Monday, June 18, 2007

Greek American Belgian Bonbons

I was excited to try Leonidas Belgian chocolates on Madison Avenue. A trusted source told me they were the best. They're good, but… Teuscher and Neuhaus still have them beat.

The selection is great: butter cream, ganache, praliné and caramel centers come enrobed in white, dark and milk chocolate. There are truffles (pistachio, cocoa, champagne), marzipan, and chocolate-covered orange and lemon peels.

Ultimately, though, Leonidas chocolates don't have the same je ne sais quoi quality of their Belgian and Swiss counterparts. The shells are harder (maybe more tempered?), and I like my bonbons soft and creamier. They should melt in your mouth and smack of freshness. The flavors should meld together yet explode in your mouth. These flavors are good, very good, but not sublime.

And what's up with the weird Greek name on Belgian chocolates? Leonidas Kestekides was a Greek-American confectioner who found is way to Brussels in 1913. There, he met success as a chocolate-maker and he met his wife. The brand made its way to New York in 1991.

Check out a nice explanation of the traditional chocolate-making process on Leonidas' corporate site:

485 Madison Avenue between 51st and 52nd

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Royal Tastes

My high regard for the chocolate éclair.

Springtime in New York. It may not be Paris in April, but with the lilac blossoms and endless twilights, who’s complaining? Besides, we have un peu de Paris on the Upper East Side with Payard pastries.

Though Francois Payard’s lovely Lexington Avenue patisserie features a dining room with top-notch lunch, dinner and high tea menus, the bustling upfront café is more suitable for the quick sugar fix. A half dozen tables are nestled between curved glass display cases of French chocolates and desserts. So stake your territory amongst the European tourists and neighborhood families, and quit counting calories already.

Some pretty confectionary creations that evoke the Right Bank include The Opera, a rectangular three-layer almond cake with coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache, and the St. Honore, a vanilla cream puff topped with whipped cream and caramel. But what of the chocolate éclair? You’ll find Payard's is divine (but, of course!)—if you get one before they sell out.

The éclairs are chilled in the display cases, but they’re better at room temperature (an excuse to indulge in another dessert first?). The crispy pastry shell envelops a stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth, chocolaty cream center, and is topped with dark chocolate icing. Go against your American tendencies of eating the éclair with your fingers, and use a fork and knife. Otherwise, along with self-respect, you risk losing some of the to-die-for pastry filling in your lap.

1032 Lexington Avenue