Friday, December 24, 2010

Askinosie: San Jose Del Tambo

Doesn't that guy on the Askinosie bar look kind of like George W. Bush? My mom brought this bar back for me from Boston -- I think she got it at Formaggio, on Huron Ave. in Cambridge. I've seen these bars around before but I've never had one because they're pretty expensive. Thanks Mom!

Askinosie: San Jose Del Tambo
Cocoa content: 70%
Notable ingredients: n/a
Origin: Ecuador

I think Askinosie copied my blog. Look at the wrapper: categories for Bean, Origin, Variety, Cocoa, Process, and Choc-o-lot #. They basically stole my idea of summing up chocolate bars in a few simple categories, and went crazy with it. Honestly, who is going to recognize the names of different beans and bean varietals when they're shopping for chocolate bars? And who cares about the choc-o-lot #? What is that? Mine is just stamped with 05 06 10, which I assume is a date. But what am I supposed to make of that?

I wish I could dock points for this excess, but I can't: this bar was too delicious. It had a perfect snap, great consistency, and a sweet, roasted coffee flavor -- not at all acidic. This is one of the better South American single-origin bars that I've tried.

Another thing: it comes in this adorable little bag. I don't know if you can tell from the picture, but the wrapper is actually a narrow little brown paper bag, folded over at the top and tied shut with twine. The front is stamped with bar-specific statistics and the back is printed with a little note from the founder, Shawn Askinosie -- oh, ok, so reading this now I see that the picture on the front is of the farmer. No kidding! So it's not George W. Bush.

This was a great bar and I can't wait to eat another Askinosie bar. Next up, if I can find it in New York: the Malted Moo Moo bar. Yum. B+.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cold Stone Creamery: Peanut Butter Cup Perfection

May I say: Lol. May I say lol because Cold Stone Creamery's Peanut Butter Cup Perfection bar represents the Cold Stone concept come full-circle: they use candy in their ice cream, and then they adapt their popular ice cream creations to candy form -- what's next? Will Cold Stone eat itself, and use its own ice cream-turned-candy creations as mix-ins into new ice cream creations? Is that too meta for Cold Stone? First things first:

Cold Stone Creamery: Peanut Butter Cup Perfection
Cocoa content: unlisted (guess: 30%)
Notable ingredients: "filling" (vaguely peanut butter-like substance)
Origin: please!

This was actually a truly disgusting bar. I don't know why. I'll be the first to admit that Cold Stone Creamery is not bad! I know, I know, the ice cream is mediocre -- but even mediocre ice cream tastes awesome if you grind an entire Butterfinger into it. Anyone who says otherwise is lying! I've never had the Peanut Butter Cup Perfection, but I'm guessing it's delicious. Peanut Butter tends to turn everything it touches into gold.

Not this bar -- but then again, we can't really call this peanut butter. Peanuts aren't even mentioned until the 6th item in the ingredient list under "filling," and even then it's "artificial peanut flavor." Well, something went horribly wrong with this artificial peanut filling, because it tastes like blue cheese legit. It's disgusting. It's unspeakable.

Or maybe the problem is with the chocolate? It's made by Turin -- a self-proclaimed "master chocolatier" -- a company that's been around for almost a century. I'm pretty sure the chocolate is at best tasteless, and possibly kind of stale and chewy, too. Really, the disgusting filling distracted me from the chocolate. So, Cold Stone -- stick to what you do best. Keep combining good candy with bad ice cream, and leave the bad candy out of it.

As a fan of Cold Stone I'm sorry to say -- this bar gets a D.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ritter Sport: Yogurt

I got this bar -- one of the last Ritter Sport bars that I haven't tried -- from my friend Mia. I was curious about the consistency of the yogurt because I figured it would just spill out if I snapped off a piece of the bar -- the little squares on Ritter bars aren't capsules like that Lindt yogurt bar I once had. As it turned out, the yogurt magically stayed in place, and my time with this bar has been a festival of creaminess.

Ritter Sport: Yogurt
Cocoa content: 55%
Notable ingredients: yogurt
Origin: n/a

So on Ritter Sport's website, the yogurt in this bar is described as 45% skimmed milk yogurt. I don't know how much yogurt is typically skimmed, but this yogurt was pretty solid and dry, almost more like an almond paste or crumbly white chocolate. But still -- it was exceedingly creamy. And whereas that last yogurt bar was a little too sweet, this was the kind of yogurt I like -- tangy and a little sour.

The way it blended with the chocolate was really delicious. Both the chocolate and the yogurt retained their sweet and milky notes while melting together, and the sharpness of the yogurt was kind of tempered by the chocolate. I only had an issue with the way the bar broke apart -- because of the consistency of the yogurt, the pieces sort of tore softly rather than snapped -- which undermines Ritter Sport's slogan for this bar: "Why spoon when you can snap?"

But overall it was interesting and creamy and good. I wonder if I should have refrigerated it? A-.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

NibMor: Crispy

My local Eden Gourmet recently began selling NibMor chocolates, so I picked one up when I was home for Thanksgiving break. The name is kind of misleading -- there are no nibs (bits of roasted cocoa bean) in this chocolate. There may never have been nibs in the processing of this chocolate, because I don't think the cocoa beans were ever roasted. And that, readers, was a huge mistake on NibMor's part. Because this bar was nasty.

NibMor: Crispy
Cocoa content: 65%
Notable ingredients: crispy brown rice; agave nectar
Origin: n/a

NibMor is a couple of women in Huntington, on Long Island, making nasty chocolate bars and leaving out all the good ingredients that make chocolate palatable. Vegan. Dairy Free. Gluten Free. Non-GMO. No Refined Sugar. Kosher. Recyclable. I don't even know how a chocolate bar can be recyclable. Was I not supposed to eat it? Anyway, I'm going to make a list of things I hate about this bar.

1. Raw: The package has all sorts of labels and certifications on it. It's Raw (of course,) it's Certified Vegan, it's USDA Organic. Here's what I don't get -- vegans, ok, I understand that they have to eat chocolate too. Some of their chocolate is ok. Most of it isn't -- whatever! They're doing the best they can! But Raw foodists? Isn't the Raw food movement primarily concerned with maintaining the natural nutrients and antioxidants in food? I know what they say about a little chocolate every day being good for your heart or something, but let's be honest -- chocolate is an indulgence! There are no important nutrients to maintain here, really. Is it worth ruining what could have been a perfectly good chocolate bar just to save some antioxidants?

2. Agave Nectar: Agave is what vegans use instead of honey, because honey comes from bees. Agave is nice to drizzle on yogurt. But last time I checked, sugar is ok for vegans. Sugar actually comes from a plant! And it's the only sweetener that really works with chocolate for consistency reasons. So why couldn't NibMor use sugar? Of course they're concerned with refined ingredients, but plenty of chocolate is made with unrefined cane sugar. Is this flashy, unnecessary nod to veganism worth the gummy, crumbly consistency?

3. Consistency: Combine raw chocolate and agave nectar, and you've achieved the consistency of a Power Bar. NibMor doesn't break along even lines, it has no snap to speak of, and eating it involves a lot of chewing and no melting. Creaminess is sacrificed for cold processing. This was a sticky, lifeless mess.

4. Brown Rice: This is just ridiculous. If you're staying away from refined grains -- if you're staying away from refined anything -- just forget about chocolate. Everything that is good about chocolate is going to offend your diet.

That's that. Next week I will enjoy a chocolate bar rife with refined sugar and literally filled with dairy. This bar gets a D.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Komforte Chockolates: French Toast

My friend Molly told me about Komforte Chockolates, a company in Orange, CA. I have never encountered these in stores, and I've had a lot of encounters in a lot of stores. These bars seem to be sold only in California, Oregon, Washington, and of course online. I bought this one on Amazon for about $5 and the shipping costs doubled the price but -- French Toast! It was worth it.

Komforte Chockolates: French Toast
Cocoa content: Unlisted (estimate 33%)
Notable ingredients: "french toast"
Origin: n/a

A lot of people gave me shit for choosing this bar over some of Komforte's other wackier flavors: Ramen Noodle and Tortilla with Lime. I love ramen noodles, but I imagine that bar just has crunchy dried noodles tangled within the chocolate, like packaged "ramen" before you've put it in boiled water, and that just didn't interest me. Plus, I was very curious about how french toast -- which I generally think of as sort of soggy and fluffy -- would be incorporated into the chocolate bar. Would it be eggy? Powdered with confectioner's sugar? Moist?

