Monday, July 16, 2007
For quite a while I’ve resisted going to visit L’Artisan du Chocolat, one of the few true chocolatiers here Los Angeles. (Jin Patisserie also falls into that list, but is in Venice so it may as well be in Santa Barbara.)
I can’t really explain my lack of interest, perhaps I doubted that they were any good. Perhaps it’s that I don’t like pretty painted looking chocolates ... there’s something about the idea of things that look like acrylic nail tips that just turns me off. But I’ve eaten and enjoyed such things (Christopher Elbow). Perhaps I resented their high prices. But then I have to look at my own hypocrisy of spending about a hundred bucks in one day walking around to three chocolate shops in New York City. There’s something about believing that something good can’t be just around the corner ... how special could it be if you could go there every day?
I went over to 1st Street, which is about two miles from my house and two miles from my office at lunch on Friday. Parking was super simple, so I don’t have that to whine about. The shop just so happens to be right next to Valerie Confections’ (which precipitated the visit) new shop that opens officially today.
The space is charming. A brick facade outside and bright yellow walls and green accents inside. The display case had a decent, if scant, assortment (the Salon du Chocolat was on Saturday and they were going to be closed, which I’m sure prompted the limited inventory). They were advertising their summer flavors in the window, so I made sure to pick out a few of those.
I got a box of nine chocolates (and gave one to my husband of his choice ... raspberry). I wrote down my selections, but not what they looked like so it was a bit of a struggle to figure some of it out (I took a couple of reference photos but even those weren’t much help when it turned out that they weren’t labeled in the case either). Their website offered no key.
Because the team at L’Artisan du Chocolat sells right out of the candy kitchen, I get the feeling that these were all very fresh (and there was certainly nothing in the flavor when consuming them that dissuaded me). I don’t mind a smaller selection if it means that everything meets a high standard. L’Artisan has been known for the past three years or so for their European style of molding and dipping, high chocolate content & fine ingredients along with a special penchant for interesting flavor combinations. I enjoy this with Chuao as well, and while at Chuao I get a rather masculine vibe from the flavors and the whole aesthetics of it, I get a neutral vibe from L’Artisan (and I get a feminine vibe from Vosges).
Cucumber & Vodka: Dark chocolate shell with a white chocolate cream center. There’s a light fresh flavor of cucumbers and faint little crunch of them in the background. The vodka adds a light alcoholic touch, it’s not a burning feeling, just a light tingle.
Basil: this one was very interesting in the best way possible. The basil was immediately apparent and reminded me of both licorice and basil and rosemary all at once. Fresh and clean and woodsy.
Fennel: a nice little square with an embossed design on the top. The shell is nice and dark and the center is super creamy. I wasn’t getting much in the way of fennel though. Just some grassy sort of flavors. Both fresh herb shapes were really cute and probably my preference for designs (embossed but not painted).
Classic: this was a perfect little sphere, dusted in cocoa powder. It’s soft and buttery and has a slight salty hint (cooca powder often does that for me). A little woodsy, very smooth and satisfying.
Rose Petal: quite floral but not in a soapy way. fresh and with a slight fruity edge, this was not in the least bit soapy tasting like some rose items can be. The ganache was a little custardy, but smooth and not too sweet.
Tomato: fresh and with a slight fruity edge, I honestly wasn’t sure it was the tomato one at all. The ganache was a little custardy, but smooth and not too sweet
Lemon Mousse: this was one of the few that smelled like the flavor it was supposed to be before I even bit into it. The mousse in the center is chocolate (I didn’t know if it was going to be white). It’s definitely a zesty lemon, with little bits of lemon rind in the ganache. A little on the tangy side and definitely lemony. Very satisfying (especially since it was such a big piece).
Pomegranate: pomegranate is one of those fruity flavors that I think goes very well with chocolate, mostly because it has some dark syrupy and molasses notes to it. This one is bursting with pomegranate flavor ... a little like raspberry and a little like rose and a bit of a lemon tang to it.
The 9 piece box was $22 ... probably more than I want to go for on a regular basis. Their website also mentions that they do boxes by the pound as well, starting with a half a pound (I found this was the most cost effective at Recchiuti in San Francisco as well.)
It took about four pieces to sway me ... I’m still not keen on the design of all the truffles, but it’s something I can overlook when the flavors are solid and authentic like this. They’ll get another visit from me, if only because I missed out on quite a few flavors after checking the website.
Other flavors that I didn’t try that were stocked at the shop were: Kalamata Olive, Ginger, Mild Chili, Pina Colada, Maple Syrup with Cinnamon & Cloves, Vanilla, Kumquat and Chestnut. I’m also interested in Caramelized Banana, Spicy Hot Chili Pepper, Lavender, Rosemary, Candied Citrus & Ginger. They were also out of the dark chocolate Three Teas which I’m sure are great.
