Categories
Calendar CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook Events FILM ARCHIVES FOOD ARCHIVES Listings NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

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
212.602.1886
sees.com

Categories
Bars Datebook FOOD ARCHIVES Listings NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

This Week in Food: Prohibition Repeal Day, Restaurants That Changed America, Raaka Party

Prohibition Repeal Day
Analogue (19 West 8th Street)
Monday, 9 p.m. to 12 a.m.

Toast the historic repeal of Prohibition with a menu of classic cocktails like Bee’s Knees, Sidecars, and Sazeracs. In addition to live jazz performances, a full food and drink menu will be available.

Paul Freedman, Ten Restaurants That Changed America
The New York Society Library (53 East 79th Street)
Wednesday, 6:30 PM

Join Author Paul Freedman as he discusses his book Ten Restaurants That Changed America, which includes New York favorites like Delmonico’s and Sylvia’s. Admission starts at $10 and advanced registration is required.

Food and the Chinese-American Journey: A Conversation with Anne Mendelson and Kian Lam Kho
Museum Of Chinese In America (215 Centre Street)
Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m
.

Author Anne Mendelson and food writer Kiam Lam Kho will lead a conversation on the origins and development of American-based Chinese food. Tickets ($40 for general admission) include admission to the museum’s current exhibition and a reception which will feature dishes from Kho’s book, including red cooked pork in steamed buns.

How NYC’s Public Markets Drive Bakeries Forward
Essex Street Market (120 Essex Street)
Thursday, 6:30 p.m to 8 p.m.

Learn the real stories behind New York’s beloved bakeries at this free talk and tasting that champions bread. Get an in depth look at food production and distribution, with a focus on the role public markets play in NYC’s food system. Guest speakers include Gene Davidovich from Davidovich Bakery and a special guest from Eataly.

Holiday Chocolate Gift-Making Party
Raaka (64 Seabring Street, Brooklyn)
Friday, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Enjoy kid friendly and “adult” hot chocolates courtesy of a Raaka Chocolate and Van Brunt Stillhouse before creating chocolate gifts for your friends and family. Guests will be able to pour, design, and wrap individual chocolate bars, bark, and other holiday-themed sweets.

Categories
Datebook FOOD ARCHIVES Listings NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

Best Weekend Food Events: Free Hummus, Food Festivals, Sweet Cocktail Pairings

Free Hummus for International Hummus Day
All Nanoosh Locations
Friday, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

In celebration of International Hummus Day, all Nanoosh locations in New York City will give away free hummus — for three hours. Each location will have a “pop-up bar,” where guests can taste different kinds of hummus like green tahini, shakshuka, and hot sauce. Find your closest Nanoosh hummus spot here.

Ninth Avenue International Food Festival
Ninth Avenue between 42nd and 57th Streets
Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Eat, walk, and eat some more at this block party featuring bites from the likes of 5 Napkin Burger and Noodles Thai Kitchen, among others. Over thirty businesses from Ninth Avenue (plus a few more nearby spots) will showcase their goods at the food festival.

Hester Street Fair Opening Day
Corner of Essex Street and Hester Street
Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The Lower East Side’s top summer food fair opens this weekend, with a whopping sixty vendors featured this year. New to the food lineup are some standouts, including fried chicken slingers EN Brasserie, slices from Scarr’s Pizza, Mexican cuisine from Gordo’s Cantina, and Caribbean-Asian fusion from Spur Tree. The Hester Street Fair will run every Saturday through October.

Third Annual Crawfish Boil
Extra Fancy (302 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn)
Saturday, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Good news for fans of Extra Fancy — not only is their backyard bigger, they’re celebrating the expanded outdoor space with their annual crawfish boil. For $30, guests receive one Brooklyn beer and a heaping pile of crawfish with traditional sides. In the event of rain, the event will be held the following Saturday, May 21.

A Deliciously Decadent Afternoon of Chocolate and Cocktails
American Beauty (251 West 30th Street)
Sunday, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Chef Johnny Iuzzini hosts an afternoon of Valrhona chocolate and cocktail–inspired dishes with creations from Butter & Scotch, David Burke, and Vaucluse, among others. Sip on libations from Seamstress and Bathtub Gin. Village Voice readers can use the code GURU25 to get a 25 percent discount on tickets ($64.29).