No, no, no. Actually, the second ingredient listed on the back of this bar (after milk chocolate) is -- get ready -- bagel chips! What? What do bagel chips and french toast have to do with one another? Are bagel chips even an ingredient? Aren't bagel chips just stale pieces of bagel? Obviously not, because these bagel chips have molasses in them. And natural beta carotene. What are bagel chips? What is french toast? When shall the twain meet?

But -- you know what -- I'm not really here to ask questions. This bar was so tasty. It tasted like honey-comb flavored bagel chips (go with it) embedded in creamy, appropriately salted milk chocolate. I had a really good time getting to know this bar and then -- in the blink of an eye, 2.5 ounces later, it was gone. Ramen noodles might be next, because who knows what will REALLY be in that bar. A-.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Starbucks: Dark Chocolate with Via

So I told you: I had something decidedly non-anonymous planned. I bought this bar in the Starbucks in Bronxville, NY, because I needed to go online and I thought I had to buy something to get a wireless code. Not so -- apparently you can get free wireless in all Starbucks locations now. But anyway, I ended up with this bar and apparently they had just been released. This has been my first introduction to Via coffee, Starbucks's new instant coffee product.

Starbucks: Dark Chocolate with Via
Cocoa content: Unlisted (my guess: 75%)
Notable ingredients: instant microground coffee
Origin: n/a

This is a tiny bar, 1.2 oz., which I guess is the size of most of those little chocolate bars they have up at the counter. "Via" and "Readybrew" are imprinted on the bar -- it's cute. It baffles me that Starbucks has such stale, dried-out pastries because they actually have really smart chocolate partnership: they sell TCHO and Santander bars in the stores. I think the chocolate for this Via bar was made by Santander, which is a really good foreign chocolate maker.

It tasted ok -- I'm generally not a big fan of coffee flavored things, but I have found that I enjoy a coffee flavor if its with a sweeter, lighter chocolate. This chocolate is actually quite dark and suffers from being a little acidic. The coffee is thankfully not grainy, and also not too strong. I guess it would be nice to enjoy with a cup of coffee.

I will probably not eat this again, but it wasn't bad. B.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Tikras Sokoladas: Mystery Bar

This week was interesting because this week I ate a mystery chocolate bar. This will be an un-traditional entry because I'm working with very little information. Here's a list of the facts I do know:

1. My friend Dan brought it back from Lithuania for me.
2. It comes from a store called Tikras Sokoladas.
3. It is dark.

This gigantic bar, wrapped simply in plastic and a dark red ribbon, weighed probably close to 10 oz. I would guess that it had a cocoa content of about 72%, but it's hard to know for sure -- when I tried googling "Tikras Sokoladas," I got a scary list of Lithuanian Yelp-equivalents. There's no information about this bar online because it's not really a chocolate bar packaged as such -- obviously there's no label -- it's just a bar shaped package of this store's product.

It's very good! It's deceptively good. The snap is decent, the texture looks very inconsistent and air bubbly, but the taste is great: creamy, rich, and full of that roasted nib flavor.

The sticker on the bar has the address of the store: Vytauto g.4, Trakai (Trakai is the name of a town in Lithuania.) I used Google Maps to see the surroundings, and it looks like the store is right by a big lake -- Lentvario ez. Again, I tried googling the name of the shop and clicked on a blogspot link and asked Google to translate it to English for me. Once the page had loaded, there was no (translated) mention of Tikras Sokoladas -- only a curious blog entry titled "Hot Chocolate Cocoa Does Not Really."

So, this was a great find about which I still know very little. Stay tuned for next week, when I'll feature a decidedly un-mysterious chocolate bar. B+.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Winnipesaukee Chocolates: Madame Chiang

Madame Chiang Kai-Shek discovered Lake Winnipesaukee, smack-dab in the middle of the State of New Hampshire (thanks, Sherlock Kai-Shek,) in 1908. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe when they say (on the back of this bar) that she discovered the lake, they mean she came across it, not having known about it before. It's actually absurd to think that a woman from Shanghai could possibly have discovered Lake Winnipesaukee in 1908--while attending summer school nearby. I guess this packaging is just badly written. Anyway:

Winnipesaukee Chocolates: Madame Chiang
Cocoa content: Unlisted (my guess 65%)
Notable ingredients: crystallized ginger
Origin: n/a

So anyway--Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, former First Lady of the Republic of China, was walking in the woods in New Hampshire one day and came across Lake Winnipesaukee, as any normal person might if he or she were walking in the woods in New Hampshire--eventually--that's a pretty small state. To honor the day she happened upon the biggest lake in the state of New Hampshire, Winnipesaukee Chocolates created the Madame Chiang bar, which consists of dark chocolate with crystallized ginger. Sounds a little bit racist to me. Discuss.

This bar was kind of a dud, which is disappointing because the last Winnipesaukee bar I tried--Sally's Gut--was pretty nice. This bar was just way too thick and the ginger was dispersed too scarcely. The chocolate was kind of inconsistent in texture: unpleasantly grainy, with a lot of air bubbles, and very dried out. No melt or creaminess to speak of. And, on top of that, the bar was almost impossible to break. They should stretch these 3 oz. bars out so that they're half as thick--that would go a long way.

So, this bar certainly wasn't disgusting, but after eating it for two nights I wanted nothing to do with it. On to the next. C.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Noi Sirius: 33%

Happy Halloween! I was thinking about ways to make this entry spooky, but it's super hard to be scary in a blog entry so I have decided instead to write about this bar, the 33% milk chocolate bar by the Icelandic chocolate maker Sirius, because it is scary good. Also, it's scary big, scary inexpensive, and any kid would be lucky to receive it in his or her Halloween bag -- although it's highly unlikely that anyone will.

Noi Sirius: 33%
Cocoa content: 33%
Notable ingredients: n/a
Origin: n/a

Noi Sirius is the leading confectionery company in Iceland -- they were established in 1920 and have been using the same minimal packaging since 1933! The company makes all kinds of candy products including chocolate eggs, pastilles, and licorice. They also emphasize that the product is really good for baking -- I can attest to that, as I used the remainder of the 56% bar to make chocolate chip cookies two summers ago.

Everything about this bar, fittingly, was highly serious. It's enormous at 7.05 oz., and it consists of two heavy planks of milk chocolate, stacked one on top of the other and then wrapped cleanly in white parchment paper. It cost only about $4, which is less than some bars half its size. I have already been eating it for a week and I've only finished one of the planks. The chocolate itself is intensely rich and creamy, but not overly sweet. Noi Sirius uses "Icelandic quality milk," which I know very little about but which is apparently delicious. According to Noi Sirius's website, the only US vendor is Whole Foods, and they keep the price really low -- I can recommend this one and also the 56% variety.

Overall, this was and continues to be delicious! Noi Sirius may be one of the best chocolate companies I have Known. A.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Theo: Toasted Coconut

Have you ever seen anything that looks more like a present for a baby girl? Nor I -- though you're probably not supposed to give chocolate to babies. Or is that just dogs? In any case, if you were going to give a chocolate bar to a baby, you probably wouldn't give it something that costs $5 and bills itself as fair trade and organic. Baby girls don't care about that! You're wasting your money. This bar is part of Theo's Classic Collection line. I got it at a Whole Foods in New Jersey.

Theo: Toasted Coconut
Cocoa content: 70%
Notable ingredients: toasted coconut
Origin: n/a

Theo is one of my favorite domestic chocolate companies, even though I haven't always loved the Theo bars that I've blogged about here. The company is based in Seattle, WA. I like them for their well-made, balanced chocolate, their packaging, their partnership with Jane Goodall, and their excellent Fantasy Flavors line, that includes bars like "Fig Fennel & Almond" and "Bread and Chocolate" (the latter as seen on this blog.)

