Sunday, February 12, 2017

Just in Time for Valentine's Day: Chocolate Tour

Jacque Torres' original DUMBO shop

Chocoholics should run, not walk, to A Slice of Brooklyn's Chocolate Tour.

In fact, you might want to run before, and after, the tour; you will consume a serious amount of serious chocolate on the tour. Since you are going around by bus, you have to walk only a few steps at each stop, and you might find yourself (gasp!) turning down chocolate by the fourth chocolate shop.

Goodies at Jacques Torres Chocolate
The tour offers a look at four very different places, starting with Jacques Torres, a French pastry maker who set his toque in DUMBO with his eponymous shop. Jacques Torres Chocolate, which has expanded over the years to include seven Manhattan locations, is justifiably famous for its hot chocolate (the spicy wicked hot chocolate is a personal fave) but don't make a rookie mistake and buy a cup while sampling the chocolates included on this tour. You will tap out before you even hit the second stop.
When the Chocolate Room expanded, they found this vintage sign already embedded!

Fancy French chocolate, in Brooklyn

We had champagne truffles and heart shaped chocolate truffles, along with dark and milk chocolate covered peanuts here. If you have a nut aversion, the shop is happy to offer a substitute, but if you have a peanut allergy, this is probably not the tour for you.
Heart healthy gifts from the Chocolate Room

On the day I took the tour, New York had just gotten over nine inches of snow, and several people didn't show up. Our friendly and funny tour guide, Paula, offered us plastic bags to take the extra samples home.

Paula also offered tidbits of information, like the mnemonic to remember the order of the East River crossings, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg: "BMW, like the car." She pointed out Jim Carrey's $19 million Brooklyn home, Hillary Clinton's former campaign headquarters, played clips of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka and urged everyone to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge: "it's free!" 

Again, pace yourself! Don't eat the extras - bring them home to share, or keep for another day.
The raw ingredient at Raaka

We next went to Cobble Hill, where The Chocolate Room has a cafe that makes a spectacular chocolate cake and an incredibly rich hot chocolate. We got a shot of the hot chocolate, made with milk; it's so thick, you could practically eat it with a spoon. We also got a mini cupcake that was a miniaturized version of that chocolate cake.
Valentino Pier in Red Hook

Dessert cafe - The Chocolate Room

The Chocolate Room is actually based in Park Slope, where I live, but I never knew the story behind the successful business. The husband and wife team, a rock drummer and modern dancer, used to go on "dessert dates" when they couldn't afford to eat dinner at a restaurant, and they wanted to open a place specializing in desserts. There's also wine and beer; the black chocolate stout from local Brooklyn Brewery pairs quite well.
Raaka's motto

But we didn't drink on this family friendly tour (there were no children the day I took the tour, and the crowd included a mix of foreign and domestic tourists and locals who love chocolate). Bottles of water were offered on the bus, and since the tours start at 11am, and end after 3pm, you might want to bring along a healthy, sugar-free snack to eat on the bus. The bus driver stays with the bus, so you can leave bags at your seat.

On a break

We took a short walk down a long pier at Valentino Pier, in Red Hook. This land is one of the closest to the Statue of Liberty, but the walk is really a break to let the earlier chocolate metabolize before we moved on to our next stop, Raaka.

Raw beans

Raaka bars, straight off the production line
Raaka, which means raw in Finnish, specializes in raw, or un-roasted, chocolate bars. Organic beans are ethically sourced from fair trade farmers and the bars are vegan, soy and GMO free, Kosher, and flavored with usual ingredients like smoked chai spices, maple and ghost pepper (even the labels are printed with soy-free ink). An 82% cacao bar has beans that were aged in bourbon casks.

We had to wear hairnets at the Raaka factory, since production is ongoing. We could sample - and buy - any of the collection, along with limited series bars like one scented with Douglas fir. There is a "milk" chocolate made with coconut milk; don't think of bringing up white chocolate, which Paula dismissed as 'not really chocolate' here.
Raaka nibs for sampling, and bars for sale

But old time, and new: LiLac Chocolates

Li-Lac and its hip Industry City neighbors
Tempting treat at Li-Lac

Li-Lac bridges the old and the new; it is both Manhattan's oldest chocolate house, having been in business since 1929, and one of Brooklyn's newest; it recently opened a huge production facility in Industry City, the Uber-hip foodie destination in Sunset Park.

At Li-Lac you can watch the kosher chocolate being made through huge windows. The shop, with an intoxicating aroma, specializes in dark chocolate almond bark (we got to sample some) and specialty molds; wen your kid signs his NFL contract, this is where you go to have a football made of chocolate. It also has chocolate hearts, chocolate bunnies, chocolate covered graham crackers and an exquisite riff on a Reese's peanut butter cup, with dark chocolate of course.

Chocolate at home

Hot chocolate, made with Sugarpova
Sugarpova, form tennis star Maria Sharapova, has a line of gourmet chocolate bars, with a 70% cacao dark chocolate bar and a 50% cacao dark chocolate coconut bar that is subtly infused with coconut. The chocolate bars are kosher, non GMO.

I made a vegan hot chocolate by melting four squares of the coconut chocolate into three tablespoons of Natural Bliss coconut milk. The rich, thick hot chocolate was perfect on a winter day.

Note: I was a guest of A Slice of Brooklyn. I was not compensated for this review.

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