Categories
FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Rescue Chocolate Serves Up Sweet Vegan Treats With a Side of Advocacy

When Sarah Gross moved to New York City in 2008, she made it a goal to try every vegan chocolate she could get her hands on, thinking it wouldn’t take that long. “Three hundred bars later, I was really into chocolate and knew what I liked, what I didn’t like, and what flavors were lacking out there for vegans,” she tells the Voice. But having been a professional ballet dancer, starting her own chocolate company to fill out those vegan flavor needs wasn’t an obvious career grand jeté.

Then, in 2009, she adopted Mocha — a rescue pit bull who immediately stole her heart — and had a revelation: Could she could fuse her love of good chocolate with her desire to help more pups in need?

And on the concrete streets of New York City, Rescue Chocolate was born.

Her business plan was largely inspired by Nathan Winograd’s book Redemption and his subsequent founding of the No Kill Advocacy Center, which lays out programs that help shelters turn 90 percent kill rates into 90 percent adoption rates. Gross figured that her products could help inspire change in two ways: First, the proceeds would benefit rescue charities all over the country; second, each chocolate could bring to light a specific plight of animals in need.

Rather than come up with her own chocolate concoctions and produce out of a commercial kitchen, Gross met with Jean-François Bonnet at Brooklyn Born Chocolate Factory in Brooklyn. “We’ve been working together ever since,” she says. “Jean-François was already so good at what he does. I knew the kinds of combinations I wanted, and then we just tweaked small things — like the balance of sweetness or crunch.”

The duo’s first step was to come up with Mocha’s signature bar: the Peanut Butter Pitt Bull Bar. It’s 66 percent dark chocolate and laced with peanut butter and toasted rice, and brings awareness to pit bulls’ often-unwarranted bad reputation. The Foster-iffic Peppermint focuses attention on how animals often need temporary homes before permanent adoption, all wrapped up in minty dark chocolate with crunchy cacao nibs.

“The Pick Me! Pepper was my passion project,” Gross explains, “because I love spicy chocolate.” Pasilla and mulato peppers are folded in with other spices and fleur de sel in the Pick Me! Pepper. The bar aims to show the importance of picking purebreds and mixed-breed animals from shelters rather than buying pets from breeders or pet stores (which can be supplied by puppy mills).

Four other bar flavors followed those first chocolates, and then came bonbons.

“Initially, we didn’t use organic chocolate,” Gross says. “The reason was that most chocolate we were buying was inherently organic anyway, as our suppliers in South America, Africa, and Indonesia don’t use pesticides, but not all [of those suppliers] got organic certification. A few years ago, we switched over to all-organic since many people now won’t even try a chocolate if it’s not certified. Plus, we’ve always been fair trade and vegan. So now we’re all three.”

Other than Bonnet and his team of co-producers and packers, Rescue Chocolate is pretty much a one-woman show. In their first year of production, most of their press came from animal rights activists and the rescue community — people who were excited about the idea as a whole. Robust first-year sales have grown by 250 percent since 2010, and now, in addition to being available for purchase online, her products can be found in stores from coast to coast.

Where the proceeds go is an ongoing experiment. Any shelter can sign up to partner with Rescue Chocolate so that when people order online, they can choose where their donations land. Then a single rescue group receives remaining proceeds for a calendar year. “The group for the year is chosen based on how far our dollars can go with them,” Gross explains. “The No Kill Advocacy Center — our group this year — is a small company compared to ones like the Humane Society. It’s important that what we’re able to give focuses on organizations where the majority of donations go directly to helping shelters.”

The Like White Crunch bar
The Like White Crunch bar

Nowadays, Gross’s job requires her to come up with ideas to make sure Rescue Chocolate’s company outreach and products are growing. There are some seasonal chocolates — like the truffles that will be available until shortly after Mother’s Day, when the summer heat makes the delicate treats difficult to ship. Gross is particularly excited about the company’s Like White line (being more off-white in color than white), with a base made of chia seeds and Brazil nuts in cocoa butter, mimicking the flavors you’d normally get from a white chocolate rich with cream.

“It’s super healthy.” she says. “We came up with three different flavors: the Crunch with toasted quinoa, which is almost like a Rice Krispie but even crunchier; the Fancy Fruit with raisins, which works so well with the white chocolate; and the Cookies ‘n Cream, which has an Oreo-like cookie crushed into the bar and is quickly becoming our second best seller.”