Coconut -- I want to say it is a crude confection. I want to say an inelegant-- what is a coconut? My sources say the coconut is a member of the palm family, and, I quote, "the only accepted member in the genus Cocos." What kind of wacky tree-dropping -- let's be honest, it's a tree nut -- gets its own genus in the plant kingdom? I want to say that coconut doesn't deserve it -- it's a tacky tree nut. But I've always really liked coconut confections. Almond Joy bars, in particular. So I bought this bar kind of as a guilty pleasure, expecting that my craving would be satisfied.

This bar tasted very good, but it didn't taste like coconut. Everyone I shared it with said the same thing. The lone member of the Cocos genus didn't show up. The texture of coconut was definitely present, but I absolutely didn't taste coconut once. Kind of a disappointment, although the bar was pretty good anyway. If someone could point me in the direction of a better coconut bar for next time, I'd be very appreciative.

For its goodness, unfulfilled promise of coconut aside, this bar gets a B.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Frey: Sogni de Caffe

I've been bad -- I should have updated days ago, but I was traveling in another city and was busy dealing with some other desserts. Having found all of them delicious but none of them blog-appropriate, I'm back to discuss -- in brief -- another bar from my friend Dan, who plays music and has an eye for chocolate.

Frey is a 120(!)-year-old Swiss chocolate company with an adorable website that takes you on a simulated tour of a city square in Switzerland. Try it -- it's actually really fun. There's also a section on the website for chocolate advertisements, with a video archive dating back to 1969! And, believe it or not, this company is also owned by Migros, the Swiss supermarket chain.

So I'm not going to do the usual statement of facts about this bar because I left the wrapper in another state. There were two different cocoa contents going on because the bar consisted of a thick layer of milk chocolate on top of a thinner, dark layer strewn with ground coffee beans. I'm not typically crazy about coffee-flavored confections, and this was a pleasant surprise -- good, but not amazing. I found that the flavors worked but the little shards of coffee bean were too inconsistent.

That's all for now. Thanks, everyone, for reading my blog. I hope to come back next week with something closer to home. B.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Jelina Chocolatier: Nougat au Miel

I purchased this extremely exciting bar at the Food Emporium Chocolate Shop on 68th and 3rd Avenue -- right near where Grandpa used to live, and I still have a reason to visit the neighborhood. The Chocolate Shop just started carrying Jelina Chocolatier products, and there is virtually no information about this company on the web so it's all kind of very mysterious and nougaty. This was an exceptional find.

Jelina Chocolatier: Nougat au Miel
Cocoa content: 36%
Notable ingredients: honey, nougat
Origin: n/a

Wowee Zowee -- both my reaction to this bar and the name of an album by Pavement, the greatest band of all time basically whom I saw perform in Central Park on the very same day that I bought this bar, thus rendering that day one of the very best of my life. Wowee Zowee -- this was delicious. Basically, we have a lot of little squares of decadent chocolate absolutely saturated with little shards of honey nougat, at once crunchy and chewy and sweet and nutty.

If you put a square of this in your mouth and let it melt, you're left with a solid conglomeration of tiny nougat pieces, which then slowly disintegrate, getting stuck in your teeth here and there, always delicious.

This was a near perfect bar. I am so lucky to have encountered this little chocolatier from Montreal, about which I know very little but whose packaging and product I certainly admire. A.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Migros: Cremant

My traveling buddy -- and by that I mean my buddy who travels, not my buddy with whom I travel, because I haven't traveled very much recently beyond my usual New York-Massachusetts-New Jersey circuit -- brought this bar home to me from Switzerland! Migros is one of Switzerland's biggest supermarket chains, I guess, and being that Switzerland is the sort of unofficial chocolate capital of Europe, I had reasonably high hopes for this dark milk bar.

Migros: Cremant
Cocoa content: 53%
Notable ingredients: n/a
Origin: n/a

So the French word cremant sort of translates to.. creaming? That can't be right. Let's hope not. This bar was, however, exceptionally creamy, and it absolutely exceeded my expectations for what supermarket chocolate could accomplish. The last supermarket-brand chocolate bar I had on this blog was from Tesco, and that turned out to be a chalky, graceless nightmare. I'm thankful for this vast improvement. Plus, I love the packaging -- what the hell are those things, Raisinettes!?

This was a melty, full-bodied treasure. I loved the velvety, dense -- here I want to say "mouthfeel" but I won't -- you get the idea. This was dark milk chocolate at its best! This is a bar that I'd expect from a chocolate company -- not from a chain supermarket. But you know what, I've encountered surprises left and right in this crazy world: did you know Brody Jenner is dating Avril Lavigne!? Things are not always what they seem.

The Cremant bar has restored my faith in the existence of really good supermarket-brand chocolate. Cheers to that! A-.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cocoa Bean Chocolate Co.: Gin & Tonic

It's no secret that I've been pretty delinquent about buying chocolate recently, which is why I am here to write about a 1-year-old Irish chocolate bar that has been collecting chalky choco-dust in my chocolate box (yup) for some time. I promise -- the next month will be a more fruitful one, as just last night I acquired a whopping 4 (!) new chocolate bars. Oh, and I saw Pavement. Basically everything is going to be more fruitful from now on. But anyway -- here I am, having eaten this gin & tonic flavored bar and wanting at least to report on it, if not to relive it.

Cocoa Bean Chocolate Co.: Gin & Tonic
Cocoa content: 70%
Notable ingredients: juniper berries; lime zest
Origin: n/a

Now, don't get me wrong, I like a gin & tonic -- I like it in a cup, fool! With ice and lime! Who the hell decided that a chocolate bar should taste like a highball cocktail, though? I guess it shouldn't surprise us that the answer to that is -- an Irish person. From County Kerry, no less. Come to think of it, the only other alcohol-inspired chocolate bar I've ever had was also purchased in Ireland. That would be the Lindt Irish Coffee bar and, well, we saw how successful that was.

Well, I have fine memories of ordering many gin & tonics while I was abroad in Ireland. Over there, they serve you a shot of gin in a glass along with an adorable mini Schweppes bottle of tonic water that you're supposed to add to the gin as you see fit. That was great. This bar, not so much. Granted, I let it sit around for a year, but that doesn't excuse the off-putting synthetic lime taste and odd piney flavor of the crushed juniper berries.

The back of the package reads: "Perfectly acceptable at any time of day." And judging from the fact that my Irish University's college bar opened at 11am, that's not really saying much. C-.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Berkshire Bark: Jumpin' Java

Here's another Berkshire Bark bar from Dave's Fresh Pasta in Somerville, MA -- if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? But there's actually a ton of great specialty food shopping in that little city, and many interesting little shopping districts that I never knew about in high school because they weren't on the Red Line. Behold: Jumpin' Java.

Berkshire Bark: Jumpin' Java
Cocoa content: unlisted (guess: 60%)
Notable ingredients: Brace yourself -- roasted almonds; espresso toffee; crushed coffee beans; caramelized nibs
Origin: n/a

Now, I'll forgive Berkshire Bark for the corny name "Jumpin' Java," which is perhaps even cornier than the last Berkshire Bark product I had -- "Pretzelogical" -- but, hey, at least this time I was prepared! And, to be honest, this bar was jumpin'. This was a monstrous hunk of chocolate filled to the brim with whole almonds, amazingly delicious homemade toffee, and lots of roasted coffee flavor. I'm not crazy about coffee-flavored things in general, but there was so much sugar happening here that the acidity I usually object to was neutralized.

The only thing that was decidedly unpleasant about this bar was that it's impossible to break off pieces of it. For those of us who eat chocolate in a civilized manner, bit by bit, night after night, with attention to the subtlest of details, the unsegmented design of the bar was kind of difficult to deal with. It's basically just a hunk of thick, densely packed chocolate, with nary an easy-breaking line in sight. Berkshire Bark should sell these snacks in little bite-sized pieces, all contained in a bag, but then -- alas -- I might never have Known it.

All in all, a delectable bar from a delectable state. B+.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Skipping a Week

Dear Readers:

A combination of obscenely hot weather and beginning-of-school busyness (is that a word?) has demoted chocolate Knowing to about the 4th item on my to-do list, and lord knows that means it didn't get done. I promise I'll be back next week when I've had a chance to procure something new, sit back, and nibble thoughtfully.

