Blink and passers-by could easily miss the Veruca Chocolates cafe and store in Chicago’s sleek Lincoln Park neighborhood. Pediatrician-turned-chocolatier Heather Johnston fills her glass cases with bonbons, caramels, and dipped truffles in a range of flavors every season. The house specialties include a mango and passionfruit-infused ganache bonbon, but don’t miss the almost smoky blackened sugar chocolates, or browned butter bonbons with an addictively nutty flavor. Toasted pumpkin seeds give orange-hued pumpkin caramel truffles a bit of crunch. Veruca ships nationwide. 1332 North Halsted Street, Chicago, IL — Ashok Selvam
For those who don't eat animal products (or just prefer to stay away from dairy), these Amore di Mona vegan chocolates make a delicious and thoughtful gift. They're also free from gluten, wheat, soy, and peanuts, and they come in a 24-piece box complete with a bow. Best of all, reviewers say, it's "very high quality chocolate" and they "taste amazing!"
Chocolate contributes more than $700 million to the Ecuadorian economy. A single 1.8 ounce bar of the finest chocolate divided into 12 squares will set customers back more than $250. For the adventurous chocoholics who want to see chocolate production from seed to bar, the Cacao Route offers the opportunity to visit cacao farms and eventually eat chocolate in a number of dishes as well as sweet and bitter bars. Cacao Route tours take place near the Pacific coast, with options to tour the Organic Cacao Museum, horseback ride along the path and visit plantations and packing facilities, as well as in the Amazon, which features spa treatments at the Papallacta
The Quatre Epices was well balanced blend of four spices. Wild Cherry had a nice piquant cherry flavor the first time I tried it but was milder on a later occasion. The Praline Noisette was good with a sharp hazelnut flavor, and the Mocha Cream was good, but some of the other gianduja pieces were mild or weak. The Honey had mild flavors with not much honey shining through. The cinnamon of the Cinnamon Toast was present but stood alone, not partnering well with the chocolate.
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.