Sample Ready: See’s Candies Finally Arrives in NYC

Last June, without any fanfare, West 8th Street quietly welcomed the 96-year-old California-based chocolatier See’s Candies, the brand’s signature striped awning the only sign of its arrival. Any ensuing buzz surrounding the beloved west coast chain’s arrival came courtesy of its fans: Alec Baldwin and Martha Stewart professed their excitement on social media, and early online reviews trickled in from the populace, rhapsodic from stumbling upon a local outpost.

“See how this is happening?” asks Bill Rhodes, the bowtie-wearing gentleman behind the candy counter, pointing out the female pedestrian stopped outside the shop windows. “Four hundred times a day, all day long people walk by, [then stop] and get excited, scream, cry, take a picture, send it to mom. It’s very exciting—people are thrilled!” Rhodes is president and CEO of Travis Melbren, Inc., and partnered with the 96-year-old chocolate company to bring it to the Big Apple.

“I’ve always thought there really needs to be a See’s Candies in New York,” explains Rhodes, whose past includes a history with brands like Cartier and Harry Winston, and spills that a Saudi Arabian princess staying at the Plaza recently called in an order for 20 cans of toffee-ettes. “I’m here to bring it in a 100 percent full way [as] there are so many caveats to New York City that make it an anomaly, and make it an amazing place. We can bring in [this experience] at the level it should be at.”

At the trademark candy counter at the West Village store, customers can choose from from the 80-plus varieties on display, some of which include notes or even remnants of the sage honey the company favors for the rich, unexpected way it sweetens the chocolate. The Bordeaux, a brown sugar buttercream, is the bestseller with the perplexing name; the Scotchmallow features honey-marshmallow, caramel and dark chocolate; and the special of pure coconut flakes and honey coated in dark chocolate. The candies have a creamier mouthfeel than most chocolate, which Rhodes says is from its freshness and the lack of preservatives, wax or paraffin. “We place orders on Sunday, and they’re air-freighted in by Thursday or Friday, so there’s constant turnover.” assures Rhodes, who was formerly a jeweler to the friends and families of Berkshire Hathaway and refers to their CEO as “Mr. Buffett.” (Berkshire Hathaway purchased See’s in 1972.)

So what took so long for this Buffett-backed company to come to NYC? Legend in California had it the See family wouldn’t allow it to expand, citing concern for quality control, and thus making it the chocolate equivalent of In-N-Out Burger and a very popular gift. Rhodes, a New Yorker since 1994, says he’s dreamt of bringing See’s to his hometown for the last 10 years.

“This is an old great amazing candy company, and when you walk in here, it needs to bring [that] all together,” says Rhode’s of the company’s decision to open downtown. “Nowhere best represented the dichotomy of [old and new] New York than West 8th Street. If it were in Midtown or Times Square, it would take on a whole different feel.” Kiosks of the company-owned chain are also found at retailers like Lord & Taylor’s and Macy’s, which carry limited packaged candies.

“Chocolate shouldn’t last,” says Rhodes, about how See’s focus on freshness sets the brand apart. “Ours is meant to be eaten fresh. Once customers taste it, they know it. It’s a difference you can taste.”

See’s Candies
60 West 8th Street @ 6th Avenue


This Week in Food: Candy-Making, Inspiring Foodies, Square Pizza Crawl

‘Wabi and Now’: Shiho Sakamoto’s Wagashi Workshop and Tasting
Kosaka (220 West 13th Street)
Monday, 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.

Learn how to make wagashi, a Japanese sweet, with candy-maker Shiho Sakamoto. Guests will learn how to use fruit and mochi to create the unique treat. A traditional green-tea tasting is also included in the $45 ticket. Reserve yours here.

Square Pizza Crawl
Herald Square (Broadway at 34th Street)
Wednesday, 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Share your love of pizza on this food crawl, which spotlights square-shaped slices this month. Each guest will get one slice per location before running along to the next pizza parlor and chowing down on another. The locations for this Manhattan-based crawl will be revealed the day of the event. Score your $25 ticket here.