In the meantime, however, I will tell you that I had a Take 5 bar for the very first time, and that it was otherworldly. I definitely recommend it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

MarieBelle: Madagascar

This bar traveled all around the New York metro area, only to end up in my mouth -- Michael bought it in the MarieBelle Soho store and took it home to me in northern New Jersey, at which point I ate a few pieces of it, packed it back up, and took it back over to New York -- further North this time, to Bronxville.

MarieBelle: Madagascar
Cocoa content: 70%
Notable ingredients: n/a
Origin: Madagascar

Of its Madagascar bar, MarieBelle claims that bars of gold could not be finer. And I'd have to agree with them -- everything about this bar, including the pretty fold-out packaging and the exceptional snap and richness and sweetness was perfect. MarieBelle sells such amazing chocolate! I've never encountered even a slightly offensive or overdone taste in any of their products. This Madagascar bar was distinctive and perfectly balanced.

This is only the third single-origin bar from Madagascar that I've featured on this blog, and it looks like they have a pretty good track record with me. It's amazing that there's such a huge difference in flavor between beans from Madagascar and those from Ghana and other surrounding countries -- it leads me to believe that the proximity of particular plants and crops really does influence the way the beans taste.

Sorry for the generally uninteresting post -- being back at college in 95 degree weather has displaced chocolate from my list of top priorities. I hope my enthusiasm about this bar comes across regardless. A.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fatty Crab: Fatty Bar Milk

A recent meal at Fatty Crab on the Upper West Side concluded with this exciting treat, created exclusively for Fatty Crab by Tumbador Chocolates. Fatty's dessert menu consists of this and one other Fatty Bar, the dark variety, made with roasted almonds, chili, and sea salt. Somehow, after hot pickles, steamed pork buns, and soft-shell crab, dark chocolate just seemed too conservative a choice with which to cap off the meal. Although I almost changed my mind when our waiter mentioned that the chocolate/chili combo was "a little out there, but surprisingly good!" DOES HE KNOW WHO I AM.

Fatty Crab: Fatty Bar Milk
Cocoa content: unknown
Notable ingredients: candied ginger; puffed rice
Origin: n/a

Puffed rice: welcome! You are always welcome here! And that's part of why I ordered this bar. But my waiter didn't even mention ginger, and, judging from the prevalence of said spice on this blog, I would say that was a pretty welcome addition, too. The bar was thick and dense like a candy bar, with a much more complicated flavor profile and an interesting textural experience what with the chewy ginger sharing space with crispy rice.

Also, I wish you could see the wrapper more clearly because it's adorable: there are little crabs and prawns all over it. If I remember correctly, it came on a little plate and looked positively blog-worthy; alas, all who have been to this restaurant know that it is too dark to take photos, especially with a cheap phone camera.

At the restaurant, we ate about 2/3 of the bar and I wrapped the rest of it back up for enjoying later, and we didn't even notice that our waiter took it back to the kitchen with him when he went to run my credit card! Luckily, he was back a moment later when he realized the wrapper still contained chocolate. For the meal and the bar, A-.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Lake Champlain: Tanzania

Lately, I've been having some trouble finding the time to really get to Know my bars. I Know not, and I have too little time to report -- what I don't Know. But thank God, some bars aren't really worth Knowing. I never waste too much time getting to Know those bars. Is that a sin?

It's not a sin, per say. But it's certainly an afront to Lake Champlain Chocolates, a company that deems its product worth Knowing.

Lake Champlain: Tanzania
Cocoa content: 75%
Notable ingredients: n/a
Origin: Tanzania

Who is responsible for this blunder: Lake Champlain, or the Tanzanians? I'm going to go with Lake Champlain, because not only did they produce this bar, but they also totally misrepresented it online: intense and creamy? Fruity and floral?

Readers, this bar tasting like nothing. It tasted like not a single thing under the sun. Granted, it wasn't exactly new, but having sat in a box for a few months is no excuse for the stunning lack of flavor. It was like -- no, it was not like anything -- but the experience of eating it recalled cardboard; cheap whole-wheat bread; the casing of a Reese's Cup, if there were not a trace of peanut butter involved.

So, what's worse, for a chocolate to taste distinctively bad, or to taste of nothing? I'm going to go the neutral road on this one because I've Known far, far worse than this boring misstep. C.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Chocolat Moderne: Kashmir Spice

Readers: Is Whole Foods taunting you with gorgeous chocolate displays? My local Whole Foods has set up this nice little table by the coffee counter and on it they've artfully displayed some of the most beautiful chocolate bars I've ever seen, along with some other special treats like Herrell's chocolate fudge (of Boston!) And this is in addition to the quarter aisle that is already devoted entirely to chocolate -- which, in some towns, offers the best selection around. I've been taunted - and enticed - by this bar for weeks, so I finally decided to shell out $8 for it. Actually -- make that $40, when you take into account the other 4 that I needed to complete this photo. Just kidding -- camera is on the fritz.

Chocolat Moderne: Kashmir Spice
Cocoa content: 51%
Notable ingredients: toffee; cardamom; cinnamon; cloves
Origin: n/a

What is with me and chai spices recently? I feel like I am forever trying to relive the wonder that was that Montezuma's Nutmeg bar -- but, alas, none of these more recent chai bars contain nutmeg. This Chocolat Moderne bar was in fact a little different because it included toffee, too. Actually, the toffee itself may have been infused with the chai spices, which would mean this was a chai toffee chocolate bar.

At first, I didn't respect this bar. I left it on my desk during one of the hottest days of the summer when my AC wasn't on, and when I tried it for the first time it was obviously soft and chewy. Then I stuck it in the fridge for a few days, and when I tried it again the whole bar had shifted a bit, such that squares were no longer squares and the toffee stuck out in parts where the chocolate had thinned, crag-like.

So I felt like there was something wrong with the texture of this bar, but that might have been entirely my fault. I thought the toffee stood out too much from the other flavors, that it was too tough and hard for the consistency of the chocolate, and that eating it was a separate experience from tasting the chai spices. The chocolate tasted more or less like those Le Pain Quotidien and Dolfin bars -- the remains of which, by the way, I crumbled into a bowl of dough so as to make Chai Chocolate Chip cookies.

So I might have missed my chance to sample this bar in its prime, but as we've seen before on this blog, there are other spiced bars in the sea. B.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Mast Brothers Chocolate: Dark Chocolate and Cocoa Nibs

Ok, so I've more or less failed in the "no repeats" department. But when I first Knew the Mast Brothers they were just a couple of bearded hipsters who quoted Walt Whitman -- and look at them now! Appearing on the Cooking Channel and supplying major eateries. Just last month Shake Shack used Mast Brothers Chocolate in a special Independence Day concrete. I figured these brothers had earned themselves a bit more attention. And plus, I had one leftover Mast Brothers bar from my birthday.

Mast Brothers: Dark Chocolate + Cocoa Nibs
Cocoa content: 72%
Notable ingredients: cocoa nibs
Origin: Madagascar

Mast Brothers basically gets right to the point, zeroing in on the 72% cocoa jackpot that I've talked about previously -- most of their bars use that proportion of cocoa solids but they end up all tasting pretty different -- and having varying levels of sweetness, even -- as a result of the mix-ins. This bar, for instance, was made earthier and less sweet due to the addition of roasted cocoa nibs. These were some really fun nibs. They were cracked and pulverized and scattered across the underside of the bar to create a jagged, brittle texture. They looked almost like shards of nut shell.

And thank God those nibs were fun, because the Mast Brothers need to have more fun and need to blend more of it into their chocolates. This task I give myself to Know all chocolates that cross my path, it's hard enough; the least these apron-wearing goofballs could do is lighten the single-origin mood a little bit. Honestly, I find the chocolate slightly too bitter on its own and this is why I question Mast Brothers's ever-increasing popularity -- it's no chocolate of the people, yet. Nibs are fun, salted almonds are fun, Stumptown coffee beans are fun if a bit pretentious, but I'm waiting for a bit of sugar or a dried fruit or a less intimidating bean.

This bar's grade is very slightly elevated for the packaging, beautiful as always: B+.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Amano: Jembrana

This was a bar passed between cousins under the table at a Vietnamese restaurant where the dessert menu was underwhelming (thanks Clio!) This was a bar made of beans from the cocoa trees at the foot of Balinese volcanoes. This was a bar that -- though thick, dense, and stone ground -- still melted on the tongue without a hint of graininess. And thus it so happened that I set this bar forth in a scattering of cocoa beans and readied it for the close-up it deserves. Just kidding! Photo credit goes to Amano.

