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
Sunday, July 15, 2007
The first is the Storck Chocolate Riesen in the individual pack (thanks so much for the heads up on their existence!). I finally found these at the Shell station on Hollywood where I fill up when I want a car wash. The pack looks a little bit like a roll of Starburst, it’s long and narrow. It holds five unwrapped caramels. They were tasty, though I think they might have been softer than the individually wrapped ones (or it could be the candy-unfriendly heat around here).
I picked up the Sour Patch Fruits because many folks recommended the assortment after my Sour Patch Kids review. The big difference here is the addition of grape and watermelon and the substitition of Raspberry for Cherry. If you know me, you’ll know where I’m going with this.
The watermelon is rather true feeling but the grape is very odd. I usually like SweeTart type grape items, but when I first tried this one I’d just brushed my teeth and for some reason that combination made it taste of sulphur. (Of course there are very few candies which do well after a hefty serving of toothpaste and it shouldn’t be a requirement.)
That aside, the great thing about the assortment in Sour Patch Kids for me was that my least favorite flavor in the mix was lime. In the Sour Patch Fruits the lime ranks as the third favorite flavor ... right in the middle. (Watermelon, Grape and then Cherry fall below.) So there’s just not enough flavors that I like here to keep the assortment in balance. I think it’s great though that they offer both assortments to satisfy folks who prefer one assortment over the other. (And yes, you can get all watermelon if you like!)
In other posts I’ve seen around the other candy blogs, here are the other reviews I’m going to try to track down the candy for:
Terry at The Chocolate Review has an array of Niederegger Marzipan. I’ve always been fond of the idea of the stuff, but not the actual flavor (amaretto just doesn’t do anything for me). But I did try the Niederegger capuccino marzipan bar a couple of years ago and think that this assortment would be similarly enjoyable for me.
Rebecca at Sugar Hog had a similarly lovely assortment from Europe called the Ferrero Garden. I know they’ll probably never sell these in the States, but there are always friends that are willing to pick up stuff for me at Duty Free.
The week in reviews:
Monday: Trader Joe’s Espresso Chocolates (9 out of 10)
Tuesday: 3 Musketeers Mint with Dark Chocolate (7 out of 10)
Wednesday: Dogs versus Cats ... fruit snacks that is (5 out of 10)
Thursday: Jelly Belly - All Natural (8 out of 10)
Friday: Baby Bottle Pacifier Tarts (6 out of 10)
Weekly Average: 6.67 ... 33% chocolate content.
Coming up this week, I took at little tour of the new Valerie Confections store (write up on Chowhound & photos here) and also finally visited L’Artisan du Chocolat (a high end chocolatier here in my neighborhood in Los Angeles).
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Earlier this week I got an email from someone looking for a local source for the Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans. In my brief research (I already knew two places that carried them, but did some more digging to be thorough), I found a local store that sells more than Bertie’s Every Flavor, but it seems every flavor of Jelly Belly too!
They’re called the Jelly Bean Factory and have been selling Jelly Belly since the very early years of the brand (Fosselman’s Ice Cream Store was the first place to sell them, then I’m guessing Jelly Bean Factory was the first actual candy store). In addition, they run a webstore called JellyBeans4U.com.
The vast majority of their inventory is Jelly Belly. From the beans sold in prepacks, novelties or assortments to the pick-a-mix beans, they’ve got just about everything. They candy counter is just like an ice cream shop, with tubs of each bean on display and you can even request a taste of any flavor you like!
I picked up a box of the Bertie Bott’s. I’ve resisted them until now. I’ve tried a few of the more normal flavors (Soap, Grass, Black Bepper - all very good) but have avoided things like Sausage (I don’t eat pork anyway), Pickle, Ear Wax and Earthworm. I’m going to see the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix tonight, so I figured that was an appropriate item to sneak in.
The other items I’ll be sneaking in are some Rum Cordials and they also had some little “overrun sample packs” of different items for $1 (most are about 2 ounces) so I got some licorice pastilles and gummi grapefruit slices. In general prepackaged bulk candy irritates me, because I’d really like to be able to pick my own portion size, but if you want fresh candy, it’s often better to go for the prepack. I don’t mind buying a half pound of the cordials in this instance. But they do let you pick your portions on the Jelly Belly, so they’ve got their priorities and marketing position straight.
The staff was helpful and friendly. The only caveat is if you want to pay by credit card they have to run next door to the pet shop to run it. In a way I found that charming (I ended up scraping together the $10 in cash for my purchases) but I can see it being a little irritating if you’re in a hurry.