What I really wanted was a place to sit down and have a cup of coffee or tea with my purchases. Perhaps 1st Street will become a new artisan confection mecca. As a place that’s convenient for me to go and pick up a small assortment (I’d like to just buy three and not have the whole box/packaging thing) I’m going to explore it further. I still am not convinced that it will surpass Chuao as a favorite local chocolatier (their quality is comparable, but the flavor sets are a little different) ... I think only the Caramelized Banana will be able to tell me.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:24 am
Friday, April 20, 2007
Valerie Confections has another seasonal nougat. This one is Lemon Hazelnut Nougat Covered in Dark Chocolate.
It’s heavenly looking stuff, with a good dark glossy sheen and sparlkling little slivers of candies Meyer Lemons from June Taylor. The chocolate is a buttery smooth dark Valrhona and the nougat itself is studded with organic hazelnuts from Trufflebert Farms.
I’m in heaven.
The price is, well, pricey. But Mother’s Day is around the corner, so if your mum is as nuts for nougat as I am, she might think you appreciate her or something if you were to show up for Sunday Brunch with a box of these. And maybe she’ll let you have a piece.
I think I was a little more fond of the Holiday nougat, which was orange and almond, but the fresh flavor of the lemon is really refreshing. There isn’t a trace of bitterness in the lemon zest, it’s just pure flavor and the chewy texture.
UPDATE 4/20/2009: I’ve just finished another box of this. I don’t know if it was the seasonal variation in the candied lemons, but this was divine. The bittersweetness of the chocolate and the bittersweetness of the candied peels was just spot on. I’ve bumped this up to a 10. I had a lot of fine candy around the house to eat, but this was what I kept going for. The price has also come down.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
I’ve been a big admirer of Chuao since I found it last year. They use all El Rey chocolate and combine classic and contemporary ingredients for tantalizing and fresh flavor combinations. While you can only get their best items at their shops or online (such as their bon bons) they did introduce their quaint little ChocoPod (review here), which are great little nibbles of chocolate perfect for an accompaniment for your coffee-house fare.
This year they’re expanding their ChocoPod line with their new collection of filled ChocoPod.
Chuao gave me a sampler box (sorry, not available to the public) so I could try all the flavors.
Picante - spicy Cabernet caramel. This one had a lovely tangy and fruity flavor that gave my throat quite a burn. (Dark Chocolate)
Passion - passion fruit and caramel. I’m not usually a big fan of passion fruit (or guava or papaya for that matter), but this was fab. It was sweet and grapey and mellow. It makes we want to give passion fruits another try. (Dark Chocolate)
Modena - strawberry & balsamic caramel. I’ve had this one as a bonbon, it has a great fruity flavor with a very noticeable dark tang to it from the balsamic. What it’s missing, for me, is the caramelized/burnt sugar notes that would bring out the deeper flavors. (Dark Chocolate)
Candela - spicy macadmia praline. Ugh, I did not like this one at all. The texture was great, the praline was a little crunchy from the caramelized sugar, but macadamia are just not a good flavor to me. Since this was a macadamia paste, there wasn’t even the macadamia texture as a reprieve. Again, totally a personal thing. (Dark Chocolate)
Banana - banana brown sugar caramel. This is the flat version of the Cambur bonbon I love so much. Sweet and salty with a wonderful fresh banana flavor. A little on the sweet side, but this one had more in the chocolate department than the bonbon does. (Milk Chocolate)
Dulce de Leche - milk caramel. Wonderfully milky, rather sticky on the tongue but with a good complex cooked milk and sugar taste. (Milk Chocolate)
Since I was a big fan of the Cambur (the bonbon version of the Banana), I’m enthusiastic about the idea of being able to pick these up at a coffee house. (Might I suggest Chuao’s sales staff contact my favorite coffee house, Sabor y Cultura in Hollywood and see about getting them into that cafe?) I know they’re a bit more expensive than some treats, but the size and proportion are just right for me.
YumSugar also gave these a try. She didn’t like the Banana as much as I did, but gave the set a thumbs up. I haven’t seen these in stores yet, but you can order online right now. Banana and Dulce de Leche aren’t available yet. (So if you have to order, just get them in the BonBon version!)
Friday, March 16, 2007
Charles Chocolates not only makes one of the few marzipans I like, they also have their own line of chocolate bars. They come in sweet looking retro boxes with little line drawings on them. The boxes protect the thick bars very well and allow them to be rewrapped in their foil if you don’t finish them all at once (and at 3.4 ounces, you probably won’t unless you’re sharing).
