Monday, January 26, 2009

An Orgasmic Tour du Chocolat

A few weeks before I came to Paris, a friend sent me a link to a NY Times article titled "Le Tour du Chocolat". She made sure to stipulate, "MON DIEU, am i jealous!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! dude, you better do this to the t." As a forthright chocoholic and a shameless dessert connoisseur, of course I am. But how could anyone not, when the article begins as follows: "The French have elevated many things to high art: fashion, flirting, foie gras. Chocolate is no exception. With boutiques that display truffles as rapturously as diamonds, the experience of visiting a Parisian chocolatier can be sublime."

Aleema, Michael and I decided to visit three such renowned chocolatiers: Christian Constant, Jean-Charles Rochoux, and Pierre Marcolini. All three shared some similarities. First off, each featured variations of ganache, mousse de marron (chestnut), noisette (hazelnut), café, and Earl Grey Tea. Second, all three used slim metal prongs to gently pick up each chocolate from its respective dish and gracefully slip it into slim clear plastic "sachets". Third, each sachet was sealed with an elegant little sticker bearing the store name, whether gold, silver, or a minimalistic black and white. Fourth, each sachet came with a beautiful legend containing pictures, names, and ingredients of each chocolate.

But the similarities end there. Visiting each chocolatier was fun, interesting and delicious in it's own way. In the end though, I only considered one of them a truly "sublime" experience.

We started off at Christian Constant. The store was an infusion between an Asian teashop and a pristine apothecary's. Rows of teas in white jars lined white walls. Because Asian teas and Far Eastern flavors seemed to be Constant's specialty, I decided get a smatteringof tea flavored chocolate ganaches. Most of them tasted very subtle, so subtle that you have to hold your breath in a quiet room to really taste the tea over the chocolate. Too subtle, I decided. Only one chocolate filled my head with flavor: the Jasmin du Yemen et thé vert. The others (thé earl grey, vanille de Tahiti, fleurs d'oranger, and roses et raisins de Corinthe) were decidedly underwhelming.

Next, we went to Jean-Charles Rochoux. The store had the appearance of a kitschy antique shop because chocolate figurines garishlydecorated every square inch of surface area. It was all too yellow, too bright, and too cluttered. I also found the names unnecessarily pretentious. There, I got a Loja (a rose truffle), a Tumacos (a vanilla truffle), and Gianduja (a chocolate hazelnut paste). I was not a fan of either the rose or the vanilla. Both were subtle to the point of ambiguity, and finished with a sour aftertaste. However, I was impressed with the chocolate hazelnut: if it were a Cabernet, Nutella would instantly be relegated to a Pinot Noir. And Nutella is usually pretty damn good.

Finally, we went to Pierre Marcolini. Now, THIS was a work of art. My heartbeat quickened perceptibly as soon as I walked through the tall glass doors. My eyes feasted on the colors that jumped out from white table, glass case, and black wall -- the presentation was impeccable. I felt like I was in the Hall of Jewels at the Museum of Natural History in New York. Of all three chocolatiers, only Marcolini really fashions and displays his chocolates as rapturously as diamonds. No, scratch that- not just diamonds, but rubies, amethysts, topaz, and opals. As a visual artist who loves concentrated sensuous colors, Marcolini already won me over by presentation alone.

Like a king facing his harem, I chose the most beautiful chocolates. I usually hate fruit flavored chocolates, and am also not a huge fan of white chocolate. However, the Coeur Framboise seduced me with its luminous red surface and its feminine curves. It was the firstchocolate I chose. Next, I chose a Violette, a violet-flavored dark chocolate ganache sprinkled with grainy purple sugar the texture of igneous rock. Then, I chose a Quatre Épices, and small square of chocolate covered caramel glazed with asymmetrical rectangles that resemble the patterns of Piet Mondrian. Of course, even the color of each rectangle was appropriately matched to the flavor of the caramel: a dark chocolate brown, a milk chocolate brown, a burnt umber brown, and a lemongrass yellow-brown. The rest of the chocolates were not quite as physically attractive so I decided to finish off simply with a standard Earl Grey Tea and a Java café.

The taste did not disappoint. The Java kicked like the crunch of a coffee bean. The Earl Grey Tea filled my mouth with aroma which lingered on my tongue long afterwards like a good wine. The Quatre Épices was buttery and chewy but not cloyingly so as most caramels are. The Violet evoked raspberries and flowers. I usually hate people who describe wine as "nutty" or "fruity"- I hate them even more when they get really specific, like "sandalwood" and "apricots". But Pierre Marcolini's fine art has bedded me and left me ravished; now I'm talking like one of those people. Did I mention that I detest fruit flavored chocolates and don't like white chocolate? The Coeur Framboise was by far my favorite chocolate of the day. No other words come to mind when I try to describe it, save "miraculous".

I was enraptured with everything except for the fact that I got yelled at as soon as I took my camera out to take pictures. Despite this marked snootiness, I have to admit that that Pierre Marcolini is now my favorite chocolatier in Paris. But, whatever. As my boyfriend joked with me on Skype, you know you're a real snob when you go around to the best chocolate stores in Paris and still find ground to critique taste, ambiance, presentation and overall artistry. So perhaps Pierre Marcolini is kind of my place after all ;)


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