Dining Out, Eating In, Living Well
92 Street Y, (1395 Lexington Avenue)
Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Grab a chair and listen to New York Times writer Florence Fabricant and author Sara Moulton share tips on the city’s top restaurants and bars. They’ll also talk about how you can turn dishes made in your home kitchen into restaurant-caliber delights. Tickets are $32. Reserve yours here.

Jazz Night
Home Sweet Harlem (1528 Amsterdam Avenue)
Thursday, 6 p.m.

Looking for some uptown funk? Fuku Tainaka and the Chris Johansen Trio will perform an evening of jazz at Home Sweet Harlem. The restaurant will offer a special food and drink menu throughout the evening, featuring specialty cocktails like mimosas and Bellinis in addition to beer and wine.

Josephina Taco Pop-Up
The Pines (284 Third Avenue, Brooklyn)
Thursday through Sunday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends

The backyard of the Pines has been transformed into a seasonal pop-up called Josephina. Feast on tacos made with wood fire–grilled masa tortillas, and check out other local goods during Josephina’s weekend markets. The pop-up will also feature a series of guest-chef meals and other food-focused events.


Five NYC Chocolatiers to Hit Up for Valentine’s Day


If Willy Wonka were a New Yorker, he’d be proud that the city is now home to a cadre of chocolatiers who are crafting sophisticated sweets out of the magical cocoa bean. Over the last decade, NYC has become a chocolate destination. We have a decadent array of chocolates to choose from, all made right here — from milk to dark, with inventive fillings and creamy ganache coatings. We’ve picked a few must-tries, from old-school to new, just in time for Valentine’s Day:

Chocolat Moderne (27 West 20th Street #904; 212-229-4797)
Tucked away in a nondescript Flatiron office building, this shop features chocolates that pop with flavor and originality. Joan Coukos Todd, a former banker who became a chocolatier after a trip to Belgium, came up with a collection especially for February 14th, which includes white and pink color-swirled hearts that look like rose petals. Fillings for the dark, milk, and white chocolate assortment include Tuthilltown Spirits Hudson Baby Bourbon, passion-fruit-cardamom caramel, and raspberry Madagascan ganache. Todd also refined a “Kimono” collection that features Japanese-inspired truffles flavored with shiso-lime, persimmon, and peach. Everything in this store tastes like love.

Dried flower–infused chocolate bars from Raaka
Dried flower–infused chocolate bars from Raaka

(64 Seabring Street, Brooklyn; 855-255-3354)
Since 2010, this Red Hook–based chocolate factory has been making bars using unroasted cacao, which the owners say imparts a greater range of the bean’s flavor. The bars are infused with ingredients like coconut milk, cask-aged bourbon, and maple. Raaka’s First Nibs subscription service sends out three bars (with tasting notes) every month for $24.95 — two limited-edition flavors and one classic. February’s bars are strewn with edible dried flowers: chamomile-lavender and rose-jasmine.

An assortment of chocolate sins
An assortment of chocolate sins

(online only; 718-788-0200)
Tumbador’s line of premium classic chocolates, overseen by the expertise of Jean-François Bonnet, the company’s French born-and-trained chef, far surpasses the fancy packaging and marketing craze of other Brooklyn chocolate makers (we’re not naming names). The peanut butter and jelly bar elevates all-American flavors with raspberry pâte de fruit and crisp peanut praline, which are sandwiched in dark chocolate and dusted with raspberry powder. Try the Seven Deadly Sins Repent or Rebel boxes for the holiday — both are filled with the same truffles so it just depends on which sentiment you need to express. The sinful bonbons include: goat’s milk dulce de leche with salt (Sloth); white chocolate with passion fruit ganache (Envy); and pomegranate juice, pomegranate liquor, and molasses (Lust).

