Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Right to Bare Chocolate

While away on my little vacation (with a work conference thrown in for kicks), I may not have kept up with the blog -- know how hard it is to find free wi-fi in some places??? -- but I've certainly kept up with good food.

I started my getaway with a visit to the fair Titania in Philadelphia, and she prepared me for the festive atmosphere of my visit by sending me a copy of the local-foods directory for the metropolitan area. Wow! I had no idea that so many restaurants and cafes in the City of Brotherly Love focused on fresh, seasonal, local produce, but I was thrilled. How could we possible cover enough of them in one short weekend to satisfy me?

Well, I'll save the details of that for a post at the Ethicurean (soon to come), but one particular place, though not featuring local foods, merited a separate special mention for all my fellow chocolate-lovers.

For my first night in town, my dear friend had purchased tickets to the Kimmel Center to hear Ben Heppner, dramatic tenor, sing with the La Scala Orchestra. (She knows well how much I love classical music and opera.) We dined a few blocks from the Center at a lovely Middle Eastern restaurant, but when we discovered that the restaurant was out of baklava (of all things! didn't they hear I was coming??), we decided to backtrack to a small artisan chocolate shop called Naked Chocolate.

If your idea of gourmet chocolate is Godiva or some similar boutique chain, it's time for you to book a plane or train to Philadelphia and raise your standards. This charming cafe and chocolaterie has a somewhat European feel in the elegance of its surroundings, but it's also a favorite with a young, hip crowd that gives it a happy energy.

Naked Chocolate makes all its chocolates, from the traditional nut clusters and luscious truffles to intriguing chocolate beads shaped like M&Ms but infused with flavors ranging from
sea salt to rose. Their pastry case contains cupcakes, tortes and tarts, and other tempting desserts for those who wish to sit and indulge in fine desserts.

Or, if you're like the fair Titania and myself and prefer your chocolate in liquid form, you can order a cup of thick hot chocolate, either made in the usual way or as "sipping" chocolate, which thickens like a pudding the longer you savor it. She ordered the dark sipping chocolate, as creamy and dark as a pot de crème, and I sampled a petit Aztec hot chocolate (the largest size is "We'll Never Tell") laced with
cinnamon, cardamom, clove, and nutmeg. Needless to say, we both enjoyed our indulgences very much!

Along with dessert, we each purchased various chocolates to take with us. While Titania selected a quartet of truffles and a canister each of two kinds of dark chocolate beads, I picked up a canister of chocolate-covered espresso beans for friends I will see later in my vacation as well as half a dozen dark chocolates and truffles, including a solid dark chocolate blossom topped with Hawaiian lava salt, an espresso truffle, a truffle with lime and ginger, and a pyramid of solid 72% dark chocolate.

Since I've increased my commitment to local foods, I've actually tried to reduce the amount of chocolate I use in baking and eat. On top of that, I've tried to use higher-quality chocolate (organic and fair-trade where possible) when I do use it. It's more expensive, yes, but if it helps me be more mindful about enjoying it, I think that's a worthwhile trade.

So when I get the chance to experience such delicious chocolate in delightfully creative forms, I'm definitely going to make the most of it.

And if you're headed to Philadelphia any time soon, you should make the most of it, too!


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