It’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to share the details of the Chocolate Tour that my best friend, Maggie, and I took several months ago when she visited me in New York. The tour was offered by the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) and was led by Alexandra Leaf, who was a delightful guide. The tour brought us to a few familiar places and introduced me to some chocolatiers who were new to me. Here’s the list of where we went – keep reading after the jump for details and lots of pictures (pics courtesy of Maggie).
The tour convened at the Jacques Torre store on Hudson Street. I don’t love Jacques Torres chocolate (divine cookies aside) – I find it to be more style than substance – but a trip to the store/factory is a fun diversion. I had only been to the small UWS store previously so seeing the factory in action (and quite busy as we were there the weekend before Easter) was a very different experience. The store was decorated ornately with Easter fare (including adorable chocolate-dipped Peeps), and I appreciated Jacques Torres’ whimsical and light-hearted touches. His chocolate creations are meant to put a smile on your face (chocolate-covered Cheerios, anyone?) and they deliver.
The next stop was Kee’s Chocolates, which I had not heard of before the tour (although I have returned since). Apparently, Kee Ling Tong left her corporate job to open a flower and chocolate shop and then dropped the flowers to concentrate on chocolate. The aesthetic of Kee’s – austere and minimal – contrasted sharply with that of Jacques Torres. Kee’s creations are presented in simple cases. The walls – one with exposed brick and one painted red – are unadorned. The biggest splash of color in the store is provided by the macaroon collection. The macaroons are lovely and would make a great hostess gift. I don’t enjoy macaroons particularly, but I tried the truffle oil macaroon (definitely unique). The chocolates, which you can see being made in adjacent kitchen, are creative, thoughtful and delicious. Kee is at the top of her game.
After Kee’s, we made our way to Vosges. Maggie and I were bit confused about the inclusion of Vosges on the tour as the company is based in Chicago not NYC. Vosges chocolates are the most widely marketed and available of the chocolates we sampled. I enjoyed the Vosges caramel toffee and they sell an attractive set of bars that would make a nice gift, but I prefer more simple chocolate than creations like Vosges’ Red Fire Candy Bar.
Our last stop downtown was Mariebelle chocolates. As with Jacques Torres, I think Mariebelle chocolates are more visually appealing than tasty, but Mariebelle chocolates are even prettier (particularly the attractive blue and brown packaging) and less tasty than Jacques Torres’ creations. The only exception is Mariebelle hot chocolate, which comes in a variety of flavors. My sister-in-law gave me a four-pack of Mariebelle hot chocolates two years ago for Christmas and it is a wonderful treat on a cold winter day. The salon in the back of the Mariebelle store is very sweet and is a nice play to pop in for a cup of hot chocolate on a winter shopping excursion in SoHo.
After visiting Mariebelle, we headed uptown to Martine’s. Martine’s has two locations – one on 82nd and 1st and one in Bloomingdale’s. It’s shocking that I never wandered in to the store in Bloomingdale’s, despite walking by it many times. Maggie said the UES store reminded her of the confectioneries in France, where she studied abroad. The ornamental style is a throwback to earlier times (although the store was founded in 1992). Along with Kee’s, Martine’s was my favorite spot on the trip (and the most dangerous discovery given the proximity of Bloomingdale’s to my office). A number of Martine’s chocolates are made with fresh cream and meant to be consumed immediately. The hard exterior of these creations yields to a layer of ganache topped with a layer of white cream – it’s altogether amazing and quite unlike any chocolate I’ve tried.
Our last stop was Orsay for lunch, where we ate exceptional croque monsieurs that I am eager to have again. The chocolate tour is a great activity for native New Yorkers and tourists alike. Although not inexpensive, we felt that the tour was a fair value given the number of chocolates (+ lunch) that were included.