March 16, 2005
artisan chocolates from (almost) coast to coast
I SAID I would wait till I have the next chance. And I did. And I have completed my mission. I am talking about the chocolate - not a regular one, but those beautifully-presented pieces of art made of quality chocolate and an interesting range of flavors.
Back in the beginning of this month, I made a brief stop at Honolulu before coming back to Japan. The primary objective of this short stay was to go on a whale-watching tour about which I might write if anyone is interested, but in culinary regards, on the highest in my list of to-dos this time around in Honolulu was to get a box of Vosges truffles at Ala Moana Shopping Center.
When I walked out of Neiman Marcus where they sell a selection of chocolate from various boutiques, alas, I found myself having not one but two boxes of chocolate besides a Vosges one: one was from MarieBelle and the other was from Recchiuti Confections. All three of them happen to be American, from New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, offering an intriguing selection of interesting flavors in chocolate, from caramel to coconut to Pastis, from vanilla to curry to saffron, from mint to lavender to tarragon.
I packed them in a bag and took home with me with extra care, and managed to keep the couture chocolates look fine enough to be photographed after 9+ hours of trans-pacific flight. Hence the pictures with a small tasting note below, for each box, starting from the east and moving to the west.
MarieBelle, named after its founder/designer Maribel Lieberman, is a NY-based chocolatier known for its famous hot chocolate, as well as a selection of chocolates with artistic looks and unusual flavors. I am lucky enough to have a friend who has shared some of their hot chocolate mix with me before, but this was my first time trying their chocolate box. Each flavor features its own unique painting on top of the piece. Actually, each morsel looks like a piece of painting itself.
Caramel. Thick, chewy caramel chocolate covered with a thin layer of milk chocolate (I guess). Sweeeeeeet.
Cinnamon. Mild ganache infused with cinnamon. Cinnamon wasn't eminent at first bite, but it subsequently came.
Espresso. Again, there wasn't a readily recognizable espresso flavor at first, then right at the moment the last bit of chocolate has melted in my mouth, it was there - a very strong espresso taste. It was like a magic.
White Chocolate Kona Bean. Well this one did have a clear coffee flavor. Smooth white chocolate ganache scattered with finely crushed coffee beans.
Coconut. White chocolate with coconuts.
Cardamom. Personally, one of the most interesting flavors in the box that turned out to taste as interesting as it had sounded, with a pretty contrast of dark chocolate and sweet scent of cardamom.
Caipirinha. This was the one that caught my eye when I opened the box, first with the painting of a chic boot, then with its name; I didn't even know what Caipirinha is, but took a bite anyways - then tasted a mellow, complex note of something citrus-y. As I learned later, Caipirinha is a cocktail made with lime and Cachaca, which is sugarcane liquor of Brazil where people are said to adore Caipirinha throughout the country.
Saffron. How fantastic does it sound, chocolate infused with saffron, one of my favorite spices. To my disappointment, however, I didn't find much saffron flavot in it, although it was a good morsel of dark chocolate.
Passion Fruit. This had a lovely smell of passion fruit when cut open, and a sweet luscious taste of the fruit as promised.
Among these, what I liked the most were: Caipirinha, Passion Fruit, and Cardamom.
With Vosges, I was so excited to finally try their "Exotic Collection". The relatively new chocolate boutique first founded in Chicago by chocolatier Katrina Markoff has got lines of chocolate truffles, very tempting in both name and appearance, as well as their flavors from around the world.
Black Pearl ("ginger + wasabi + sesame seeds + dark chocolate"). This was the same theme as the candy bar I tried before, and like the other one, this had only a subtle flavor of wasabi, and, almost untraceably, ginger. I found the black sesame seeds added quite a magnitude of pleasant texture to this morsel than it may look.
Absinthe ("Chinese star anise + fennel + Pastis + dark chocolate"). Mere a fact that I hate anything anise-y - Chinese star anise, fennel, Pastis, all of them - didn't warrant I shouldn't try a bite of this, although, when I cut this open, I almost didn't. This got a really strong anise flavor that lingered on in my mouth for a while after I forced it down to swallow. If you love anise, this is the one for you - but not for me, unfortunately.
Chef Pascal ("Kirsch + dried Michigan cherry + dark chocolate"). Cherry and chocolate is such a classic combination, and this one was good, albeit a bit too plain.
Woolloomooloo ("Australian macadamia nut + coconut + milk chocolate"). Fun name to pronounce, isn't it? I didn't quite taste mac nuts, as the coconuts were more dominant. Very sweet and mellow.