All Jelly Belly are $6.79 a pound (they’re $8 a pound at the Jelly Belly site ... I’ve seen them cheaper sometimes at the grocery store, but I’ve also found them stale there).
The Original Jelly Bean Factory
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10:30 am - 6:00 pm
Parking is on the street or your can park in the Rite Aid parking lot on the corner and hope they don’t tow you.
Friday, July 13, 2007
There are some candies that are placed very low on the shelves at drug stores and grocers for a reason, they’re appealing to little people. And until I started shopping the bottom shelf, there was a lot of stuff that never even entered my candy radar.
This little baby bottle filled with compressed dextrose tarts is one such candy. It’s made by a small company called Imperial Toy and they haven’t even bothered to name the product. So I’m just going to call them Baby Bottle Pacifier Tarts. Once I took off the clear plastic shrink wrap, there’s no branding on here at all.
The little bottle is an actual toy baby bottle, complete with a rubber nipple with a hole in it, so as to make a mess with your little baby doll that actually drinks, or maybe it doesn’t. (Here’s a tip, don’t put actual milk in your doll that actually drinks. It’s fun at first, but then your doll smells like spoiled milk.)
The bottle holds 1.5 ounces of candy, so it’s a nice size and of course refillable with candy or kids can use it as a toy bottle for their dolls.
The little compressed dextrose candies are cute, a great size an the pacifier shape is nicely done. The flavor isn’t very strong, certainly not as strong as SweeTarts. I’d liken these to Smarties, but perhaps a little harder and a little more flavorful (well, and a little more colorful).
I think these are called “Oh Baby! Pacifier Candy” and made in Canada by Concord Confections. I’ve seen them in bulk at candy stores and advertised as a favor-filler on sites that specialize in baby shows and the like. Since you can buy them in bulk, I suppose you can make your own little filled favors for parties. Since this was $1.09 at the drug store, it may be a less expensive way to go. (Concord also makes the super-fun Candy Blox.)
As a novelty item, this doesn’t really do much for me, but then again I don’t recall actually having a doll when I was a girl (I know I must have had one, but I don’t remember her ... I remember my sister had that doll that grew her long blonde hair when you pushed a button on her tummy). I see this as more of a “favor” item or stocking stuffer. As a candy container, it’s cute but of course once you take it out of its plastic wrap, it doesn’t work very well to keep moisture out because there’s a hole in the nipple.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
I’ve been holding onto the news since January and the Fancy Food Show that Jelly Belly is coming out with a line of all natural jelly beans. This means no artificial colors, preservatives or flavors (the colors I know are a big concern with some parents and hyperactivity in their children). Jelly Belly is currently test-marketing the new beans on the west coast at Whole Foods. The new line includes ten flavors at the moment. I picked up a package of Tropical Fruit Blend Jelly Belly.
This blend has six flavors: banana, coconut, lemon, orange, pineapple and strawberry. The flavors are actually from real fruits (the ingredients list things like coconut flakes, banana puree, pineapple concentrate, etc.). The colors are created using natural colorings like annatto extract, cabbage juice and curcumin.
The standout flavors for me were banana, which tastes like a really ripe banana and pineapple, which has a nice tangy bite to it and then a smooth sweetness.
If I have a complaint it’s that the color combination made it nearly impossible for me to tell the beans apart. The pineapple was kind of a colorless bean as was the coconut and the lemon on the yellow side and then the orange was more of a light peach but I still got them confused in dim lighting situations. The unmistakable beans were strawberry (though I didn’t care much for the flavor on this one, it tasted a little canned and metallic) and banana (the mottled one).
If I were looking for this blend of flavors and I had a choice between the all natural and the regular ones, I’d absolutely go for the all natural. They taste great and I already get confused about the color keys for Jelly Belly anyway.
The package also says that Jelly Belly - All Natural are gluten free and Kosher. They do contain beeswax so may not be suitable for vegans.
For those of you who don’t get the JellyBelly.com newsletter, they’re running some pretty awesome sales in their outlet. For some bizarre reason they’re clearing out their Christopher’s Fruit Gems at insanely low prices ($2.99 for a box of 2 lbs unwrapped or $14.99 for 9 lbs in a basket of the individually wrapped ones). They also have something for licoricians (licorice-lovers) with their 15 ounce licorice assortment at only $9.99. And finally, for fans of games of chance, from now until Monday, July 23, 2007 or while supplies last, if you order 2-4 bags of Belly Flops you pay only 6.00 each. But if you order five or more bags, the price is slashed to only 5.00 per bag! (That’s $2.50 a pound for Jelly Belly, not gonna do better anywhere else.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.