(for those of you reading via feed, I’m using a flash slideshow for the photos today)
Mocha Java Pieces in 65% Bittersweet Chocolate (blue label) - this is a powerful bar. I’ve been keeping my chocolate bars in a little igloo cooler in my studio (because it protects it from temperature changes, and the dog can’t get to it) and every time I open it up I could smell the coffee in this bar. The 65% cacao dark chocolate is rich but still wonderfully buttery. The bar has plenty of whole espresso beans in it too which dotted the bottom of the bar (and explain why it’s a little titled in the picture). As a personal choice, I don’t like to eat coffee beans, but in this case they worked well in the bar and are paired with the right kind of chocolate.
Caramelized Crisped Rice in 41% Milk Chocolate (red label on caramel) - this bar smells like caramel but tastes like Sugar Pops and chocolate. The milk chocolate is smooth and super creamy and the crisped rice has a deep caramelized flavor with some malty tones to it. The only thing that I had a problem with was the integration of the crisped rice ... it wasn’t in the bottom of the bar, just the top. Sometimes I wanted more crisped rice with my chocolate. But then sometimes I liked finding a spot where it was naked of chocolate and could see it glistening in its coat of caramelized sugar and flick my tongue on it to get just those flavors and textures ... then I’d come across the chocolate, which would melt around it all over again.
Caramelized Crisped Rice in 65% Bittersweet Chocolate (red label on brown) - this bar is quite the opposite of its dairy infused sibling. Instead of being chatty and available, this one was rather standoffish and even elusive. The chocolate is creamy but with a strong astringency that seemed to give it some more vegetable flavors than fruit. This in turn made the crisped rice more reminiscent of pilaf than breakfast. Still, the textures were so wonderful, the chocolate melted easily and the caramelized sugar shatters on crunching, revealing that wonderful malted rice taste.
Crystallized Ginger Pieces in 65% Bittersweet Chocolate (yellow label) - again, a really creamy 65% dark chocolate, it just descends into a delicious fatty chocolate syrup in the mouth. The ginger’s earthy/rooty flavors come forward immediately. They bring a bit of a citrus tang and make the chocolate itself seem a little acidic, but the grainy sugar of the crystallized ginger also dissolves and mitigates that just in time.
Hazelnut and Candied Orange Peel in 65% Bittersweet Chocolate (green label) - this was the first bar I tried and the first bar I finished. Fab-u-lous. The chocolate is creamy and quick to melt. It’s not too sweet and sets off the candied orange rind ... the flavor of the orange zest permeates parts of the bar and then the crushed hazelnuts give a crunch and nutty texture to the whole thing. It’s not a common combination of flavors, which is one of the reasons you might want to seek this bar out.
Charles Chocolates just opened their new retail store in the same building as their kitchen/factory. They offer free samples (see the schedule). For those who can’t find them in store they also have a webstore. Retail vendors are also listed on the site (basically high-end chocolate shops & Whole Foods). See DessertFirst’s visit to Charles Chocolates. Here’s my previous review of some other products in his line.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Theo Chocolate is a new company that makes fair trade, organic chocolate from bean to bar (and bonbon) right in Seattle. Think about it ... they start with the raw materials and create not only the chocolate but go on to craft the fine ganaches and couveture - all without the use of pesticides, hormones or chemical fertilizers and giving the cacao folks a fair price for their beans. There are very few chocolate makers out there that do that, anywhere in the world, let alone here in the states. The only one that even comes close in the bean to bonbon arena Michel Cluizel in France.
I got to try just about everything Theo Chocolates makes at the Fancy Food Show last month including their Confections Collection.
Earl Grey - a beautifully smooth ganache with a rich and dark blend of tea and bergamot flavors in equally rich chocolate.
Ivory Coast - the essential chocolate truffle, dark and smooth with a buttery feel that helps with the woodsy and bitter notes of the chocolate.
Peanut Butter & Jelly - yes, right next to the most upscale of all chocolate expressions is the PB&J except this peanut butter is a praline (kind of crystallized) with a raspberry fruit paste to die for.
Fig Fennel - this has to be the homerun hit of the entire box. Not just because it’s so wonderfully flavorful, but because I’ve never had this combination in quite this way before.
Mint - it’s like it was muddled just for me only moments ago ... the mint tastes that fresh.
Peanut Butter - like the PB&J, this one has a peanut butter praline that’s not sweet at all but has a wonderful woodsy, nutty crunch to it. A little dry.
Scotch - exceptional with its savory smoky notes like tobacco and leather mixed in with the butter and raisin notes of the chocolate.
Burnt Sugar - I’ve had several of these now, the effect is rather like a light creme brulee, with all the flavor of the crusty sugar top and all the creaminess of chocolate and heavy cream in the truffle.
Lemon - the white truffle of the pack, it’s really lemony without being sticky white-chocolate sweet. It has both the tangy notes and the zesty flavors.
Vanilla - very vanilla, with little flecks of it in the ultra-smooth ganache and an overall bourbon note.
(I shared this box with my husband and he ate the Ginger truffle.)