Naga ("sweet Indian curry + coconut + milk chocolate "). This was another flavor that interested me when I was choosing a candy bar at the boutique (the other one was Black Pearl, which I eventually chose). I tried a curry-flavored ganache chocolate from Godiva (their "Les Elements" line, which I wrote about a while ago), but this round fellow was totally different from Godiva's - it had a very, I say very strong curry flavor, at a whole new level. I almost felt as if I had been biting a lump of curry paste. That might not sound very appetizing, but somehow, it managed to taste good. Unusual.
Wink of the Rabbit ("soft caramel + Georgian pecan + milk chocolate"). Another cute name. I found this very American with all that sweet caramel filling and a crunch pecan atop. Very sweet, of course.
Gianduia ("crunchy praline + milk chocolate"). This one was pretty classic, straightforward, glamour chocolate truffle. Yum.
Ambrosia ("macadamia nut + Cointreau + white chocolate"). As the only white chocolate truffle in the box, this one was the mellowest and creamiest among others, while cointreau was only subtly there.
Budapest ("sweet Hungarian paprika + dark chocolate"). I had been looking forward to trying this one, as I imagined it lovely to infuse dark chocolate with the most aromatic, mild chili pepper from Hungary. Maybe I had had a too high expectation on this - I was mildly disappointed at first bite as I thought I didn't taste much of paprika. Later, however, the taste of paprika emerged in my mouth as it melted, and left a quiet yet pleasant aftertaste. I still think I wouldn't mind a little more paprika, though.
Among these, what I liked the most were: Black Pearl, Gianduia, and Budapest.
Recchiuti Confections was a new name to me, as I only discovered it at the Neiman Marcus boutique while browsing around for Vosges. This chic San Francisco chocolatier bearing the name of co-founders Michael and Jacky Recchiuti had a stylish and sublime selection of dark chocolates. I got a box called "Green Box".
Lemon Verbena. Bitter chocolate ganache infused with lemon verbena, topped with candied lemon peel, and coated with dark chocolate. Layers of definite lemon scent were blended into dark chocolate.
Star Anise and Pink Peppercorn. Did I say I hate anise? Okay. This one wasn't so anise-y, although strong enough to mask any taste of pink peppercorn (to me at least). It wasn't so unpleasant (which is a compliment).
Spring Jasmine Tea. Jasmine blossoms and green tea leaves are infused in extra-bitter chocolate ganache. Bitter chocolate wasn't overpowering the very delicate jasmine tea flavor, making this an extremely refreshing piece of chocolate. Lovely.
Sur de Lago. Sur de Lago is a name of area in Venezuela, where these aromatic chocolate beans are produced. I almost thought I tasted some kind of liquor in it, and was surprised to know there wasn't any. Really aromatic morsel.
Pearl Mint Tea. This one gave off a sweet scent of mint before I threw it into my mouth. That sweet smell reminiscent of mint tea.
Tarragon Grapefruit. I am not sure if I like tarragon in general, as it is a bit anise-like (did I mention...). But this one had only a hint of tarragon scent, and the dark chocolate and bittersweet candied grapefruit peel were gorgeous together.
Burnt Caramel. Caramel usually is more or less burned sugar, so what is burnt caramel like? It was slightly smoky and unarguably bitter, but in a perfectly sweet way. No teeth-sticking chewiness of ordinary caramel at all, just a tender ganache with a noble bittersweet finish. This was irresistible, no wonder it is their "signature piece".
Lavender Vanilla. I already smelled lavender when I picked up my piece, and it lasted long way after it has been disappeared. I didn't quite tell vanilla, though.
Among these, what I liked the most were: Spring Jasmine Tea, Burnt Caramel, and Lemon Verbena.
Phew. If you have read all this through down to here, you might probably be pretty exhausted. So am I. You may even have heartburn, almost? Well, I don't.
For my honor's sake I have to make it clear that I tasted all these chocolates (26 pieces in total!) over a period of almost two weeks, two to three pieces at a time, once a day or two (in the order listed above for each box). I also shared every piece with one or two people, which means I basically only ate one piece at a time (in theory). This doesn't change the fact that I ate a lot of chocolate in a relatively short span of time, but just so you know.
Overall, I enjoyed every piece of every box, but if I am to choose one, I'd definitely like Recchiuti's the best. They may not be as pretty and eye-catching as the other two, but tasted outstandingly good. I can't believe I didn't buy a "Black Box" which contains all 16 of their regular flavors.
Speaking of it, I had a bit of miscommunication with a salesclerk at the Neiman Marcus boutique; the boxes didn't exactly have the selection I thought I was going to have, based on the talk we had. For example, I thought I got MarieBelle's Champagne and Recchiuti's Rose Caramel in my boxes, which weren't there. Well, maybe next time, even if I am not quite certain how soon the "next time" could be.
*I SAID I'd see you in a week in my last post, and alas, it has been way more than two weeks. Sorry about this late return, and thanks for checking back.
posted by chika at: 3/16/2005 08:36:00 PM