As far as her challenges in the chocolate world, Gross says she mourns how little money a small company can actually make with a food product. “The profits are minimal because of how expensive the ingredients are,” she admits. “Our chocolate is made in Brooklyn with organic, whole, fair-trade ingredients. We want them to be affordable. But I wish we could donate more.” She recognizes that if she were producing in the middle of the country — where real estate prices are cheaper and where she could be more in control of her product from start to finish — things would be more affordable, and she could get into more stores.

But for now, she’s at home in New York with Mocha and will continue to focus on getting Rescue Chocolate’s message out there. “Being a professional ballet dancer required no talking,” she admits. “You’re out there to be seen, and then you retreat into your private life. I’ve learned that it’s never okay to be quiet in my business now. I have to put myself out there. I have to continue to go to networking events. The more I can share, the better. Because the more people know, the more they’ll support our company. And the more they support our company, the more animals we can then support, too.”

Categories
FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Behind the Scenes at Jacques Torres’s Chocolate Factory: Where Science, Craftsmanship, and Magic Merge

Jacques Torres is a craftsman. His father was a craftsman, too.

“[My father] never made any money,” Torres tells the Village Voice. “He was more excited about doing something and experiencing something than selling it. Selling was secondary. During vacation, we used to drive everywhere. He would see a gate or window that he liked, stop and draw it, and then tell a homeowner what he saw, just because he wanted to make it. Because he’d never done it before, he’d take a lot of time doing it, and then be very proud of it. He’d sell it for whatever price and not really make any money from it. But he spent his life very happily doing what he did. This is the definition of a craftsman. A craftsman has a certain way of living, where you’ll do what you love to do and hopefully make some money.”

When Torres came to the United States from France over 25 years ago, he was already an accomplished pastry chef and master craftsman in his own right. Back then, big candy companies dispensed inexpensive products filled with chemicals and flavorings. He saw a lack of whimsy compared with what he’d known growing up — holidays were celebrated with handmade chocolates that took a month to create, and stores were “filled with the magic of Christmas.” Torres had his work cut out for him.

Torres first started at M&M Mars, long before chocolate bunnies with sugar-candy eyes were produced en masse for grocery stores and pharmacies nationwide. He was shocked by the lack of Easter chocolates in the States, in contrast to the abundance of sweets he’d grown up with back home. So he started his own candy revolution with a few rabbits and eggs. “My god, people bought them like crazy!” he says.”The next year, we went crazier, and we were cleaned out. So we knew if we went all the way with Easter, we’d be cool.”

Yes, you can thank Torres for the Easter candy in your basket on Sunday morning.

In 2000, Torres fulfilled his dream of opening his first chocolate shop. At the store, located in Dumbo, Brooklyn, he made each chocolate by hand.

“I was there for 9-11,” he says. “And we almost closed [the store permanently]. We had nobody in the store for days at a time. I remember going to see my doctor, and after asking how business was going, he immediately blasted this email saying, ‘My friend Jacques is in trouble! Go buy chocolates!’ People came, and we were able to pay the rent!”

Now with nine shops in Manhattan and Brooklyn under his Mr. Chocolate brand, Torres’s team of approximately thirty employees still has a hand in creating each and every item. Once upon a time, he had to “balance sheet trays on top of the garbage bin to make more room.” But now all his products — chocolates, cookies, ice cream, hot-cocoa mix, pastries, and confections — are made in his 400,000-square-foot factory in Sunset Park, where he moved operations in 2013. That means Torres can scale up production while allowing for time to focus on artistry, ensuring that neither quality nor consistency are compromised.

“What I want to express — what I have wanted to express from the beginning and still want to express — is being true to the product more than anything,” Torres explains. “Our tagline is: Real is my promise to you. I want to keep the dream alive when you come into one of my stores. I want you to be like, ‘Oh my god, there’s magic all over.’ I love when people come in and look around and start smiling.”

For chocolate lovers, the factory is pretty magical, too.

Torres’s chocolate factory is a mammoth space. He uses an intercom to find his second-in-command, Ken Goto, among its many rooms. “He used to be my sous, and now it’s like he’s my boss,” Torres jokes. “I won’t be able to get something to work, and he’ll tell me it’s because I didn’t turn the machine on.”

