By Shivani Vora
Goodbye, M&Ms. Hello litchi-passion fruit ganache. It was only a matter of time before New Yorkers, already obsessed with artisanal cheeses, olive oils and vegetables, started improving their chocolate. New York confectioners are taking on the Belgians and French, hoping to make their mark in the competitive world of chocolate-making. Here are some shops making their mark in the city’s chocolate society.
60 New St., between Beaver
and Exchange Place
Average cost: $2 per piece
It all started with a party. Partners Joe Guiliano and John Down needed simple finger foods to serve guests at one of Down’s art exhibitions. Experimenting in their kitchen, they created a batch of dark chocolate truffles.
“People literally went nuts, and all they talked about all night was how good the chocolate was,” Guiliano recalleds. Encouraged, they developed more flavors.
The orange-hued walls hung with Down’s art (he still paints) creates a café atmosphere, and customers can sit at the table or counter and slowly savor their sweets along with a cappuccino or iced coffee.
Christopher Norman confections are primarily dark chocolate, Guittard being the brand used. Try one of the more unusual flavors, like sweet basil, coconut curry or goat cheese with champagne and black peppercorns.
80 Thompson St.
Average cost: $1.75 per piece
Kee Ling Tong’s store is smaller than an average newsstand, and you think that there has to be something more to it. Not so, says Tong.
“What you see is what you get,” she said, pointing to the double burner where the coverture is melted and the modest counter space where chocolate is rolled out or molded. The complex taste of the chocolates belies their simple preparation, and Kee’s is rated by Zagat’s as the best chocolate store in New York.
Laid off from her financial industry job after Sept. 11, Tong began experimenting with chocolates in her home kitchen and opened her kiosk in 2003.
Her first flavor was crème brule. Today, she has more than 30 flavors, including mango green tea, yuzu, passion fruit and black sesame. “I am Asian so a lot of these flavors reflect my heritage,” she said.
27 West 20th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, Suite 904
Average cost: $6 per bar, assortment prices vary by size
Joan Coukos was plugging away at her banking job until she visited an antique market while on vacation in Belgium and discovered the molds that would change her life. Experimenting with them in her New York kitchen, she realized her true passion was making chocolate. In 2003, she opened a chocolate laboratory in Chelsea, and Chocolat Moderne was born.
Though she doesn’t have a shop yet — she plans to open one in the next year —don’t let that deter you from trying some of the most exotic chocolates around. Place an order on her Web site and pick up your treasures at her office in Chelsea. These confections transcend the ordinary. Her signature piece, La Dolce Grapefruit, is a blend of grapefruit and caramel in a hard chocolate shell. Other unique flavors include Havana, a chocolate blended with habenero peppers, and Les Nympes, a blend of litchi and passion fruit ganache.
Sixth Floor, Blomingdale’s
1000 Third Avenue, at 59th Street
Average cost: $2 a piece
As you arrive at the sixth floor of Bloomingdales, the landmark retail emporium, you’ll be lured by the aroma of roasting almonds. Martine’s, the small shop tucked between the displays of kitchen accessories, was started by Parisian Martine Leventer in 1992. A stop at her shop is on every visiting chocolate aficionado’s “must-do” list. Unlike other upscale chocolatiers who ship their covertures from Europe, chefs here fill molds and stir caramel until it reaches the perfect gooey consistency. And you can watch.
“My chocolate is so fresh, and there is a balance between the actual chocolate and the taste in the center,” Leventer says. “One doesn’t overpower the other, and that result is difficult to achieve.”
Many of the chocolates are named for their shapes, like King Tut, the piano and double heart. A perennial favorite is the double chocolate truffle.
40 Eighth Avenue, near Jane Street
Grand Central Terminal Market, at Lexington Avenue and 43rd Street
Average cost: varies; chocolate-covered fruit is $23 per pound; chocolate bars and fudge begin at $1.75
To walk into Li-Lac to relive your childhood. Greek immigrant George Demetrious opened this shop in 1923, long before Greenwich Village was famous. Using copper kettles and marble tables, he perfected the recipes for old-fashioned American treats, like hazelnut truffle squares, fudge, assorted creams and caramels. This is one of New York’s oldest chocolate shops. More than 75 years later, Li-Lac is still producing confections using Demetrious’ methods and recipes.
The fourth and current owner, Martha Bond, has expanded the selections, but the confections are still handmade in small batches. Don’t expect any adventurous flavors here. Look for your childhood favorites, like chocolate-covered graham crackers or cream patties.