Traditional Mexican flavors come alive for popular chef and TV personality José Ramón Castillo, a leader in the evolution of Mexican chocolate. Que Bo! uses only organic ingredients sourced from local producers. Vibrant colored truffles matching their star ingredients, such as orange (mango, chili, and salt) or bright pink (guava). The massive, dipped confit figs soaked in molasses, cinnamon, and sugar can be enjoyed in the chocolateria’s hacienda-style courtyard in central Mexico City. Five locations in Mexico City.
Award-winning author and master chocolatier Paul A. Young deserves the accolades he receives for his creativity and mastery with all things chocolate. Walk into his tiny Camden Passage original chocolate shop and inhale the intoxicating aroma of fresh chocolate being made on-site. Young is one of the British chocolatiers who launched the chocolate revolution in London about 15 years ago, casting aside the overly sweet British chocolate of old for the fresh and innovative chocolate offerings that you’ll now find in at least a dozen top-notch chocolatiers in the capital city. Try his dark chocolate sea salt caramel pecan brownies—guaranteed to seduce every unsuspecting chocolate lover. Three locations in London found in Camden Passage, Royal Exchange, and Soho.
The LA Reader says Milk Jar Cookies are “Possibly the best fresh cookies in town.” Oh yeah? We sent our Los Angeles taster to go see. A half a dozen warm cookies later, he texted in to Eat Gift Love HQ that they were indeed fresh and really good. Well, that’s what we translated from the one word description he actually texted: “Deece!” (We apologize his description is lacking. He’s young and works for cookies. He’s not yet reached the descriptive heights of, say, an Anthony Bourdain. But we are confident in his judgment.)
The Wild Strawberry was also strong, very nice for strawberry. Some pieces were classics like the House Dark and some were playful like the PB & Jelly or the Speculous S’more, and they were all well done, not a false note among them. My biggest flavor criticism might be that the Gianduja Hazelnut was a little sharp for hazelnut, whereas I prefer a broader, smoother flavor.
Chocolat Céleste is a mixed bag; I have enjoyed some pieces but not all (relative to experienced expected for the price), and prices have escalated. I suggest the Grand Cru collection. Although pricey, $139/lb. in 2012, it is a rare opportunity to taste criollo (a type of cacao, from which chocolate is made). I enjoyed the criollo pieces in the collection. They should be approached as a tasting experience: Cleanse your palate with water, smell, taste, let the chocolate dissolve, and take the time to experience it. The collection also has non-criollo pieces that I found a bit flat and dry compared to the criollo.
Bartender Drew Scott pours a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Martini at Fire & Grain inside Hershey Lodge. The cocktail combines Castries Peanut Rum Crème, 360 Double Chocolate Vodka and Marie Brizard Chocolat Royal liqueur. Hershey offers several chocolate-themed cocktails at various bars inside the lodge and The Hotel Hershey. Wendy Pramik for USA TODAY
Olive & Sinclair isn’t just Nashville’s first bean-to-bar chocolate shop, it’s the first such store in all of Tennessee. This small-batch shop does everything in-house, from stone-grinding their cocoa to finishing up the ethically sourced, organic confections. The results are scrumptious, of course, and include signature Tennessee items like bourbon brittle and caramels alongside duck fat caramels that simply melt in your mouth.
Chocolate Apéritifs au Fromage is chocolate-covered cheese. That was an unusual combination, new to me. The flavors are balanced and modest, but the cheese prevails. The Boîte Gourmande contains plain square wafers of chocolate, Florentins (chocolate cookies, square wafers covered with a honey and nut confection), mendiants (chocolate disks topped with nuts and dried fruit), and chocolate sticks containing candied orange peel. All are good. These are little chocolate delicacies, to be savored. The dried fruit arrived still fresh and full of flavor.
The makers were recently crowned the best of the best at the International Chocolate Awards, the biggest and most comprehensive global competition in the world. Soma Chocolatemaker, based in Toronto, was named best chocolate maker in the world for its dark milk chocolate bar made with cocoa beans from Guasare, Venezuela. Omnom Chocolate from Reykjavik, Iceland, took parallel honors for its milk chocolate bar featuring Icelandic milk powder and cocoa from Nicaragua.