Torres’s dozens of specialized machines, which he had shipped in from Germany and Belgium, weigh several tons each; however, size isn’t a problem, given that the factory is located in the massive Brooklyn Army Terminal. “This building is overbuilt — they used to drive tanks in here,” Torres explains, referring to the days when the shipping factory sent uniforms, food, and weapons overseas. “Every 20,000 square feet are walls reinforced with metal and stone. It’s so strong that if one part of the building were to be bombed, the rest of the building would be okay. There is no way our machines could break this building.”

“Some people have money in the bank; we have chocolate,” he says, joking about one dry-storage room that holds six and a half tons of chocolate along with several 160-pound bags of Trinitario and Criollo cocoa beans.

Another room — roughly the size of a midtown grocery store — has seasonal packaging, pallets of dry cereal, and numerous molds. Massive scales weigh out 200 pounds of beans, chocolate bars, and milk, which removes the risk of employees injuring themselves moving bowls back and forth. Running chocolate through pipes near the ceiling reduces contamination from airborne objects. The rooms each have their own controlled temperatures, air pressure, and humidity. Machines are rolled into and hosed down in massive showers. And a shoe-cleaning machine at the factory’s entryway ensures street dirt doesn’t make it in.

“We take what we do very seriously,” Torres promises. “These are things we don’t share with the customer, but they give us peace of mind.”

“Before each holiday, Ken and I decide on fifteen or so products, designing them and teaching them to our staff,” he says. “By the end of the season, they’re certainly better than us at the painting of it.” While Mr. Chocolate makes plenty of the eggs and bunnies Americans are familiar with at this time of year, they also make a good deal of chocolate fish — a tradition he brought over from back home in France.

Molds for products are painted by hand in white, yellow, or red chocolate, creating a colorful outer veneer. Then tempered chocolate is poured from a machine programmed to melt and keep chocolate at specific temperatures. (The instructions for the tempered chocolate are programmed on old-school floppy disks on a $250,000 machine that required a week of training from the manufacturer to get it running.) If the chocolate doesn’t have the perfect consistency and temperature, the hollow bunnies and fish won’t have the delicate, thin shells that give a satisfying crunch when you bite into them — which, of course, would be completely unacceptable to Torres.

The filled molds go through a vibration process to remove air bubbles, then they’re spun. Moving slowly at around 60 hertz, the chocolate gently spreads around the molds while cool air blows onto them to lower the temperature and help the chocolate set.

Making these whimsical chocolate creations takes about half an hour — from painting the molds and filling them to shaking out air bubbles and spinning them before slowly cracking the chocolate out of them. Each step has different employees overseeing the production. “Some employees have steady hands, so they do the details,” Torres says. “Some love to color and spray. We let the employee do what they love to do.”

They have to complete four or five rounds of several dozen animals each day, which means there is plenty of room for error. “If you keep them spinning five minutes longer than you’re supposed to, the chocolate will shrink as the molecules of fat tighten. Since the mold is holding it, it will crack in the middle,” Torres explains. “You can see how proud someone is when they take something done right out of the mold. If it’s broken, it’s the opposite. They learn — it’s part of the process, and you have to accept those things.”

Torres gets the giddiest in the packaging area of the factory.

“Our refrigerated tunnel was custom-made in Belgium,” he says. (Sadly, it wasn’t being used upon our visit.) “It’s four feet wide, seventy feet long, and weighs eleven tons! It allows products to go from manufacturing to packaging with less breakage and oxidation.”

Another machine weighs out his chocolate-covered popcorn, slides a portion into an endless tube of cellophane, pinches an end shut, and melts it closed. That process once took ten days for a team to complete, but now it only takes one. Many items are still finished by hand, though. Hollow chickens are filled with wrapped chocolate eggs, the two edges of the halves are melted and sealed together, and then they’re hand-wrapped and decorated with ribbons and flowers.

For smaller items, another machine wraps finished chocolate directly in foil sheets. “This machine is magic,” Torres says. “It can wrap sixty eggs in a minute!” Of course, Goto had to come and help turn the machine on before Torres could play with it.

“Do you know the phrase loss leader?” Torres asks as we head out of the factory. “They’re things that don’t bring in much revenue, but they make people talk about you. At Easter, we make these six-pound rabbits and sell them for only $99. I see them at one of our competitors in Midtown for $279 dollars, but I wanted them to stay under $100, so that became our loss leader.”