These might be my new favorite chocolates, if only they were easier to get a hold of. I’ve not been to the factory, so I don’t know if you can just go in there and buy singles (or a whole box of one flavor). No compromises ... that’s what it’s all about. It’s still a guilty pleasure, but fewer things to feel guilty about.
I also have a complete assortment of their bars that I’m working my way through, so stay tuned for the reviews of those.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
There are quite a few small confectioners based in LA and one that I’ve visited (and reviewed) before is Boule. They have great ice cream (I love the banana) and sorbets as well as caramels, nougats and of course chocolates. Of all the things I’ve had there, the one that blew me away was the Pate de Fruit in Calamansi flavor.
Imagine my delight when one of my fellow bloggers, Joz, handed off this awesome hatbox from Boule courtesy of The Ellen DeGeneres Show. The box contained quite a few treats, including some cookies, a package of chocolate covered almonds rolled in cocoa, a box of the Pate de Fruit (which I opened and devoured the Calamansi before offering the other pieces around to my husband and neighors) and a wee little purse/box with some caramels. There were also two small boxes (6 pieces each) of Truffles.
The chocolates themselves look more like coat buttons than confections, with stripes and splashes of color and in some cases edible irridescent dustings.
While I find that attractive in a pair of earrings or beads, I don’t really find it that enticing as chocolate. No matter, they were still tasty.
As much as I admire the flavor combinations in theory, they just didn’t thrill me in practice. Some were kind of muddy and most of all they didn’t have a big chocolate boost to them - the chocolate shells were more of a delivery device for the novelty of the colors and exotic names.
I’ll continue to vist Boule for a special treat, but I’m probably going to stick to the pate and perhaps a little dish of ice cream every now and then. I have to, the retail value on this little hat box? $85.00. If you’re looking to dazzle someone for Valentine’s Day, the hatboxes are certainly splashy looking, but make sure that everything in the assortment would be appealing, otherwise it’s a waste of money. Ordering a la carte may be the way to go to assure that whatever you pick out there is exactly what you want. (If you live in the Los Angeles area they do offer local delivery with more ordering options, and I’m sure if you call them they can help you pick out a real custom fit.)
As a whole gift, this one gets a 6 out of 10.
Leonidas is a classic Belgian chocolatier with a Greek name. They make a huge variety of chocolates (their website says 100) and sell at 1,400 shops around the world (many in airports). Their website also has photos and descriptions of all of their chocolates. I wish I’d known that when I got this huge box, I had no clue what was inside here.
No matter, it’s all good!
The Pralines Leonidas assortment has a narrow focus on all things hazelnut with a good balance of dark, milk and white chocolate. There were pralin?s, pastes, truffles, croquants, gianduja and even a marzipan or two. It wasn’t all noisettes, there was also a cherry paste and what I believe is a chocolate covered cherry (that red foil one which is the only thing in the box right now). Some had a nice tickle of rum or coffee tipped into them. There were different textures for the hazelnuts - from a thick paste to a near solid chocolate assembly.
Leonidas runs on the sweet side, but the nut flavors are awesome. The chocolate is smooth and mellow, don’t expect anything strong or vibrant here, just some old fashioned hazelnut goodness. Oh, and the box is pretty cool. It’s a long faux leather box with two lids, the outermost lid locks the box tight with a magnetic strip but when you open it you can still gaze at the chocolate inside through the plastic window on the inner lid.
I haven’t visited a Leonidas store in person (which is odd because there’s one within walking distance of my office), but I imagine they can fix you right up for Valentine’s Day. Personally, now that I’ve tried a wide variety of their product line, I’m going to stick with the dark chocolate items and perhaps try more of the fruit jellies (I actually liked the cherry paste quite a bit and think they’ll do a good job on the others).
This was another birthday gift last month and of the cache of sweet treats, I can say that this one was not a home run. I think it has less to do with the quality and presentation of the product than the simple fact that the flavor combo just isn’t to my liking.
The box of 12 bonbons looks like little pom-poms in brown fluted cups. They’re called Coconut Snowballs which is pretty much what I would call them if asked. The package itself offers no explanation of what it is. The little card on the ribbon simply says, “An astonishing blend of provacative flavors created to arouse and stimulate the palate fo the most demanding client in the world ... you!”
Each little sphere starts with a white chocolate truffle cream, encased in a white chocolate shell and coated with coconut flakes.
They were creamy on the inside and had a good nutty bite and chew of coconut. They weren’t sickeningly sweet but the centers weren’t as smooth as I’d like, kind of grainy. Overall they were nice, but lacked an oomph that I don’t think these ingredients can provide.
I’m still curious about Christopher Norman’s other offerings and will pick them up the next chance I get (after I’ve finished all my other chocolates in my stash, of course). But the remainder of these will probably be given away.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.