Jacques Torres (various locations)
Torres, a/k/a Mr. Chocolate, has nine stores in New York City and sales in the double-digit millions. It’s an empire built on all things chocolate, from a spiced mix for drinking to chocolate-covered Cheerios. The French pastry chef is offering some naughty treats for the holiday. For Fifty Shades of Grey lovers, try the “Spank Me” chocolate hearts. There’s also an “edible kissing game,” a 25-piece assorted box that promises satisfaction all around.

Li-Lac Chocolates (various locations)
The oldest chocolate shop in Manhattan, opened in 1923 by a Greek immigrant, encompasses the best of both worlds — old-fashioned gooey sweets and refined presentation. The store recently moved its production to Sunset Park in Brooklyn, where visitors can now see the Lucille Ball–style assembly line for themselves. For V-day check out the store’s old-school heart boxes, packed with SweeTARTS conversation hearts in bright colors, chocolate nonpareils, and chocolate-covered Oreos.


Up in Harlem, Making Artisan Toffee Is a Family Affair

Working with family doesn’t always spark the most aspirational images: think the insanity of the Osbournes, Kardashians, Trumps (gasp), and Lohans. But when it comes to making chocolate-covered toffee for Laurie Freeman Pauker, keeping business in the family is sweet.

Laurie & Sons started in 2013 when the New York Department of Economic Development opened kitchen incubator spaces in Harlem’s La Marqueta. Neither Pauker nor her three sons — Mike (24), Johnny (21), and Andrew (19) — had ever worked with candy professionally before, but she had noticed the community spirit surrounding small food businesses and was inspired to take the plunge with her treats. “There’s something about food that’s extremely communal, where people are willing to share and talk,” she says. “It’s not like other fields I’ve worked in, where people keep things close to the chest.”

Sharing their building with other small businesses Pipcorn and Hot Bread Kitchen, Laurie & Sons now makes over 300 bags of toffee a day during the busy season.

“Toffee isn’t something I made as a kid,” Pauker explains. “I just started trying to make it for my own pleasure, and the more I tried, the more comfortable I became with getting things to the right temperature and turning it out. I’ve had many failed batches and weird things can happen, but there’s something exciting and always challenging about toffee. I feel great when it turns out right.”

“It helps that mom’s tough,” Mike boasts. “Her hands are impervious to burns.”

Laurie and her sister Diedre pouring out toffee
Laurie and her sister Diedre pouring out toffee

For a young company, their growth has been rapid. Their “Dangerously Delicious Black Licorice Chocolate Toffee” won a gold medal in the Outstanding Chocolate category at this year’s Specialty Food Association SOFI awards, and the Fancy Food trade show got them in touch with enough suppliers to extend their outreach. Whereas they once only set up in New York’s pop-up markets and at Smorgasburg, they now ship out nationally.

They’re still a small artisanal candy company though, and that’s the way they like it. Their growth has allowed them to increase the quality of their ingredients more than anything. They source two kinds of fair-trade chocolate from Guittard: a dark chocolate and a milk chocolate made with 42% cacao; a bit higher content than most milk chocolates, it adds more depth to the final result. Butter comes from upstate, sea salt from Maine, and licorice powder from a Midwestern company. “Licorice is a flavor that my grandfather used to give to me when I was a girl,” Pauker says. “They were licorice caramels, actually, which I haven’t seen in a while. It’s a flavor I love, and the smell kinds of permeates into you.”

Scoring the toffee
Scoring the toffee

Each batch of delicious black licorice, sea salt & pepper, Moroccan-spiced or milk chocolate sea salt candies starts with the toffee, of course. “There are as many recipes as you can imagine for toffee. Ours is made from butter, sugar, and a little baking powder. That’s it,” she says. Actually, it’s the flavorful additions to the base recipe that make their toffee a bit more unexpected and endearing: the Moroccan spice, licorice powder, sea salt, and black pepper are folded into each batch as well as decorated on top of the chocolate-robed candy.