Torres’s smiling bunnies have a life of their own now. “When someone’s walking down the street with one, it becomes like walking with a puppy — all the women who see it want to know where it came from!” he says. “One time I was on a plane with two for my wife in California, and you should have seen the security people and the people on the plane! It was so funny. The ladies from first class put them in their own special places so that they didn’t break. I had one on the back of my motorcycle one day, and I told my chefs that the police stopped me for not having a helmet on the rabbit! It wasn’t true…but that’s how much we love them!”

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES FOOD ARCHIVES Living NYC ARCHIVES

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


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


Tumbador
(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.

Categories
FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Reserve a Spot at This Holiday Hot Chocolate Pop-Up

Miracle on Ninth Street isn’t the only downtown bar with a holiday pop-up this December. Following the success of his summertime iced-coffee counter, head sommelier Caleb Ganzer has transformed Nolita’s Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels (249 Centre Street, 212-343-3660) into a daytime hot chocolate bar and gift shop, now open from noon to 3 p.m. daily through Christmas.

While the bar is stocked with chocolate bars and coffee growlers, a festive reservations-only backroom pumps out Christmas reggae while guests sip on wine glasses overflowing with two cocoa variations: a 70 percent blend of Mast Brothers Madagascar Tanzania and Peruvian dark chocolate, blended with Trickling Springs milk, is served straight with a whipped cream float, or — for a real afternoon wake-up call — with a fifty-fifty mix of Parlor Coffee cold-brew concentrate.

“It’s pretty intense and packs a powerful punch, which is why it’s daytime only,” says Ganzer, who maintains traces of his experimental coffee program. “We have some neighborhood devotees that still come in to ask for it, and we use a cold-brew reduction at night as well for our affogato.”

A paper-lined box is packed with macaroons, chocolate terrine, and donuts perfect for dunking.
A paper-lined box is packed with macaroons, chocolate terrine, and donuts perfect for dunking.

Ganzer’s longtime girlfriend, Roxie Jones — a former pastry chef turned popular SoulCycle instructor — bakes up petite pairings to accompany the cocoa, with new bites to be revealed weekly in decorative wooden chests. For the first week, she’s produced rose water donuts with lemon glaze and pink peppercorns, a chocolate terrine layering shortbread, pistachios, and cherries, and brown-butter coconut macaroons glazed with dark chocolate and studded with pistachios.

“She started working at DB Bistro Moderne when I worked as a sommelier there,” says Ganzer, “and now she bakes all her friends’ birthday cakes and is constantly in the kitchen at home. So I said, ‘Let’s bring you in to do some treats for us.’ ” New creations in the coming weeks will include pumpkin pound cake and miniature carrot cake sandwiches. “I just told her to give me some chocolate, some spice, some nuts, and let her take it where she wanted it.”

The bar's front counter offers a selection of gifts including jars of Compagnie head chef Eric Bolyard's flavored brown butters.
The bar’s front counter offers a selection of gifts including jars of Compagnie head chef Eric Bolyard’s flavored brown butters.

The brown butter Jones uses in her baking is the product of Compagnie’s chef Eric Bolyard, another Eleven Madison Park veteran, who left the restaurant to launch a new enterprise, Black & Bolyard, with partner Andrew Black. “He took a year off to do private events and get the brand going before coming here,” recalls Ganzer, who now stocks the jars of flavored brown butter in the bar’s front room pop-up shop. “They haven’t even done the official launch party yet, but it’s a fantastic product and already in several of our dishes. You can put it on toast, add it to sauces, whatever you want. It’s a staple in every Michelin kitchen, but no one’s ever bottled it before.”

Categories
FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Favorite Dishes #32: Triple Chocolate Chunk Cookies at The Whitney

This is a serious chocolate cookie. Triple chocolate chunks, lightly caramelized edges, a soft, molten heart, sprinkled with sparkling crystals of salt, warm and melting fresh from the oven. Deeply, deeply chocolate.

Whether enjoyed as the comforting crowning indulgence of a sophisticated vegetable-forward dinner at Untitled (99 Gansevoort Street; 212-570-3670) or a sugar-rush snack up on the patio of the Studio Café after a long afternoon of art, if you’re visiting the Whitney, you should be eating one of these cookies.

Why so good? Quality chocolate — white, dark, and milk — rice flour that lightens and gives great chew, and some serious thought and skill: You just know that if chef Michael Anthony has a cookie on the menu, it’s one you’re going to enjoy, and Miro Uskokovic (another Gramercy Tavern alum) is the master of elevated, deceptively simple traditional desserts.

