Wednesday, July 5, 2006
I first heard about Chuao Chocolatier a couple of months ago but haven’t been able to visit them until this weekend. The main location is in Encinitas and they have other shops in San Diego. But they also have one at the Irvine Spectrum, so on a blazingly hot Sunday afternoon my husband and I stopped by to see what it was all about. Let me just say this, if this is the direction that upscale chocolate is going, I can fully support it.
The shop is spare and simple with lots of dark wood touches and reflects more of a wine connoisseur aesthetic than candy. I greeted the women behind the counter (I’ve never done this before) ... I introduced myself and gave full disclosure that I’m a candy writer and boy did I get the full treatment! But seeing how well Melissa, the manager, did her tour of the company through samples of most of their product lines, I get the sense she does it for anyone who’s interested. She was knowlegable, enthusiastic and completely engaging.
First, a little about Chuao. It’s one of those stories about people who follow their passions. Michael Antonoris (once a biomedical engineer and MBA before he “stopped chasing his ego and started chasing his culinary passion,” and went to Paris for two years to study Pastry and Chocolaterie at the ?cole Lenotre). Born in Venezuela, he brought not only his culinary aesthetic to candymaking, but also the native cacao from the region. His chocolate source is El Rey Chocolate. You can read lots more on their website about the history of the company and other press clippings.
The first sample we tried was their flavor of the month for July, which is a beer (San Diego produced Stout) infused chocolate - with a strong wheat/yeasty flavor to the chocolate ganache, it was intriguing and brought out the best of the beer and the chocolate.
She also let us try last month’s (after all, it was only July 2nd) intriguing little egg which was filled with chocolate, olive oil and sun-dried tomato filling. I really liked the olive essence in there, but I’m not a huge fan of sun-dried tomatoes, but they seem to work in there. I could see those going really well with a wine and cheese assortment.
Other wonderful morsels she gave us to try included:
Chocolate Covered Orange Peel - lovely dark chocolate surrounding soft and intense orange zest. Not too syrupy sweet and not the least bit bitter.
Chocolate Covered Ginger - this is no ordinary candied ginger, the pieces are plump and juicy and have no fibery bits. Sweet and with a gentle burn that lasts long after the chocolate is gone.
Coco Nib Snack - fine little nibs a little smaller than peppercorns and caramelized/tossed with a little salt and chili. Fascinating little morsels, not too sweet but also doesn’t have any of that bitter/acrid flavor that some plain nibs have. No fibery bits either. I’m not sure if I’d eat them straight, but I’d love them tossed on a salad or maybe some ice cream.
Even though it was insanely hot, we still tried a little bit of their hot chocolate. They have two varieties, the traditional Abuela and Spicy Maya. They weren’t as thick and milky as many that I had on my last NY trip, but the flavors were really great. I enjoyed the Maya best, as the spice wasn’t too overwhelming, but supported the floral and wine notes of the chocolate.
But the time eventually came to pick out some things to take home.
I picked out a box of 9 pieces:
Melao - salt butter caramel - this one was quite reminiscent of the Sahgun salt caramel I had earlier this year. Quite soft, almost juicy, with a slight grain to the caramezlied sugar and a round sweet flavor dosed with salt to bring out the flavors.
Candela - spicy macadamia praline - very strange - it’s grainy, but not in an unpleasant way. Salty, crispy and with a soft spicy finish, the center is more like eating a cookie dough than a chocolate. For the record, I love cookie dough.
Cardamom - cardamom infused ganache - fresh and lightly infused with that cardamom note that I love about Indian food. Buttery smooth and rich. I would have liked more cardamom, like the Vosges one I tried in NYC.
Modena - strawberry caramel with balsamic vinegar from Modena - this was just plain strawberry as far as I could tell. Nicely fruity and aromatic, smooth and refreshing with a good balance of notes for the dark chocolate, but I wasn’t really getting the balsamic notes.
Chevre - goat cheese, pear Williams and crushed black buttercream - fascinating and probably addictive. At first the dark chocolate ganache is tangy, like a goat cheese. Then the black pepper infusion coming to the surface. The pear played a minor note, but the black pepper pieces were incredible, as they were softened by the chocolate and more like small, spicy raisins.
Zen - green tea infused ginger ganache - wonderful plump pieces of crystalized ginger in a dark chocolate ganache with only a hint of tea. Not too sweet - a good subtle balance.
Gran Cacao - bittersweet ganache with 73% cocoa - a lovely and rich ganache with a good buttery start and some good floral and berry notes.
Cambur - soft banana and brown sugar caramel - imagine a fried banana, drenched in caramelized sugar and then drizzled with chocolate. Mmmm. Intensely banana, but thoroughly authentic tasting. Rich and sweet. By far my favorite of them all.
Picante - California raisin fondue and Napa Valley cabernet caramel, spiced with pasilla chili and cayenne pepper - tart and with fruity/jammy qualities but with an immediate burn in my throat from some fresh tasting chilis. There are some wine notes, but mostly a grape and chili flavor mixed with the dark chocolate but the caramelized sugar is completely lost. I wouldn’t have minded a little hit of molasses or brown sugar in there.
On the whole, I’d say that the line of uncommon flavor combinations is much like Vosges and of similar quality. Where Vosges seems to angle itself towards women, Chuao seems incredibly masculine. The flavors are bold and uncommon and assertive. Flavors are borrowed from outside the candy realm with excellent results. But when they’re inside the sweets oveure, they’re really at their best. The spiced flavors are wonderful but I really enjoyed the caramelized items like the Cambur.
I’m definitely planning on stopping there again, it’s exceptionally convenient when I’m down in Orange County visiting with my husband’s family and it looks like they will continue to develop new flavor combinations that will keep my tongue occupied. They also offer classes, which I would love to take (but only at the Carlsbad location), so maybe someday I’ll become a master chocolatier, too. If you’re a wine or beer lover, they also have tips and product lines for serving them together.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:23 am
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.