The sugar, butter and seasonings are brought up to 311 degrees before baking powder is added to lighten the texture a touch. Then it’s poured out onto a table made of ten-gauge steel, strong enough to take the abuse and set to around 150 degrees via hot water hoses to keep the toffee pliable as it sets. Transferring is a team effort: one family member pours it on the table while others start moving and spreading. It’s then spread thin, cut into uniform rectangles, and stored for a maximum of 24 hours before being dipped in chocolate.

Dipping, evidently, is not a uniform task straight out of the gate. “You can tell who’s been dipping each tray, it’s like they have a signature,” Johnny says. “Maria pulls them off off the fork straighter, so her lines are horizontal. Mom pulls them off on a diagonal. Aunt Didi pulls them to the side, and hers have a little foot on one side from being gently moved on the tray.” Their topping designs differ in ways only the family would most likely notice, too, but all chocolates are trimmed and made nearly uniform before packaging.

Once complete, each 15-pound batch of toffee makes 180 bags of candy that will last four to six months, depending on how well they’re stored. The team makes two batches daily during their busy season, working in day and night shifts.

They find challenges in things like the weather (this unseasonably warm, humid December is not great for candy-making), the physical exertion of cutting stickers, stamping and bagging chocolates, and generally trying to reinvent “one of the most outdated candies you can imagine,” according to Johnny. “This is both a blessing and a curse,” he says. “It’s an outdated product, but we’re offering really unique versions with flavors that aren’t explored elsewhere. People don’t easily jump to try it, but when they do, they really like it.”

The Laurie & Sons team
The Laurie & Sons team

Being a local product helps, too, and each bag is stamped with a “Made in Harlem” seal to prove it. “I think people are interested in where things come from and a sense of place,” Pauker says. “We’re proud to be up here. There’s so much going on. I think it’s cool to have another place in New York City that makes a mark.” Johnny agrees: “It helps put this area on the map. There are a lot of really interesting, cool things going on up here that people aren’t focusing on compared to what’s going on in Bushwick or the Village. Harlem is going to be the next place to blow up as far as what’s coming out of the neighborhood, and we want to be a part of it.”

While they continue to grow, they’ll also continue to work as a family. Employees Maria and Jorgelio and Laurie’s sister Diedre roll, cut, dip and package. The night owl of the group, Johnny covers night shifts. A writer, Mike helps with marketing and press releases. “There are always going to be squabbles, but we get along,” he says. “I would describe mom’s management style as very relaxed. And I think the family dynamic is such that none of us will take advantage of that because we all want to see this succeed.”


Best Weekend Food Events: Candy Making, Boozy Cupcake Tasting, and Chili Takedown

Union Square Holiday Market Opening Weekend, Union Square, Friday through December 24

Grab a cat-shaped macaron from Meow Parlour or pick up any number of food gifts at the brand new Urbanspace Provisions pop-up at Union Square’s annual holiday market, with ready-to-eat bites from the likes of Delaney Barbecue. This year, The Children’s Museum is also setting up a crafts booth where kids can make their own ornaments. A full line up of participating food focused businesses as well as holiday hours can be viewed on the Union Square Holiday Market web site.

How to Make Magical Healing Candy with Sweet Saba’s Maayan Zilberman, Fort Gansevoort, 5 Ninth Avenue, Saturday and Sunday, 12 to 2 p.m.

This two-day workshop lets students make candy from scratch, while teaching them how additives and oils can turn candy into cough drops. After students have molded their candy and returned for day two, the class will cover how to use food dyes for decoration. The class includes a mold to take home as well as goodie bag of treats from Sweet Saba; reserve your seat for both days – $264.74 per person – here.

Lexy’s Cupcake Tasting, Lexy’s Cupcake BarBlue Jean Studio, 149 West 24th Street – Suite 5B, Saturday, 5 p.m.

Enjoy cupcake and cocktails? Want to be on the ground floor to give feedback on flavors? Sample a variety of two dozen different alcohol-infused sweets (wine and soft drinks will be available too). Cupcakes also come in non-alcoholic flavors like pineapple-upside-down and caramel cinnamon apple, with other booze-infused creations like strawberry margarita and Bailey’s Irish Cream-infused vanilla.Tickets are $10; reserve them here.