Amano: Jembrana
Cocoa content: 30%
Notable ingredients: n/a
Origin: Bali

Amano is one of about a dozen bean-to-bar companies in the United States. They are based in the Salt Lake City area of Utah. The name means "by hand" and "heavenly field" in Italian and Japanese, respectively, and -- get this -- they couldn't be Fair Trade certified because that exchange model simply doesn't pay the farmers enough! The company's prices paid to farmers come out at about 3 times the London Cocoa Terminal Market average.

So, their chocolate ought to be really good to warrant that degree of boasting. It is. I haven't tried any of their other bars but I have been hanging on to a dark Venezuelan bar of theirs that was given to me a few months back. Yes, I'm that deep in gifted chocolate, poor me. This milk bar, which was lighter than usual at 30%, was every bit as creamy and melty and milky as a mass-market Belgian chocolate but with so much more going on flavor-wise. Notes of honey and flowers remained present long after the chocolate had melted -- at which point, usually only the sugar is detectable.

So, this was wonderful and I'm excited to try more of their chocolates. Thanks again to my cousin Clio, who is an amazing, successful pastry cook and who has probably known sweets better than all of us. A-.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dolfin: Au Lait Au Masala

Michael brought this bar home from Boston for me -- undoubtedly from the liquor store on Broadway in Somerville, because they stock all of these plastic sleeve Dolfin bars -- two birds, one stone, right? Just kidding. Here we have another milk chocolate bar made with masala. I know I pegged masala chai as corny a couple of posts ago, but I just want to clarify that masala itself is not corny. Hello, have you ever had chicken tikka masala? We all have -- it's dead serious. It's chai that I take issue with, and this bar earns automatic points for abandoning that nasty four-letter word and maintaining the sweet, addictive flavor.

Dolfin: Au Lait Au Hot Masala
Cocoa content: 32%
Notable ingredients: hot masala
Origin: n/a

Ok, first. Masala, what is it? Usually, it's cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom. It's just a name for a mix of spices commonly used to brew tea. But of course, the spices themselves do not add up to tea unless you steep them in water, which is kind of why I object to the concept behind that Le Pain Quotidien bar from two weeks ago.

Aside from having different names for the same thing, this bar and the Le Pain Quotidien bar are very similar. The LPQ bar had a cocoa content of 38%, and this bar is 32%. A 6 point difference in cocoa solids isn't hugely noticeable in this range, but I did feel like the LPQ chocolate was slightly higher quality. However, the spices were blended better in this Dolfin bar: it was less grainy, a little subtler (with a more surprising finish toward the end,) and sweet without being cloyingly so.

Both bars have beautiful packaging, a good snap, and good flavor. I didn't give the LPQ post a grade but this grade can serve for both of them: B+.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Vosges: Enchanted Mushroom

Yes, readers, I went there -- into the land of dessert fungus, that is. Disclaimer #1 is that I got this bar for free at the oyster & chocolate event I attended last week, and Disclaimer #2 is that no chocolate-loving blogger in her right mind could be bribed into giving this nasty blunder a favorable review. Read on for the dirty details.

Vosges: Enchanted Mushroom
Cocoa content: 66%
Notable ingredients: Reishi mushrooms; walnuts
Origin: Dominican Republic

Pleasures want not to mingle with other pleasures -- hasn't Vosges ever heard "too much of a good thing," and so on, and so on? Yes, mushrooms are delicious, with other savory foods. But upon being dried, powdered, and distributed throughout a perfectly good dark single-origin chocolate bar, they kind of lose their identity and start to feel showy, unknowable, unwelcome.

That's how they felt to me, anyway -- when you eat a chocolate bar, you're inevitably not tuned into the savory flavors that grace your dinner table: chili peppers, maybe; bacon, maybe, but that's because those foods have such strong flavor profiles that we know them distinctly as flavors, and not as composed dishes. Mushrooms, on the other hand, I think are too firmly defined as savory food. We have a range of ways we're expecting to experience them, and when we encounter them outside of that range, it's too hard to abstract from what our palates are used to.

In simpler terms, this bar was fucking gross and if I had paid money for it I would want my money back. Don't put anymore mushrooms in my candy bars, you fools. D.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Le Pain Quotidien: Lait Masala Chai AND Oyster and Chocolate Tasting Soiree

This chocolate review will be cut a little bit short so that I can talk about an event that I attended -- don't worry! -- it's about chocolates I have known, and the bivalves whom they have known.

Burnt orange. Masala chai. The French language. Which of these items does not fit betwixt the rest? Of course the answer is that tired, oft-encountered spice: masala chai. Of course it is that ill-used, outrageously corny spice disguised -- in broad daylight (i.e. Starbucks) -- as exotic. Did you know that chai is corny? Like men's aprons -- like the word "segue"? It is.

Le Pain Quotidien: Lait Masala Chai
Cocoa content: 38%
Notable ingredients: masala
Origin: n/a

But Le Pain Quotidien isn't corny, and their market products are consistently delicious. So is this chocolate bar, which I had admittedly tasted long before this week. Not syrupy or salty but spicy and subtle. NB: Unintentional alliteration? Not corny.

The other thing I wanted to discuss is a chocolate-centric event that I attended this evening at Vosges's Soho boutique -- thanks to my chocolate-savvy uncle. The event was an "Oyster and Chocolate Tasting Soiree" featuring Chef Nick Korbee of Smith and Mills (Tribeca.) Four oysters from varying waters were paired with 4 distinct Vosges truffles and 4 drinks. The highlights for me came from separate pairings -- the Calm Cove oysters (Washington) were best of the bivalves, the white chocolate truffle with Kumumoto oyster brine and pearl dust was the winner for chocolate, and my favorite drink was a simple glass of Miller Hi-Life. All in all, a very "heady" evening, as promised by the online blurb.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Taza: Cacao Puro

This post doubles as a chocolate bar review and an event review -- the event being the UnFancy Food Show, which took place in Gowanus this past weekend. Organic, single-origin cocoa ground in traditional Mexican stone mills? Sounds pretty fancy to me, readers, but that's just one chocolate knower's opinion. Anyway, the fact that this bar is getting reviewed this week means it won out over several other, more local chocolate purveyors. More on that below.

Taza: Cacao Puro
Cocoa content: 55%
Notable ingredients: NONE!*
Origin: Dominican Republic

*So, why the big deal about none of the ingredients being notable? Really, the ingredients are kind of notable compared to most ingredients found in unfancy -- I mean literally unfancy -- chocolate bars; the beans are single origin Dominican, and ground only twice in a stone mill as opposed to a steel refiner. And the sugar is real cane sugar -- no relation whatsoever to corn. But.. that's it. This bar has only two ingredients. "The purest expression of our chocolate," says Taza's website. Glad to have known you so intimately!

Taza is a chocolate maker based in Somerville, MA, which is right near my hometown. As it happens, the guy who was working at the Taza booth was from Arlington, MA, and we had a nice little conversation about that. He encouraged me to try their special edition Chiapan bar, which was excellent -- but this blogger doesn't fuck with $9 treats, so I opted instead for a little disc of the Cacao Puro, at $4 a pop.

Cacao Puro is better than expected given that it is not cut with butter fat (one of my favorite things.) It's nice and sweet and the chocolate itself has a great flavor -- maybe not "wine-like," as the site purports, but nicely nutty and rich. Most Dominican beans are. The thing that irks me is the stone mill. I find the consistency of stone-milled chocolate too grainy, and insufficiently melty. This didn't interfere with my ability to enjoy the bar to the same extent that the Almond bar did, but still I prefer something a little creamier and neater.

I told you I was going to kvetch about the other chocolate makers represented at the UnFancy Food Show. Fine and Raw is -- sorry -- kind of nasty, and Nunu doesn't make chocolate bars (get with it!) Plus Taza had the Eastern MA connection appeal, and that's what I had to go with. The Food Show itself was really fun -- lots of wonderful pickled vegetables and homemade cheese and the best bloody Mary mix ever.

