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.