Brooklyn Chili Takedown, The Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club, 514 Union Street, Brooklyn, Sunday, 12 p.m.

Grab all-you-can-eat bowls of homemade chili and vote on which chef’s secret recipe will take home the top prize. Over 25 chefs will offer spicy, savory, and sweet chilis to enjoy, with drinks available for purchase. Tickets are $20 and can be secured here.

Oyster Pairing and Restoration Talk, Lighthouse, 45 Borinquen Place, Brooklyn, Sunday, 5 p.m.

Have an hour to kill this weekend? Then enjoy it with an hour of oyster and beverage tastings along with conversation with Pete Malinowski, director of the Billion Oyster Project. Guests receive a half dozen oysters with beverage pairings — three different oyster preparations teamed up with a cocktail, beer, or wine. Afterwards, guests will learn about the role of recycling oysters in New York’s restoration efforts as well a better understanding of the farming process, courtesy of guest speakers from the Fishers Island Oyster Company. Tickets are $30; score them here.


This Week in Food: 35-Cent Cocktails, Midnight Champagne, and Which Vegan Taco Es Mas Macho?

El Macho Taco, V Spot, 12 St. Marks Place, Monday, 7 p.m.

If the mere thought of chili cook-offs bores you, check out a meat-free matchup instead. Guest chefs from restaurants including V Spot and Taco Chulo will create eight different vegan tacos, guests will vote for their favorite version, and the winner receives a people’s choice award. A celebrity panel will fork over their top picks as well. Tickets are $35 for general admission and $55 for V.I.P.; the latter includes a regular or virgin margarita, chips and salsa, priority seating, and a meet-and-greet with the chefs. Reserve here.

35-Cent Cocktail Happy Hour, Louie and Chan, 303 Broome Street, Tuesday, 7–8 p.m.

To help today’s tootler embody the spirit of the Roaring Twenties, Louie and Chan debuts a “Prohibition Happy Hour” highlighted by a special 35-cent flapper-era cocktail. That’s right: 35 cents. Every Tuesday for one hour, guests can grab a drink at either the upstairs or downstairs bar before an evening of live music, burlesque, and other parlor performances. Each week the cocktail will change — this Tuesday’s features Bulldog gin — but the deal remains the same. Guests are encouraged to wear 1920s attire, though your everyday duds will net you the throwback pricing, too.

Tenement Talks: Hot Bread Kitchen, Tenement Museum, 103 Orchard Street, Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.

Not all breadbaskets are created equal, as Hot Bread Kitchen founder Jessamyn Rodriguez will tell you. A nonprofit, Hot Bread Kitchen provides immigrant women with culinary training; Rodriguez recently authored The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook, filled with recipes she has acquired through her conversations with these women. Tonight at the Tenement Museum she will discuss stories that can be shared through baking. The event is free; seating is first-come, first-served. Attendees may also purchase Rodriguez’s book at a discount.

Midnight Champagne Party, Corkbuzz, 75 Ninth Avenue, Thursday, 10:30 p.m.

Toast the impending Halloween at Corkbuzz’s Chelsea Market location with wine, Champagne, and the ghosts of grapes past. Drink specials include $8 wines by the glass, $13 sparkling-wine cocktails, and a 50 percent discount on all bottles of Champagne. If you want to match wits with your fellow guests, enter the blind tasting competition and see who among you possesses supernatural skills when it comes to sniffing out wine. (Those interested in participating in the competition must register in advance; find more info here.)

10th Annual Free Halloween Candy Wine & Spirits Tasting, Bottlerocket Wine & Spirit, 5 West 19th Street, Friday, 5 p.m.

Pair candy and wine at this (potentially) spooky tasting, which might just play tricks on your palate. From chardonnay and candy corn to rum and Toblerone, the folks at Bottlerocket will help guests figure out how to make the most of their leftover Halloween candy. The store offers six different complimentary complementary tastings that include instructions regarding what to look for in a wine when unwrapping your sweets.