Interesting concept, adorable packaging, noble origins, but this bar gets a B.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Vosges: Peanut Butter Bonbon

I know I had a Vosges bar on this blog somewhat recently, and I try not to do repeats, but I do try to do repeats of other-worldly flavors like that of salt and peanut butter sweetly co-mingling in a sea of deep milk chocolate. Luckily, I was presented with such an opportunity when I received this bar as a gift last week, and take it I did.

Vosges: Peanut Butter Bonbon
Cocoa content: 45%
Notable ingredients: peanut butter; pink Himalayan salt; Maldon sea salt
Origin: n/a

I said a few weeks ago that jalapenos and peanuts were the Chuck and Blair of candy bars, but I think it's more like this: chocolate and peanut butter are Chuck and Blair, and everything else is Vanessa.. or Hillary Duff. Take your pick. There is no love like that between chocolate and peanut butter, and the experience is only heightened by the addition of salt -- two kinds, no less.

Honestly, this is no Reese's Cup. This is delicious, moist, nutty peanut butter and perfectly complimentary chocolate, with little salt deposits hidden in each taste to highlight the flavors. This is definitely one of the tastiest -- if not the tastiest -- Vosges bar that I've ever had, and all of them are good. To this day, the only criticism I have of Vosges or their products is the gimmicky sensory instructions on the back: "rub your thumb on the bar to help warm the chocolate and release the aromas"? Just because the Peanut Butter Bonbon bar is the high-rent version of the Reese's doesn't mean you have to kneel at its altar; you probably shouldn't be rubbing your grubby fingers on any candy unless you're 3 years old.

That said, if you are 3 years old, or 103 years old, this is the candy bar for you given that you are prepared to spend about $10 on a 3 oz. treat. Cough it up, but don't rub it out. A.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

La Maison du Chocolat: Akosombo

It has been a slow week for chocolate consumption -- and thus a regrettably late blog post -- because I've been eating out a lot recently and, as such, have consistently left zero room for chocolate tasting after ordering many gluttonous desserts. Nevertheless, I've spent a few elegant nights with this bar from La Maison du Chocolat, which my mother gave me.

La Maison du Chocolat: Akosombo
Cocoa content: 68%
Notable ingredients: n/a
Origin: Ghana

La Maison du Chocolat is a French chocolate store with two locations in New York City -- Upper East Side and Rockefeller Center. They sell fancy, single-origin chocolate bars that are nearly impossible to photograph due to their color-contrasted text. Also, they cost like $18. Who's got duckets like that to spend on a candy bar? Thankfully, my mother.

I don't have a whole lot to say about this bar, and I have something so irresistible in the lineup for next week's entry that I'm kind of anxious to get on with it already. For something so presumptuously expensive, this chocolate was at best indistinct and at worst boorish and blundering. I mean -- it certainly wasn't bad, and the texture and snap were all of a reasonable quality, but there was just nothing interesting or striking about it. And I'll remind the reader that even the most seemingly simple concepts can be striking. Also -- single origin? I wouldn't have noticed.

So, THANKS MOM, love you forever, but the Akosombo bar just didn't blow me away. B-.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Blue Smoke: Grilled Jalapeno & Salty Peanut

Blue Smoke is an NY barbecue restaurant owned by Union Square Hospitality Group, where (full disclosure) I am currently interning. I received this bar in a nice little goody bag at the intern orientation along with a Shake Shack t-shirt and assorted other treats. Like breath fresheners. Blue Smoke has a chocolate bar, and I'm relieved that they've abandoned the pig on this endeavor -- opting instead for grilled jalapenos and salty peanuts, which are two of the best things in the world.

Blue Smoke: Grilled Jalapeno & Salty Peanut
Cocoa content: Unlisted (guess: 65%)
Notable ingredients: grilled jalapeno; dry roasted peanuts; sea salt
Origin: n/a

This bar is a rich man's Mr. Goodbar with a spicy finish. Actually, I was trying to figure out if it would be more meaningful to compare the taste with the Nutrageous bar, but I feel like that candy bar came on the scene a little late and that I may be the only person who ever really ate them.. daily. Both are apt comparisons: salty and nutty but still textured and sweet -- this isn't milk chocolate, but it's not too dark either. It's completely delicious, and the chocolate is dark enough such that it never gets too sweet.

Plus, the jalapeno made for a interesting experience amidst what would otherwise be an unoriginal (albeit consistently successful) formula. I love the taste of fresh jalapenos, but when dried and scattered throughout a salty chocolate bar, they retain little of the savory flavor and the spiciness is what really stands out. In this case, to me, the taste of the jalapeno was indistinguishable from the average chili pepper one encounters in a chocolate bar. This wasn't a problem -- I always like a little bit of spice in chocolate, given that it's not overdone. In this case, it was utterly delicious.

So, who knew: jalapenos and peanuts are a perfect pair; they go together like Ronnie and Sammy (like Chuck and Blair, NOT like Audrina and Ryan Cabrera.) And, furthermore, when thoroughly roasted and thrown together with a bunch of salt and sugar, they exceed expectations and surpass those candy bars that paved the way for them.

The Federal Trade Commission might take issue with my raving review of this product from the company I'm interning for, but I cannot tell a lie and I could not keep this one to myself. My readers will just have to believe me. This is what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real. This bar gets an A.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Mast Brothers: Almonds, Sea Salt, Olive Oil

What a beauty -- and made in Brooklyn! This bar, along with two other Mast Brothers bars, was given to me by my intuitive cousin just a week or so after I had admired it at the Murray's Cheese counter in Grand Central. Of course chocolate bars should be wrapped in gorgeous paper with fleurs de lis and anchors and leaves -- what is everyone else thinking? Mast Brothers consists of two brothers -- one of whom worked at Gramercy Tavern and at Jacques Torres's Manhattan factory. They make chocolate in Williamsburg. No surprise there.

Mast Brothers: Almonds, Sea Salt, Olive Oil
Cocoa content: 81%
Notable ingredients: almonds, sea salt, olive oil
Origin: Dominican Republic

Mast Brothers don't want you to think their chocolate is factory-made -- nor do they want you to consider the location of their (let's be honest) factory to be near the East River; they prefer "handmade in delicate batches" and "Brooklyn Channel," respectively. Also, they are one of the dozen companies that claim to be the only bean-to-bar chocolate maker in New York and they're starting a "chocolate revolution." They sell their bars at places like the Brooklyn Flea and Marlow & Sons and Spuytin Duyvil. The brothers travel around the world collecting cocoa beans.

The brothers are pretty serious about reminding you that each bar is personally handcrafted by one of them -- the bar's date of birth is even printed on the back label (mine was 3/24/2010.) For all the slow food branding it should be really, really special. And in a lot of ways, it was. The salt was effective and texturally interesting but not overwhelming, and the almonds were nicely crunchy and liberally distributed on the bottom surface of the bar. Olive oil was a good idea but I'm not sure it's really doing anything here -- salt and nuts can stand out in a bar of 81% chocolate, but most other flavors would get lost. The chocolate itself certainly tastes like a single origin and has a much better snap than most. It was intensely dark and muddy -- normally a higher percentage than I enjoy, but the salt really brightened every taste.

Mostly, the packaging is gorgeous and the bar truly looks like it was handmade by the very brother who scavenged the Dominican rainforest to bring home beans to his other brother. I look forward to trying the 72% single origin and the cocoa nib bar. This one gets a B+.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Chocri: (Untitled)

As a little early birthday present, Michael and Wonja ordered a couple of custom-designed chocolate bars to be sent to me at school. They used a company called Chocri, which is based in Germany and lets you design your own chocolate bars from over 100 toppings. This bar was Wonja's design -- it has strawberry, basil, pine nuts, and candied lilac (!) Also, they give you a bar code to re-order the same chocolate bar that was made for you -- so they keep every bar recipe on file.

Chocri: (Untitled)
Cocoa content: 64%
Notable ingredients: strawberry; basil; pine nuts; candied lilac
Origin: n/a

Everyone has to visit this website. It's amazing. I did a little trial run to see what toppings Chocri offers, and some of them are really out there: I could make a bar with chives, licorice, and a couple of marzipan carrots for instance. Chocri will also write things on the bar if you so desire, and you can order from a list of pre-designed bars with themes such as "Happy Graduation" and "Summer Fever." Wonja's design feels kind of like a summery salad atop a chocolate bar.

