Thursday, May 25, 2006

Parisian Chocolate

Around the dinner table recently were bistro plates piled high with beef, veal, and even organ meats. My own meal was a robust serving of steak tartare, a hearty symbol that I'm not in India anymore. I arrived in Paris last week, and while I keep a directory of the city's chocolatiers in my mind and subscribe to the belief that French chocolate is unquestionably superior to both Swiss and Belgian, the truth is that I'm a novice in this palatial city. I've never before spent a Euro, the last time I visited Europe was six years ago, and the only previous trip I've made to Paris was as an 18-year-old whose only interest was American movies.

Luckily, the prevalence of bon bons in this city and the incredibly well-planned Metro system mean that I can easily stumble across some of the best that Paris has to offer. Here's a list of what I've haplessly encountered so far:

Jean-Paul Hevin
The sleek rue Saint-Honore tea room serving flawless chocolates and pastries is perfectly suited to both this fashionable city and to Tokyo (where Hevin also operates several boutiques).

This classic patissier is better known for its macaroons (which come in more than fifteen flavors) than its chocolates. I must admit that I preferred the macaroons.

My grandmother took me to this tourist legend at 226 rue de Rivoli during my first visit to Paris ten years ago. I ordered an iced chocolate that was thick, rich, and flavorful in a way that was--at the time--unimaginable to me. For years, I have longed to recreate the experience. But, when I revisited this time with my stepmother, I was surprised to find that the item was no longer on the menu. Instead, I ordered the cafe's signature "Chocolat a l'Africain," a hot chocolate drink that travelers, guidebook writers, and chocoholics by the dozen describe as "so thick you can stand a spoon up in it." True, it was thick, but it was also lumpy. (Curdled milk? Bits of flour stirred in to make the mixture heavier?) Alas, this revered hot chocolate, like the faded opulence of Angelina's decor, has become a mere tourist attraction: it's the semblance of something great instead of greatness itself. But the memory of that decadent iced chocolate remains unchallenged.

Cacao et Chocolat
As the name suggests, this distinctly modern chocolate boutique incorporates both Mesoamerican and European traditions into its products. The shop also purchases ingredients through fair-trade agreements.


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