Discover Chocolat Moderne, A Secret Chocolate Paradise in Chelsea

If you happen to be wandering down one of those faceless Chelsea cross streets with no particular purpose in mind, you might stumble upon a sidewalk sign standing outside an equally nondescript office building: “Chocolat Moderne [27 West 20th Street, between Fifth and Sixth]. C’mon up!”

One industrial-elevator ride later, there exists a chocolate wonder world: silver molds, copper pots, wooden spoons, giant whisks, candy boxes in shades of coral, tissue paper, ribbons — and everywhere, the pervasive scent of deep, dark chocolate.

Presiding over the three-room suite — office, packing room, and kitchen — is Joan Coukos, an ex-banker turned award-winning chocolatier, with a ready welcome and a free sample.

“You’re not disturbing me at all!” Coukos assures a visitor. “Whenever I’m around working, or my husband’s around, we’ve taken to setting out the sign. I usually aim for noon through six Monday through Saturday, but that’s not set in stone. So if you see the sign, come on up!”

For Coukos, the journey from finance to confections was prompted by a trip to Brussels. “This was a huge passion project for me. In the Nineties, I was on a flight to Brussels, back when I worked in finance, and I read about an artisan chocolatier called Pierre Marcolini in the in-flight magazine. It suddenly hit me that chocolate could be more than all these faceless corporations; it could be about a person with a vision. I thought, I have to seriously look into this.

“The next day, I was walking through the market at Place du Grand Sablon, which is where Marcolini’s shop is, and I saw a stall filled with cooking antiques — I’d always loved cooking, and I taught myself from Julia Child — so I thought, that’s interesting, and went to have a closer look. And there I found these beautiful old chocolate molds.”

Vintage molds
Vintage molds

“So I bought them, and when I went back to my little studio in Manhattan, I began to teach myself how to make chocolates. I’d bring in small batches of bonbons to work and use my colleagues as guinea pigs. Three years later, I signed the lease on my first room here, and opened my business.”

Chocolat Moderne is known for luxurious quality, avant-garde fillings, and strikingly modern design. “I knew from the start that I wanted to make chocolates that showcased non-traditional flavors,” says Coukos. “I pair this beautiful Valrhona French chocolate with Belgian-inspired techniques, and I create chocolates that, hopefully, are surprising and delicious.

Avant-garde flavors and design
Avant-garde flavors and design

“One of our most popular bars was inspired by the cooking I was doing in the summer of 2011. It was so hot out, and all I wanted to do was eat tomato salads and pastas dressed with sharp citrus. I started experimenting, and I found that a buttery, creamy caramel was the perfect foil for the acidity of tomatoes and lemon. This year, the tomato lemon caramel bar [a dark chocolate shell with an oozy caramel filling] was a finalist in the Specialty Food Association Awards.”

Chocolat Moderne’s creations have been nominated five years in a row. “In 2012, we won with a lime-infused toffee bar,” Coukos notes, “and in 2013 we won with a dark-chocolate bar filled with blood orange bergamot caramel.” Both are for sale at the counter, and come beautifully wrapped with coral ribbons.

You can also find Chocolat Moderne chocolates in specialty food stores like Dean & DeLuca, where their vivid boxes and Jackson Pollock–esque styling help them stand out in a booming era of artisanal chocolate. They’ve been featured on the Cooking Channel (“It’s been a long time since, but people still say, ‘Oh, I saw you, I know that chocolate, I saw it on TV!’ I think they must rerun the episode.”)

Chocolate display at Chocolat Moderne
Chocolate display at Chocolat Moderne

Back in the office, the phone rings, and Coukos must get back to work. I head out into the day with a bag of purchases, leaving her to her studio, where glistening rows of chocolates dry in ordered ranks, each one a perfect jewel of taste and imagination.