The strawberry and candied lilac were really interesting ingredients, and they nicely balanced the savory taste of the basil and the slight bitterness of pine nuts. You wouldn't normally think of pine nuts going on a chocolate bar, and while they fit in with the other ingredients, I would say that slivered almonds might have been more effective. Also, the pine nuts were so plentiful (as you can see) that they sort of overwhelmed the taste of the chocolate at times. I thought to break off two pieces and eat them like a little sandwich with the toppings on the inside, and it worked better that way because the chocolate had a chance to catch up with the pine nuts. The candied lilac was divine and original.

I think the chocolate itself was pretty good -- honestly, it was hard to tell because there was so much on top. But it definitely had a good, pure texture and an impressive snap. Overall, this whole concept is so cool and I like that Wonja got super creative with the toppings. Why order a custom chocolate bar if you're not going to take risks with flavor?

This grade represents the taste of the bar, my admiration of its concept, and my appreciation for the gift! A.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Chuao: Firecracker

The other night I was relaxing in my chambers, watching Real Housewives (Danielle is a nutcase) when my mother shrieked in the other room because the dog got into the chocolate. See? A whole chunk was missing from the bottom left-hand corner before I even had a taste. Can you blame her? She just wants to do what I do! Unfortunately for her, though, dogs can't eat chocolate. She was ok in the end, but I have no doubt that this insane chocolate bar was a pretty weird trip for her. Read on.

Chuao: Firecracker
Cocoa content: 60%
Notable ingredients: chipotle; salt; popping candy
Origin: Venezuela

"A blooming, buzzing confusion" -- that's how William James characterized a baby's perception of the universe, and it aptly describes the experience of the Firecracker bar for a small, timid puppy such as my own. This bar was crazy, even for a human who's used to eating things like yogurt and whiskey encased in chocolate. I encountered popping candy (a.k.a. Pop Rocks) immediately in most bites, and they were the big pebbly kind that make an audible cracking noise. Each bite finished spicily with the chipotle, and the salt intensified everything -- as salt is want to do!

I'll never know how my dog experienced this bar because she doesn't blog. But I think it was a little too busy for my tastes. The chocolate is single origin but I could barely taste it amidst the chaos (the Chuaos?) Pop Rocks obliterate just about any other taste or texture, so they dominated the bar in an overwhelming way. Still, I had fun -- eating the bar and imagining what it might have been like for Wink.

I forgot to mention that I bought this bar at Food Emporium -- but I also received the same one from Dan days later. I want to assure all my readers that I now keep all my chocolate bars in a shoebox on my desk -- out of reach of all animals. All for me. B-.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

E. Guittard: Quetzalcoatl

Quetzalcoatl -- "feathered serpent," a Mesoamerican deity, a Nahuatl word. Also a delicious chocolate bar. This bar came from Margaret and Christopher in a time of plenty, to say the least -- the reason I decided to consume this one first is because I once took a Mesoamerican art history class and learned that the deity in question is believed to have been seduced into sleeping with a celibate priestess and then burned himself to death. His heart became the morning star. Yes, you can be on the blog.

E. Guittard: Quetzalcoatl
Cocoa content: 72%
Notable ingredients: n/a
Origin: n/a

E. Guittard is an old, classy company. It was started in 1868 in San Francisco by a man named Etienne Guittard who had just come from France. The SF factory was ruined in an earthquake in 1906, and Etienne moved the company to Burlingame, CA in the mid 1950's. The company is now run by grandson Gary Guittard -- they make single origin and cocoa blend bars as well as a bunch of other cocoa products.

We've previously discussed the 72% jackpot. What is it about this cocoa content? This bar was so rich and deep and chocolatey -- but also sweet. It melted at a good pace and never tasted bitter or dry. 16 grams of sugar in a 56.7 gram bar -- maybe I should compare that ratio (28%) with other 72% bars in the future to see if they have that in common (you should be impressed, by the way -- I'm usually pretty Guittarded when it comes to math.) I've rarely met a 72% chocolate bar I didn't like -- and when I did, it was usually because of some trifling intruders and not because of the chocolate itself. Yerba mate tea and -- horror of horrors -- caramel come to mind. The 72% chocolate bar usually wants not to be messed with unless you're a pleasant nut or a sweetly dried fruit.

Today marks the first day of summer for me, and I can promise that the next bar will be accordingly celebratory in nature. Until then, Quetzalcoatl gets a B+.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Vosges: Naga Bar

Most people know what Vosges is. The company is becoming one of the most well-known "luxury" chocolate makers in the country -- their flavor combinations are way more out-there than, say, Lindt's or Ghirardelli's, but they're sold in some of the same places. Anyone in the New York area who hasn't been to one of the Vosges shops -- SoHo or the Upper East Side -- should definitely go there to try truffles and hot chocolate. I don't often buy these because they're usually about $9, but Dave's of Somerville was having a sale: $6.25!

Vosges: Naga Bar
Cocoa content: 45%
Notable ingredients: sweet Indian curry powder; coconut flakes
Origin: n/a

I didn't treat this bar right. It's hard to even tell my readers. It has been unseasonably warm this past week, and my dorm room lacks not only an air conditioner, but a refrigerator as well. Furthermore, you're not even supposed to refrigerate chocolate -- so even if I had refrigerated the Naga bar, shit still wouldn't have been right. I kept it in my drawer, which seemed like the safest, coolest place in the room -- but it still got sweaty and a little soft. It didn't lose its shape, but it certainly lost its snap -- and with it, some of its style and panache.

Still, I could tell it was a good find. Texturally it was kind of a mess (my fault entirely,) but the flavors were still there and the pleasing chewiness of the coconut flakes was especially notable. Curry is an interesting alternative to chili for spicy inclusion: it gave the bar a little bit of a bite, but was also kind of sweet and flavorful in a way that hot spice isn't. The coconut was a nice way to balance out the curry, and a welcome crunchy interruption to the creamy, deep milk -- which was only made creamier by my shameful neglect.

On the back of the box, Vosges founder Katrina suggests to the taster that "you may experience nuances of caramel, dairy, vegetables, jasmine flowers, fruit, roasted tobacco, raw coffee, nuttiness, spiciness," etc. No -- this was not the case -- but still, the bar was delicious and the flavor concept unlike anything I've ever had. A-.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Bond St. Chocolates: Dark with Dried Cranberries & Sunflower Seeds

I bought this chocolate bar at one of the fancier chocolate shops in town -- Bond Street Chocolates, on E. 4th St. between 2nd Ave and the Bowery. Michael and I were on a whirlwind tour of the East Village's boutique chocolate shops while we were killing time before a dinner reservation. We visited Bespoke Chocolates (on Extra Pl.) first, but they were closing and had very little left in stock. Bond St. Chocolates, just a few blocks away, was similarly starting to empty out but they had a few bars left. I chose this one over a milk chocolate bar with caramelized almonds and sea salt.

Bond St. Chocolates: Dark w/ Dried Cranberries & Sunflower Seeds
Cocoa content: 72%
Notable ingredients: dried cranberries; sunflower seeds
Origin: n/a

First, let's talk about the fact that 72% seems to be the jackpot cocoa content, at least according to my taste buds and chocolate producers worldwide. I did a little math to figure out how common and how good these 72% bars are -- it's the first and last time you'll see me do math on the internet, so enjoy. Of roughly 75 entries on this blog so far, about 13 of them (or 17% of entries) cover bars between the 68-73% range. Given that the normal range of common cocoa contents is between 30% and 90%, it is notable that such a big proportion of bars would fall in a range of 5 numbers. Of those chocolates that fall in the money range, about 7 (or 54%) received a grade of B+ or above.

Bond St. has not only capitalized on a prime cocoa content, they've also heightened the perfection of 72% by matching it with sweet and roasted flavor notes. Interestingly, we've never seen dried cranberries before on this blog. They are sweet and chewy and slightly sour, but not as sour as the cherries from that nice Green & Black's bar. Cranberries are just sweet enough to balance any bitterness that occurs in high quality dark chocolate. The sunflower seeds were fine, but didn't feel deliberate. They could have been slivered almonds, and I wouldn't have known the difference. They are little pale slices of seed, with a slightly roasted taste that worked well with the chewy dried fruit.

