Saturday, May 8, 2010

Soho Chocolate Review and Great Gift Ideas for Mom

Jacques Torres Chocolate Shoe. Photo by Joe Chan.

This article originally appeared on The Gotham Palate.

Who doesn't love a little chocolate? Whether it's chocolate candy bars, hot chocolate or truffles, chocolate holds a special place in many people's stomachs. Francine Segan, food historian, led a tour of the unique chocolate shops that make New York City such a pleasure to peruse. This event took place on Apr. 28 and was hosted by 92Y Tribeca (200 Hudson St.; 212-601-1000), a cultural and community center that holds lectures, tastings, wellness classes, films and culinary tours such as this one.

Of course, at 11 a.m., it's essential to begin the day with a jump start: Segan passed around samples of different types of fine Italian confections, ranging from fruit-filled Venchi Giandujotti chocolate to Baci's signature smooth hazelnut milk chocolate - the Baci was so good I wanted another! Two lucky winners had the privilege of taking home a box of Tuscan Biscuits with chocolate pieces (Cantuccini Con Pezzi Di Cioccolato).

To start off the Soho Chocolate Tour, Segan gave a brief talk on how chocolate is made and the process of cultivating beans into the finished product. She covered tempering, seeding, melting and types of chocolate.

Did you know that...

...chocolate grows on trees and the pods must be plucked by hand?

...chocolate can only grow 20 degrees above and below the equator?

...cocoa beans can be made into wine (but result in a lesser quality chocolate)?

After our mini history lesson, we plunged right into the heart of our chocolate addiction: The Tour.

Our first stop? Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven (350 Hudson St.; 212-414-2462), headed up by the world-reknowned classic French chef-turned chocolate purveyor. Torres has opened locations in Dumbo, Brooklyn, and Chelsea Market; the one on Hudson St. is Segan's favorite. Torres himself stopped to chat with us about his chocolate. He recommends taste-testing white chocolate first, then milk, and lastly, dark (in that order). We dug into chocolate-covered Cheerios, chocolate espresso beans and chocolate chip cookies. But the hot chocolate is by far one of his best products. Spice-inflected chocolate in thick liquid form, both rich and smooth at once. A sliver of whipped cream capped off the exceptional flavor.

But this tour goes beyond the need to quell a sugar rush. Real chocolate aficionados know to judge a chocolate by its sheen, smell (earthy, berry, nutty, etc.), snap and taste. Kee's Chocolate (80 Thompson St.; 212-334-3284) passes all those tests - little wonder it's considered the "best in NYC." Chef/owner Kee Lee Tong has set herself apart with her handcrafted, high quality ingredients and the crisp "snap" of her chocolates. "Her ganaches are amazingly fresh," said Segan of Tong. We sampled the Creme Brulee (pleasant, if predictable) and the Lemon-Basil, a strong, tangy blend that bursts in your mouth and has a sharp aroma that lingers even after you consume it. Simply put: it's poppin'.

The most intense flavors had to be from our last stop: Vosges (132 Spring St.; 212-625-2929). Vosges is a chocolate shop chain that started in Chicago. Altogether, we sampled no less than 8 varieties of chocolates with complex, intricate flavors. These included: Goji Exotic (Tibetan goji berries + pink Himalayan salt + 45% deep milk chocolate), Black Pearl (Japanese ginger + wasabi + black sesame seeds + 55% dark chocolate) and my personal favorite - Mo's Milk Chocolate Bacon Bar (Applewood bacon + alderwood salt + deep milk chocolate). Even though my palate was suffering from extreme overstimulation, I could still differentiate between the nuanced flavors.

The Soho Chocolate Tour was a resounding trumpet call for chocoholics everywhere. And just in time for Mother's Day - grab a box of chocolates for the special lady in your life! Or just to assuage your sweet tooth.

About Francine Segan:
Segan's light-hearted, bubbly personality was the perfect catalyst for getting us into the chocolate-tasting spirit. Segan is the author of four cookbooks and is currently working on a volume covering Italian desserts. Her articles can be found in the Chicago Tribune Syndicated. Segan has also worked with Lidia Bastianich, Mario Batali, among other chefs. You can also tune into her on your boob tune: she frequently appears on CBS, Discovery, History channels and the Food Network.