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Killer Hot Chocolate, Rum Kisses and Passion Fruit Hearts: A Guide to Jacques Torres Chocolate
By Christine Leahy

People tend to get cranky around February 14, but really, there is no need for the usual cynicism. So what if you're single and the president is making war and not love? We should appreciate Valentine's Day for what it is: an opportunity to eat chocolate. And why not make it the best chocolate the city can find? Lucky for us, it can be found not too far away, down under the Manhattan Bridge.

Jacques Torres Chocolate sits snugly in the cobbled-street heart of Dumbo, among squeaky new galleries and restaurants, warehouses-soon-to-be-lofts and picturesque views of various bridges. When you step inside, you will be treated to the best kind of aroma therapy - a powerful, delicious smell of cocoa that dominates the little "shoppe." Large windows show you the small, immaculate-looking factory next door, where white-clad staff chefs are doing things to confections that roll down a conveyor belt, trays of chocolate wait to be whisked away and rows of colorful ribbons are ready to tie up pretty boxes. Cranky? Cynical? What's that?

The store's shelves are stocked with all manner of packaged gifts and sweets, from cocoa mix and peanut brittle, jams and sauces (including, "Body Butter: Don't Make Us Give You Directions"), shortbread tins and a 2.2 lb block of chocolate called "Big Daddy Bar: Hunka-Hunka Burnin' Love." These are all fine and well, but what you should concentrate on are the store's true gems - the fresh chocolates in the display cases. But even before that, your very first order of business should be to taste one of Torres' famous hot chocolates, while sitting at one of the three little tile-topped tables.

One seven-year-old critic declared that she found the hot chocolate "too rich," but serious adult chocolate lovers know better - when it comes to chocolate, intensity is a good thing. The hot cocoa is made with an espresso machine, and if you have ever been to Spain and had churros y chocolate you will have an idea of what the thick consistency is like. But Torres' version is sweeter and more complex than chocolate, with enough of a bitter edge to balance the sugar. If plain old hot chocolate is too tame for you, try the Wicked Hot Chocolate, a spicy alternative with chile, allspice and cinnamon that give it extra kick. Both the Wicked and Classic varieties are velvety smooth, a little frothy on top, and in a word, "fabulous" -- as put by regular customer Suzanne Welker, who asserts that the only other place she has had a comparable cup of cocoa was at a spot called Angelina's, in Paris.

Which is no accident, since Jacques Torres grew up in Provence, was a pastry chef's apprentice by the age of 15, and went on to numerous prestigious positions in the French pastry world. He built a collection of impressive culinary awards before coming to New York to serve as the pastry chef at Le Cirque, where he stayed for eleven years. He has made many TV appearances, authored two dessert cookbooks (both on sale at the shoppe), and opened his place in Dumbo in 2000.
Once you have dutifully sampled the hot chocolate, you can move on to the display cases in the back of the store. Next to the apple tart, pain au chocolat and other pastries, you will see the tidy rows of chocolate bon-bons, in about two dozen different flavors, such as Rum Kiss, Fresh Squeezed Lemon and Pistachio Marzipan. (For a list of the current flavors you can visit Torres' website at www.mrchocolate.com.)

Picking out your very own assortment might just be the highlight of your day. Each piece is a visual delight, as pleasing to the eye as it is the tummy. The Golden Espresso is a midnight dark square topped with an artful splotch of gold. The Almondine has the Jacques Torres' logo embossed in a diagonal repeating pattern across the top. The Creamy Raspberry is molded into a perfect little raspberry. You can get a few at $.80 apiece to pop in your mouth right away, or you can get a dozen pieces (1/4 lb) in an attractive box for $12, or two dozen (1/2 lb) for $23.

"The ladies at the counters are really very very helpful," notes regular customer Joseph Tusa, of staff members who will patiently walk their clients through the pleasures of picking and choosing. And they're happy to offer advice through the process. "If this box is a gift, you might want to add a few milk pieces to balance the look of the dark," or, "the Fresh Coconut is one of our few items that includes white chocolate." You also might get a complimentary sample of something at the register. And while Torres' website lets you know that, "fun is the theme of the staff Jacques lovingly refers to as his 'oompa-loompas,' " the folks in hairnets and white gloves take their business quite seriously. One customer recalled that when buying a few chocolates to eat on the spot, a staff person was dropping them into a little bag for her when a second staff person protested, saying they should not be handled so roughly in case they'd become "bruised."

Some of the must-have flavors are as follows: Bandol Breeze, which is named for Torres' hometown of Bandol, and is also one of the fastest-selling pieces, combines a thin layer of jam-like apricot pâte de fruit and a moist, flavorful layer of almond marzipan, and is topped off by bittersweet dark chocolate. The Almondine also makes excellent use of the almond in an unusual sandy texture created from very finely ground candied almonds, which are suspended in a creamy ganache, and also covered with dark.

Another of the store's most popular hits is the Alizé Heart of Passion, a plump, heart-shaped milk chocolate filled with a milk chocolate and passion fruit flavored center. This selection won the respect of passion fruit connoisseur Aimee Althoff, who explained that it's difficult to incorporate the fruit into a confection and maintain its true flavor, but that Torres had done so successfully.

Like the Hearts of Passion, many of the other varieties feature smooth, creamy textures. Grand Marnier, Earl Grey Tea, and Fresh Squeezed Lemon are all excellent examples. Although Torres' chocolates tend to be soft and delicate more than crunchy, the Grandma's Chocolate Butter Crunch is a good example of one that has a nice satisfying bite. If you haven't already guessed, you really can't go wrong in making your selections, but a few more that are worthy of note are the dome-shaped Strawberry Fruit Drops, with their gummy pâte de fruit center, and the two buttery caramel varieties: Liquid Caramel and Creamy Caramel.

Torres's chocolate is made without artificial flavor or preservatives, meaning they are always incredibly fresh upon purchase but don't have the shelf life of a box of Godiva from Barnes & Noble. But for most folks, this doesn't pose much of a problem.

Jacques Torres Chocolate
66 Water Street
(Between the Brooklyn & Manhattan Bridges)
Brooklyn, New York 11201
718.875.9772 phone
718.875.2167 fax
Monday thru Saturday
9:00 am - 7:00 pm

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Free Williamsburg© | 93 Berry Street | Brooklyn, NY 11211
[email protected] | February 2003 | Issue 35
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