This bar tasted really delicious, and it wasn't just thanks to the cranberries and seeds. Bond St. makes really good chocolates -- on site, I think -- and they aren't transported around the world or kept for weeks in storage boxes or anything like that. This bar was snappy, moist, naturally sweet, and smart at 72% cocoa. I know there have been a lot of these floating around lately, but I give it an A-.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ghirardelli: Milk & Peanut Butter

Have you ever been having a bad day and just wanted some creamy, gourmet peanut butter with crunchy peanuts enveloped in rich milk chocolate (yes, I lifted that from the box description)? That's how I was feeling in CVS the other day, which is not necessarily the most exciting place to have a bad mood-induced chocolate spree. But they do carry nail polish, too -- a plus. So CVS in Bronxville, NY is where I got this bar from Ghirardelli, and where I incidentally passed up on a number of other enticing bars, such as the pistachio bar from Lindt. Don't discount CVS as a respectable place to make a chocolate purchase.

Ghirardelli: Milk & Peanut Butter
Cocoa Content: unlisted (30% is my guess)
Notable ingredients: peanut butter
Origin: n/a

What did you expect? The peanut butter and chocolate combo is a timeless delight. When I was little I used to bite the tops off of Reese's Cups and eat all the peanut butter -- flaky, pale, peanut paste, really -- out from within before finally eating the bottom layer of chocolate. This peanut butter bar had less accessibility for that kind of mischief, and the peanut butter inside each individual square was not quite so hefty and thick as that inside a Reese's Cup, but what it lacked in volume it made up for in crunchy, moist texture. Of course the peanut butter in a candy bar should be crunchy, and made with real peanuts!

But -- let's be real. Peanut butter is pretty much always delicious, as long as it isn't completely deprived of some added sugar and salt (yes, I said it.) Reese's Cups never suffered for the slightly synthetic peanut taste -- and while the chocolate in a Ghirardelli bar is certainly far superior to that manufactured by Reese's, the chocolate & peanut butter experience is always roughly the same. When someone I shared this bar with noted that it was like a glorified Reese's bar, I had to admit -- well, first I had to admit that there's no such thing as a Reese's Bar, only Cups, Stix, and Pieces, pay attention -- but also that this bar didn't actually differ from a Reese's Cup in a meaningful way. It's kind of the exact same thing.

And that's all it needed to be. It took me back to childhood for 8 crazy nights (that's how many squares there were.) And never again will I doubt CVS's ability to surprise me in new, chocolatey ways. A-.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Winnipesaukee Chocolates: Sally's Gut

This bar, which is indeed called Sally's Gut -- not Lally's Yut or Yally's Ejut, though it may appear that way -- is made by a company called Winnipesaukee Chocolates in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. They sell their product at only about 50 stores in the whole country, 48 of which are in New Hampshire (the other two are in Maine and Massachusetts.) Being the good chocolate sniffer that he is, Michael managed to find this bar at the one store in Massachusetts that sells Winnipesaukee Chocolates -- Dave's Fresh Pasta in Somerville, MA.

Winnipesaukee Chocolates: Sally's Gut
Cocoa content: Unlisted (my guess: 70%)
Notable ingredients: dried blueberries; toasted pine nuts; lemon zest
Origin: n/a

You may be wondering two things: What is Sally's Gut, and What is a Pine Nut? The answers to those questions are: a narrow waterway in New Hampshire and the edible seeds of pine trees, respectively. God only knows why Winnipesaukee Chocolates decided to name a chocolate bar after an intestinal tract (or, okay, a waterway,) but there is a lot to be said and discussed in regards to the inclusion of pine nuts.

Pine nuts, says Wikipedia, are "too small to be of great value as a human food." Unshelled, they become rancid within a few days. Sometimes pine nuts can cause a taste disturbance in the consumer up to 3 days after consumption -- this is known as "pine mouth." Despite all these downsides, pine nuts are commonly used in savory foods, especially Middle Eastern foods. My mother puts them in spinach pie. Toasted, they take a on a sweet, slightly burnt, crunchy taste. Thrown in with dried wild blueberries and a little bit of lemon, they can even be delicious. And Wikipedia said they were of little worth! I should edit that.

This bar was small and hard to break into pieces, but it was very tasty. I love me some dried fruit, and blueberries are so small that they don't interfere with bite lines or segments in anyway. I may move on from Sally's Gut in future trials of Winnipesaukee Chocolates, but I will never disrespect a pine nut again.

For putting the pine nut back on its pedestal, this bar gets a B+.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Kshocolat: Honeycomb & Vanilla

This is another aesthetically pleasing purchase from the Food Emporium Fine Chocolates shop on 68th and 3rd. I've never seen Kshocolat products anywhere else -- they're a Scottish company, and from the looks of their website they haven't extended into the U.S. very much so far. Kshocolat does some interesting flavor combinations, including lemon & pepper and orange & cardamom. They also make chocolate covered currants, chocolate covered "mint nuggets," and something called the "Party Hamper" which is really just a collection of chocolate gift items. Go figure.

Kshocolat: Honeycomb & Vanilla
Cocoa content: 30%
Notable ingredients: honeycomb
Origin: n/a

I didn't list vanilla among the notable ingredients, because it's indeed present here but notably not notable; vanilla -- and specifically bourbon vanilla -- is an ingredient in most chocolate bars these days. And of course I was drawn to this bar not for the vanilla but for the honeycomb. I haven't quite had honeycomb in a chocolate bar before, although I've had a lot of things like honeycomb: Brulee Crunch by Jacques Torres, Butterscotch by Butlers. Honey is a type of sugar that I endorse, and the textural experience indicated by "comb" can only help the situation.

This bar was definitely a success. The chocolate was dense and creamy -- not fibrous or dusty like expensive milk chocolate can sometimes be. And the creaminess was punctuated by little crispy bits of honeycomb, which appears to be a combination of honey and milk solids. It wasn't really so different from the other bars that I named above, which leads me to believe that honeycomb, butterscotch, and burnt sugar are all kind of the same thing. Discuss?

Also, though the Fine Chocolates shop at the Food Emporium still has 4-6 bars I've never tried, I have to start looking around for the next inspiring chocolate store that will keep this blog going. Let me know if you have any suggestions in New York! This bar gets an A-.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Casa Don Puglisi: Vanilla

Somebody named Don Guiseppe Puglisi has a "confectionary laboratory" in Modica, Sicily, and in this laboratory he cold-presses nasty chocolate bars and wraps them in wax paper, natural cardstock, and twine. My uncle gave me this chocolate bar, and I thought it would be delicious because the packaging is so elegant. But I've learned never to judge a chocolate bar by its cover, because what lurked beneath was a brittle, grainy mess.

Casa Don Puglisi: Vanilla
Cocoa content: 45%
Notable ingredients: n/a
Origin: n/a

In the spirit of Passover, I'll start the discussion this way: Why is this bar different from all other bars? I knew the bar had a unique texture as soon as I opened it: Don Puglisi calls it a "unique, opaque patina," and it kind of looks like little grains of chocolate are all pressed together, with nooks and crannies abound. The method Puglisi uses is called "cold pressing" -- it means that the cocoa paste is pressed with sugar granules without being heated up because apparently heating ruins the flavor of the chocolate. It's apparently an Aztec tradition, but Taza Chocolate (based in Somerville, MA) is also made in the Aztec tradition and their products are usually great -- with some notable exceptions.

Now, I should be clear about one thing. Brittle, in and of itself, is not necessarily a problem. I covet brittle dogs, and peanut brittle. The thing I didn't like about this chocolate was the graininess of it -- each bite was a crumbling mess of chocolate and sugar granules. They didn't melt, but rather loosed themselves from the bite and spread out and, in the process, made it difficult to determine a coherent flavor. Without any sort of creaminess to the texture, the acidity of the chocolate is unpleasant and all the little particles are uncomfortable.

All that said, this is one kind of chocolate that is made in a particular way. It's not supposed to taste like other chocolate, but that doesn't make up for the fact that it tastes and feels bad. I've known many treats, all with their own virtues, and this bar wasn't working for me. C-.