Girlfriends and chocolate, I can’t think of a better combination. So when a girlfriend asked if I’d like to take a chocolate tour of New York City, I was all in.
By Janice Llanes Fabry
Girlfriends and chocolate, I can’t think of a better combination. So when a girlfriend asked if I’d like to take a chocolate tour of New York City, I was all in. Visions of truffles, almond bark, and girl talk danced in my head.
We obtained our tickets weeks ahead for the two-hour walking tour through Groupon.com. The day of the tour, we hopped on Metro North’s 10:30 a.m. train to get to the meeting place, Chelsea Market, in plenty of time before the noon start. The bustling market, on Ninth Avenue between 15th and 16th streets, is a destination all its own. An indoor urban dream, it’s a giant food court with celebrated restaurants and popular vendors selling artisanal breads, warm baked goods, fresh seafood, exotic olive oils and salts, organic selections, and chocolate.
Formerly the site of the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco), the chic industrial concourse boasts original factory floors, copper walls, high ceilings, exposed ducts, old signage, and an indoor waterfall. If my fellow chocolate lovers and I had more time, we could have spent hours browsing through the specialty shops, but we already had a full agenda.
We met our tour guide, who shared a few words about chocolate’s prominence in the city’s trendiest neighborhoods in spite of having been around since 1100 B.C. in the form of cacao. We proceeded on our walk through the West Village and SoHo, glimpsing each shop’s glass cases and tasting each one’s confections. Bars and bark, caramel squares, butter crunch, fudge, mints, nonpareils, pralines, chews, to name a few. The fact that it happened to be a gorgeous, spring day was icing on the cake.
Our first stop, Li-Lac on Jane Street, is the city’s oldest chocolate house. It boasted specialty molds, from chocolate high-heeled shoes to a chocolate chess set. Also on Jane Street, Chocolate Bar offered large signature bars and a killer hot cocoa. The shop’s rock salt chocolate was as scrumptious a flavor combination as a sweet and savory lover could hope for.
We continued our walk to Bleecker Street, where we visited the famous Magnolia Bakery. Their selection of mouthwatering cupcakes is second to none, from red velvet and caramel to coconut and peanut butter. But we were here for one cupcake and one cupcake only. The chocolate with chocolate icing was to die for. We could have ended our tour right there and then, but we were on a mission.
The Milk and Cookies Bakery churns out batch after batch of cookies, brownies and bars. Their latest concoction, the Bacon Smack cookie is an unusual mix of maple syrup, smoked bacon, chocolate chunks, toffee and graham cracker. Although they promise, “you can’t just eat one,” we adhered to the program and enjoyed their plain yummy chocolate cookie. The macaroon lovers in the group died and went to heaven at Bisous Ciao. The shop has a classic chocolate and vanilla collection, as well as a floral and a fruity variety, in all the colors of the rainbow.
Onto Soho, the tiny Xocolatti (the Aztecs’ word for “bitter water”) calls itself “the new interpretation of chocolate.” Indeed, the shop is an exercise in explosive flavors. On the menu are champagne, cardamom, or basil and olive oil truffles, as well as barks made of saffron and nuts, orange and hazelnut, or rose petals and pistachio. This shop especially hit home because it’s the brainchild of two Indian chocolatiers, who make each piece by hand right around the corner in Port Chester.
Our final stop, the grand and elegant Vosges Haut-Chocolat on Spring Street, is another chocolate maker that integrates an assortment of spices into their chocolates. The tour guide hailed this Chicago-based chocolate maker as Oprah’s favorite. Among their vast selection is the spicy Red Fire Bar, which marries the sweetness of cacao with Mexican ancho and chipotle chilies. How’s that for a piquant finish?
By the end of the tour our collective sweet tooth was more than satisfied. We had a little more chatting to do, however, so we stopped for lunch. Needless to say, we skipped dessert.