beaten path. Please do not let this discourage your New York chocolate trekking -- it is worth taking the extra step (or, if preferred, elevator ride) to visit. This chocolatier is absolutely stocked with a decadent selection (and I do mean selection and decadent) hosting rack after rack of freshly created bonbons. The lady herself, Joan Coukos, and her hubby were the hands-on reps at the counter, so the charming customer service was stellar. Bonbons are painted in perfectly tempered shell molds (Valrhona has never been in better form) with filled centers that absolutely ooze with a bravado of focused flavors -- from the trending and expected sea salt caramel and liquor-splashed ganaches, to oreintal persuasions such as persimmon peach and shiso lime. Pieces were $2.5-$3.5. Bars $8. Chocolat Moderne has middle man retailers such as D&D and Whole Foods that offer some of their products. However, I would strongly recommend visiting the NY location if it's available to your schedule -- you deserve it!

To narrow down the chocolates we wanted to try, we read reviews of chocolates in Consumer Reports, polled colleagues and friends in the business, and sought advice from Mark Bitterman, owner of The Meadow. For our first review, we took into account availability and usability of online stores: For example, Kee’s Chocolates from New York City came highly recommended from colleagues and editorial publications, but isn’t available online, and our goal was to find something that is accessible to most people. Overall, we came to a well-edited list of 11 of the most highly rated samples to put in front of a panel of nine friends and food experts for a blind tasting.

In 1991, Alessio and Cecilia made a pilgrimage to Tain l’Hermitage, in the Rhône Valley, for an appointment at Valrhona. The Tessieris were humored for a while, but when they were ready to make a deal, they were sent away with nothing. The French wouldn’t even negotiate. According to Cecilia, they were told that Italy wasn’t evolved enough to appreciate such extraordinary chocolate.


See’s ($18 for 1 pound, available nationwide) was one of the value picks in our tasting lineup. Their chocolates tend to be bigger, enough for two bites instead of one, with a mix of dark and milk chocolate, around old-fashioned nougat and nut caramel fillings. While it got three strikes against it, it also got one third place vote. The assortment may be a nostalgic standby for devotees, but it can’t compete with the more boutique chocolates out there. Still, they were far and away better than Russell Stover.
Anette’s Chocolate Factory has a nice variety of chocolates, more than your usual Standard assortment. Examples include the Peach Cobbler, Roasted Hazelnut Morsel, Mint Truffle, Triple Berry, and Himalayan Salted Caramel. They were a bit hit and miss for me, but I would say their milk or dark Ensemble (12 truffles, 18 others) or Anette’s Assorted (30 others) boxes are a good deal.
#1: Ghirardelli Triple Chocolate Brownie Mix — It was neck and neck to the very end. I tallied up the very last judge’s sheet and this Ghirardelli brownie mix won by 1.5 points.  Reviewers said it had a melt-in-your-mouth chewy texture and had phenomenal chocolate flavor. They loved the addition of chocolate chips to give authentic richness.  The high-quality Ghirardelli chocolate put this brownie mix over the top.
I was introduced to Alegio Chocolate on a chocolate crawl and bought a selection to taste at home. The Raspberry had a good balance with strong raspberry and good chocolate working together. The Orange was similar but slightly milder. The Santa Domingo is an unusal combination of green olive, licorice, currants, and apricot. Those flavors actually stood to the side a bit to present the chocolate at center stage. The Espresso worked well with a slightly salted caramel. The Habeñero had a little bite to it, while the Honey was of course sweet. Throughout the pieces, distinct chocolate flavors were presented well.

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