Favorite Dishes #76: Pork Belly Cotton Candy at Carnem

A polarizing pick for sure, but love it or hate it, you have to admire the sheer unexpected whimsy of a pork-belly-filled cotton candy coming out of the kitchen of Carnem Prime (318 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn; 718- 499-5600), an old-school-style steakhouse.

“I love pork belly,” says chef David DiSalvo. “And this is really good quality pork. We skin it, score it, brine it, and braise it; then we crisp it to order and spin it with cotton candy. It’s a dish inspired by Jose Andres’s Foie Gras Cotton Candy. But it’s a bit more familiar and accessible.”

Why does it work? Pork loves sweet, and this is sweet. One melting morsel of meat, shrouded in a cloud of sugar that quickly becomes a glaze in your mouth. One crazy Willie Wonka bite that delights from the moment it arrives, poking out of a specially made serving board like a state-fair snack made by Tim Burton.

You gotta try it.

The Village Voice is counting down to our Best of New York City issue in October. We’re combing the city every day, one dish at a time, to guide you to the most delicious food in NYC. These are our 100 Favorite Dishes for 2015, in no particular order, save for the top 10.

Here’s our countdown up to now:
#100: Laminated Blueberry Brioche at Dominique Ansel Kitchen
#99: Egg Shop’s Golden Bucket Fried Chicken
#98: Ramen Lab’s Torigara Shoyu
#97: Cannoli at Ferdinando’s
#96: Breakfast Sandwich at Dimes
#95: Banana Royal at Eddie’s Sweet Shop
#94: Fletcher’s Burnt Ends
#93: Almayass’s Mante
#92: Empellon Taqueria’s Fish Taco
#91: El Rey’s Sardine Tostada
#90: General Tso’s Pig’s Head at the Cannibal
#89: The Vegetarian at Meat Hook Sandwich Shop
#88: The 21 Club’s Creamy Chicken Hash
#87: Deep-Fried Olives at Via Carota
#86: Pougi at Loi Estiatorio
#85: Shelsky’s Hot Pastrami Sandwich
#85: Pearl & Ash’s Smoked Bread with Chicken Butter
#84: Gluten-Free Pizza at Rossopomodoro
#83: Perry St’s Chocolate Pudding With Candied Violets
#82: Whit’s End’s ‘Fuckin’ Bluefish Dip’
#81: Morgenstern’s Salt and Pepper Pine Nut Ice Cream
#80: Levain Bakery’s Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie
#79: Delmar Pizzeria’s Pizza
#78: Cafe Cluny’s Avocado Toast
#77: Brooklyn Star’s Cinnamon Bun


Battle of the Cheesy, Heart-Shaped Boxes of Chocolate

Doesn’t the box in the middle look like the mask from Scream? But which one is the best buy?

Let’s say you like someone, but not enough to get him a $100 box of chocolates from La Maison du Chocolat. Or maybe you only hooked up with her once, and not satisfactorily, either. Or perhaps you’re too lazy or too late to get a box of Jacques Torres, and end up popping into a Duane Reade just as you’re about to pick up your date for, say, dinner at McDonald’s.

FiTR has found itself in similar situations, and figured that what all of us needed was an accurate guide to the cheap and garishly sentimental end of the chocolate continuum, you know, boxes of chocolates with big sloppy dogs pictured on the front, and assortments so small, they could be eaten by a rat (not you, hopefully) in seconds. So here’s your guide to cheap Valentine’s chocolates, with descriptive material and a scorecard.