At Untitled, you get a shot of cold, creamy milk to drink alongside. At Studio Café you get a view good enough to make up for the lack of milk. Either way, with this cookie you win.

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. To read about previous dishes, browse our 100 Favorite Dishes page.

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
#76: Pork Belly Cotton Candy at Carnem
#75: Ippudo’s Pork Buns
#74: Mission Chinese Food’s Oil-Cured Anchovies
#73: Johnnycakes at LoLo’s Seafood Shack
#72: The Starving Artists Steak at Belle Reve
#71: The Spotted Pig’s Gnudi
#70: Xi’an Famous Foods’ Tiger Vegetable Salad
#69: Crème Brûlée Truffle at Kee’s Chocolates
#68: Pok Pok’s Muu Paa Kham Wong
#67: Cacio e Pepe at Upland
#66: Pulpo at Toro
#65: Junior’s Something Different
#64: Duck Carnitas at Cosme
#63: Banana Miso Ice Cream Sandwich at Neta
#62: Breads Bakery’s Chocolate Babka
#61: Braised Lamb Neck at the Gorbals
#60: Dough’s Passionfruit Doughnut
#59: Uncle Jesse Bao at Baohaus
#58: Patatas Bravas at El Colmado
#57: Lupulo’s Razor Clams
#56: Bar Masa’s Spicy Dancing Shrimp
#55: Underwest Donuts’ Halva
#54: The Virgola Platter at Virgola
#53: Noreetuh’s Monkfish Liver Torchon
#52: Amarena Cherry Merveilleux
#51: Roasted Mushrooms at Bara
#50: Fonda’s Oaxacan Black Mole Enchiladas
#49: Flinders Lane’s Lamb Rump
#48: Blue Ribbon Sushi’s Temaki Honnin
#47: Dirty French’s Chicken and Crepes
#46: The Vegetarian Combination at Zoma
#45: Merguez Sausage Flatbread at Irvington
#44: Le Grand Aioli at Marlow & Sons
#43: Shelsky’s Hot Pastrami Sandwich
#42: Hippie Banjo at Pies ‘n’ Thighs
#41: Malted Milkshake from Dizzy’s Diner
#40: Graffiti’s Graffiti Burger
#39: Beef Rolls at Kottu House
#38: Cafe Katja’s Wiener Schnitzel
#37: Norma’s Potato Pancakes
#36: Goat Milk Soft Serve at Victory Garden
#35: Okonomi’s Onsen Egg
#34: ‘Njuja Pizza at Obicà
#33: Paulaner Sausage Sampler

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

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.

Categories
FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Favorite Dishes #62: Breads Bakery’s Chocolate Babka

It’s hard to pin down the category in which to slot the sweet treat known as babka; is it a bread, pastry, cake — or something in between? The chocolate babka that emerges several times a day from the oven at Breads Bakery (18 East 16th Street; 212-633-2253) is a perfect storm of all of the above. The compact loaf has the heft of a newborn baby, and its lacquered crust boasts the deeply burnished color and crackle of a Peking duck.

Neither too sweet for snacking nor too humble for dessert, this babka is to ordinary yeast bread what a croissant is to an English muffin. And come to think of it, the combination of twisted, buttery dough — folded in a pleasing ratio to the inner coils of oozing, melting hazelnut-scented chocolate — has more in common with a decadent pain au chocolat from a French patisserie than a humble, comforting slice of coffee cake from your neighborhood Ukrainian bakery.

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
#76: Pork Belly Cotton Candy at Carnem
#75: Ippudo’s Pork Buns
#74: Mission Chinese Food’s Oil-Cured Anchovies
#73: Johnnycakes at LoLo’s Seafood Shack
#72: The Starving Artists Steak at Belle Reve
#71: The Spotted Pig’s Gnudi
#70: Xi’an Famous Foods’ Tiger Vegetable Salad
#69: Crème Brûlée Truffle at Kee’s Chocolates
#68: Pok Pok’s Muu Paa Kham Wong
#67: Cacio e Pepe at Upland
#66: Pulpo at Toro
#65: Junior’s Something Different
#64: Duck Carnitas at Cosme
#63: Banana Miso Ice Cream Sandwich at Neta