Garrison Confections’s main attraction is the Seasonal Collection, which features twelve new flavors about every three months. Generally I like new experiences, so that is fine by me, but do not get attached, because your favorite piece will vanish. I tried the collection in April 2007 and was impressed by some pieces, notably the fruit patés. The Pabana was particularly nice, good flavors blended well, including a novel fruit flavor. The 91% was also very nice, unusual for me since I generally like more than chocolate alone. The pieces with alcohol were less appealing to me, as usual. The Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie was a bit piquant with a nice balance. The Coffee Almond Praline started well but finished weakly.
creations impress both the palate and the eye. As Val, one of the panelists, said: "It's more than candy -- it's art." Thomas was more enamored of the taste, writing, "Who knew it was possible for chocolate to be both bold and delicate at the same time?" For Valentine's Day, Shotts makes a limited collection called Legendary Lovers. With chocolates named after star-crossed lovers like Roman mythology's Dido and Aeneas (strawberry basil and raspberry verbena), the collection is bound to get you in the mood. ($20 for the 12-piece box; garrisonconfections.com, 401-490-2740)
Pastry chef Kee Ling Tong has been hand-rolling each of her delicate chocolate truffles since 2002. Her tiny storefront in New York City’s Soho neighborhood (and two counters in Midtown) is a must-stop for chocolate lovers, who will savor each piece’s paper-thin shell encasing flavors like black sesame truffle and green tea. Kee’s almond truffle is pure joy: A deeply salted white chocolate ganache is made from cream steeped with toasted almonds; each truffle is then rolled in toasted almonds for crunch. Unfortunately for non-New Yorkers, Kee’s does not ship nationwide. 315 West 39th Street, New York, NY 10018 (multiple locations)
If you're looking for chocolate as a gift, you'll want to look in the Gifts & Baskets section of the site. You'll find arrangements ranging from less than $10 to over $200. Personalized gift-giving options with Ghirardelli are fairly basic. You can choose from gift cards in four amounts, all with the same brown Ghirardelli-brand design; we would have liked to see cards with different themes for birthdays, wedding gifts, and so forth. You can also make a custom mix, but again, your options are limited: five designs of small tins that hold 15 Ghirardelli squares.
The praline/hazelnut mix starts to emerge in the background quickly after application. Hazelnut alone is more familiar, and I like to think I would've pointed it out without knowing about it ahead of time, but the addition of praline makes for a more nuanced and alien blend, albeit very desirable and certainly not taking much away from the cocoa-dominance of the fragrance.
For three generations, Damask’s Candies has been delighting New Jersey families in the Woolwich Township area for decades. Though the shop sells a variety of creamy chocolates, chocolate-covered caramels and other confections, Damask’s Candies is best known for the chocolate-covered oyster crackers. These bite-sized treats are the perfect mix of sweet, salty, crunchy and smooth; it’s a wonder more chocolate shops don’t offer these. Damask’s Candies is only open seasonally, so be sure to plan your trip to the Garden State accordingly.
I visited Melt while in transit through London and was only able to sample a few pieces. My favorite was the Crispy Croquant, a hazelnut feuillantine with superb texture, excellent hazelnut flavor, and a nice scent. The Raspberry and Mint marvelously combined those flavors with a soft raspberry ganache and crystallized mint leaves in a white chocolate shell. The Sea Salted Praline and Gianduja Dome were also very good. The Sea Salted Caramel trailed a bit behind. It lost points for falling apart when bitten into and a strong note in the caramel that did not quite harmonize with the rest of the piece for me.
Larry Burdick makes exquisite delicious chocolate pieces at Burdick Chocolate, a small manufacturer at the western edge of New Hampshire, northwest of Keene and 70 miles from Nashua. Burdick does a great job of making a variety of ornate fine chocolates and presenting them well. The pieces in his assortment differ from each other well, so that one is entertained by the changes in flavor, style, and shape. The flavors range from intense chocolate to balanced to strong non-chocolate flavors, and the sweetness ranges from bitter to very sweet. Some flavors are familiar, and some are exotic.