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Chocolate Haven? Chocolate Heaven? It’s All the Same to Me

This afternoon I went on a field trip to heaven. I met my friend E, her sweetly sleeping six-week old baby F, and her adorable pup Sheridan (who gave me permission to use his full name) at Jacques Torres’ Chocolate Haven at 350 Hudson Street, in the lower reaches of the West Village. I’ve been reading about it and salivating for months now—the press reports covered everything from the architecture (the space is shaped like a cocoa pod, though you’re not necessarily aware of that while you’re inside) to the fact that Torres would be manufacturing chocolate from the very first step, meaning he’d be roasting, shelling, and grinding the cocoa beans himself. Plus I had a tenuous, if real, personal connection: When I worked at Sage American Kitchen, for an even briefer tenure than my own the pastry chef was Jacques’ cousin Serge. That didn’t exactly work out, since “American” was literally the company’s middle name and Serge was as Francais as they come. But at one point I did actually meet Jacques, so there you go.

From the outside, Chocolate Haven is quite straightforward-looking: plate-glass windows display hundreds, maybe thousands, of cellophane-wrapped bunnies, eggs, and hens, and the manufacturing setup behind them. On a Thursday afternoon, the place was fairly empty—there were perhaps five other customers inside when we arrived; no chocolate-making was happening, which was a bit of a disappointment. In fact, from the looks of things Jacques hasn’t yet begun his “from the bean” chocolate-making—there were pallets of Belgian chocolate stacked up in full view, and no beans in sight. But come on, does that really matter right this minute? It’s not like anybody else is roasting his own cocoa beans in this town. I’ll be curious to see how, if at all, the flavor of his chocolate changes once he does roast his own.

Inside was the most pleasurable assault imaginable. There was chocolate everywhere, lining the windows (those same bunnies & hens I’d seen from outside), on small stands between the counter and the door, and for a good twenty feet along the counter. Just inside the door, facing the main display, was an espresso and hot-chocolate bar, where a barista served up frothy drinks. Treats for sale included small bags of chocolate-dunked macadamias, hazelnuts, almonds. Huge slabs of nut-studded milk, dark, and white chocolate bark, to be broken upon request. Simply-wrapped bars of plain chocolate for baking or eating, with varying percentages of cocoa solids. Chocolate-covered marshmallows. Champagne truffles made with Taittinger and shaped like corks. Chocolate-covered cornflake clusters, espresso beans, fortune cookies, orange peel. Freshly baked cookies, kept warm on hot plates. And at the center of the long counter: a pair of chocolate stations, each manned by a knowledgeable staff member and piled with easily twenty different kinds of chocolate. Clearly, this was the heart of the show. I couldn’t leave without a selection from here. I opted for the box of 12, for $15.00. Remarkably inexpensive, I must say—I would’ve expected them to cost $2 each. Since I’m a bit of a chocolate snob I opted for mostly dark chocolates, only choosing milk if the insides sounded too good to miss. Here’s what they look like:

Top row, left to right: Love Potion #9 (dark chocolate ganache in dark chocolate), Golden Espresso, Fresh Squeezed Lemon, and Liquid Caramel. Middle row, left to right: Cinnamon Praline, Grand Cru (red wine in dark chocolate), Heart of Passion (passion fruit), Wicked Fun (spiced with chilis). Bottom row, left to right: Fresh Coconut, Bin 27 Port (port wine in dark chocolate), Almondine, and Raspberry Fruit.

[I was a bit surprised that there wasn’t more caramel—that one piece was the only thing with caramel in the whole place. It’s a good thing tomorrow’s Sugar High Friday, don’t you think?]

S and I are going to sample two of these each night until they’re gone—that way I (hopefully) won’t blow Weight Watchers too badly. I’ll report back to you as we go—right now I’m typing with the open box on my desk and it’s torture, I tell ya, torture!

Ignoring WW completely, I also bought one of their chocolate-chip cookies for E and me (mostly me) to eat at one of the café tables dotting the space. It was crisp and gooey at the same time, and it was all about the chocolate, bittersweet and melty. E and I licked the dark, intense stuff from our fingers, since we didn’t want to waste it on a napkin. As a chocolate chip cookie, I must say it was only so-so. The cookie itself didn’t bring much to the party, so the chocolate really overwhelmed it. I’ll still choose City Bakery’s any day. As a chocolate experience, though, it was faaaaabulous. What’s more sensual than licking melted chocolate off your fingers, one by one? OK, so I was doing this with my friend who gave birth six weeks ago today, but who says sensual things have to be about sex? I enjoyed it for what it was, a small mid-day frisson.

Since I bought the box of chocolates for S and me to savor together, I decided to pick up a little something just for him:

I bought it because it’s special. It holds a dark secret in its little tummy, something that we could hear rattling but couldn’t identify until cracking it open. E’s the one who discovered it, actually, mixed in with a large basket of plain white, dark, and milk chocolate hens. She gave it a shake and smiled with delight. It must be an egg, we predicted confidently. And sure enough, we were right:

S let me taste the broken piece of chocolate before he scooped up his hen and her little egg. It was remarkably bittersweet, not the kind of Easter treat most American children are raised on. Mine will be, though, you can be sure of that.

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