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+.