Russell Stover (8 pieces, 4.75 oz, $3.99; typical fillings — whipped pink stuff (three pieces), chocolate fondant, coconut)
Tasting Notes: Chocolate overly sweet, filling of no particular distinction, coconut the cheesiest tasting, like Almond Joy; half light, half dark chocolates, with the dark chocolates a plus.
Overall Score (out of 100): 37

Russell Stover (3 pieces, 1.75 oz, $1.59; typical filliings — chocolate mousse, caramel, coconut patty)
Tasting Notes: Same quality as the 8-piece Russell Stover, above, only coconut now embedded in plain chocolate, caramel surprisingly good.
Overall Score: 39

Dove (6 pieces, 2.6 oz, $4.99; typical fillings — all are light-chocolate truffle hearts)
Tasting Notes: At the higher price, were these a little better than the Russell Stover that had preceded them? Not really, though the chocolates tasted like they’d been conched longer, resulting in more smoothness. Filling, meh! The redundancy of the pieces actually knocked the final score down, because of the sheer boredom that resulted, and so did the ugliness of the box, which happens to be made of metal.
Overall Score: 32

Elmer Chocolate (8 pieces, 3.2 oz, $2.99; typical fillings — orange fondant, dark caramel, spiced chocolate)
Tasting Notes: These chocolates are really tiny, and can’t even fill the slots in the cheap plastic tray inside the box. Yet, there was something lovable about these chocolates – which seem to come in no form other than the heart-shaped box with different dogs on the lid. Made by a company in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, these chocolates may actually reflect local preferences.
Overall Score: 48

Whitman’s (3 pieces, 1.6 oz, $1.79; typical fillings — hard caramel, plain milk chocolate, fudge)
Tasting Notes: Wait a minute! The chocolate quality and packaging seem nearly identical to Russell Stover’s. Could it be the same company? The chocolate is just as bad, but the selection of chocolates is better in Whitman’s, hence the higher score. Besides, having an unfilled chocolate in the assortment is classy.
Overall Score: 42


The Best Gifts for Food Lovers

Holiday shopping is stressful. If you stayed home to eat Thanksgiving leftovers with friends and family instead of shopping like a lunatic on Black Friday, good for you. When you’re ready to start thinking about what to get the food lovers in your life, Fork in the Road has some ideas. For the nerds looking for gastronomical essay collections and vintage mixing glasses, to the ones trying to rebuild their local food communities, here are 12 spots to find holiday gifts this year:

Nils Wessell’s shop Brooklyn Butcher Blocks makes beautiful walnut and cherry boards and blocks. His magnetic knife racks (covered in wood) and rough serving boards ($45) also make great gifts.

Buy junk bonds from Fort Defiance to invest in an evening of great cocktails in Red Hook and help the restaurant rebuild after the storm. Bonds will be worth half of what you paid for them and can be used like cash at the Fort (“It’s a terrible deal for you, but we really need the money!”), making it an unusual, thoughtful gift for cocktail lovers ($2 to $200). Also consider some lovely barware, like a Yarai mixing glass from Cocktail Kingdom, or hard-to-find bitters from West Village gem, The Meadow.

Cut Brooklyn’s limited-edition knives come with a lifetime guarantee and a lesson in how to keep the sharp, hand-forged edge. Consider visiting the workshop to place an order, or follow knife-maker Joel Bukiewicz on Twitter to see the work as it’s produced and snap up the one you like. Also check out the beautiful Japanese steel from Korin.

Get a pack of gift certificates from the Red Hook Lobster Pound to distribute among the lobster-lovers in your life and help rebuild their small business which was damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Certificates range from $28 to $1,000.

For antique books and beautiful, vintage cookware and serving pieces, check out Greenwich Street Cookbooks run by Joanne Hendricks (gift certificates are also available). And for even more specialty and out-of-print cookbooks, visit Kitchen Arts and Letters, one of my favorite places in the city. I’m certain they can point you toward the ideal present.

Give brownies, loaf cakes, or hot cocoa mixes from Robicellis, or packages of lollipops, brittles, and caramels ($7/dozen) from the candy makers at Liddabit Sweets.

As our wine columnist reported a while back, Red Hook Winery was hit extremely hard by the storm and may not recover. Meanwhile, their inventory that wasn’t damaged is available by the pack. Stocking up on a few two-bottle sets ($50), to take as hostess gifts to holiday parties, is a pretty great idea.

You can’t go wrong with a gift card to The Brooklyn Kitchen good toward books, equipment, and classes.