Sunday, December 23, 2007

Un chocolat

I overhear the nice guy behind the bar: “It’s like drinking melted chocolate.” Say no more; I’m in for a single shot of hot cocoa.

I’m at Michel Cluizel, world-renowned Parisian chocolatier who opened in ABC Carpet two years ago. It’s a relief to have place for top-notch chocolates that’s not Soho or midtown (and dangerously close to my apartment). Especially on a grey December afternoon when you have the day off from work and want to sit and zen out a bit.

The cocoa comes in a dainty little espresso cup. It hardly looks like enough, but it’s made with heavy cream and a blend of five different dark cocoa beans from different plantations, so drinking any more would be obscene. It’s creamy, smooth and refined; sharp, not sugary. Oui, c’est tres bon.

Michel Cluizel is better known for his bonbons than his cocoa though, so I must also indulge in a few of those. I choose a dark chocolate with a crème brulée butter ganache center, a salted butter caramel, and a milk chocolate filled with almond and hazelnut praline (always a sucker for pralines).

It’s a nice treat. But I’ll have to visit the rue Saint-Honoré boutique next week to see if, as I suspect, everything tastes better in Paris.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The sweet spot

Open wide for homemade truffles.

A stroll through the Essex Street Market has always been a sensory experience: Colorful cans of coconut milk and hearts of palm at Batista, pungent plumes from Formaggio and Saxelby Cheesemongers, and lively chatter of different tongues from the shopkeepers and locals. Now, a new hook exists at #24: the rich scent of homemade truffles.

Though Rhonda (Roni Sue) Kave just opened this eponymous shop, it was a long time coming. After 20 years of making buttercrunch (her signature treat) and bon bons for friends and family, she finally succumbed to the idea of going professional.

Kave fills each truffle with either dense Callebaut ganache or handmade perzipan, a lighter, fluffier version of marzipan (the ganache centers rule). Flavors are both straightforward and unusual, with fruits dominating: pomegranate, raspberry, mango and banana truffles fill the display case. But there are options for those whose palates favor spicy, savory or nutty. The popular Frida truffle, for instance, combines Mexican cinnamon, espresso and Kahlua, and the Zydeco is a medley of chili jams and confits, infused tequila and sea salt. Each truffle is then delicately topped with a sliver of whatever lies inside.

It will be nice to see what new flavors she whips up as the seasons change and the business ramps up. On standby, I am.

120 Essex Street (#24 Essex Street Market)