Journey To Chocolateland

Lauren, my beloved former roommate, was in town for one of her labor law cases (she’s a labor lawyer) and she called me Monday to go to dinner. I quickly whipped out my New York magazine and set upon the task of choosing a venue that would serve both our needs. My needs are very complex: Something new but not too trendy; something exciting but not too bizarre. Lauren’s needs are much simpler. They can be summed up in one word. Chocolate.

If I were a selfish person, I would ignore Lauren’s ridiculous need and focus on my superior need for serious food. But I’m a better friend than that. And so by the end of the evening, Lauren found herself face to face with this piece of heaven:

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But where was she? Where were we? Find out as you click ahead and learn the location of our night out in Chocolateland.

When I opened New York magazine, my eyes went immediately to the name “Michel Cluizel.” As you can see by typing in www.michelcluizel.com, Michel is a highly accomplished Parisian chocolatier who recently opened up his first American store at ABC Carpeting just several blocks away from where I live.

Recalling a former life a concierge, I devised a very sensible plan that would allow us to eat dinner first in a location only several blocks away from this temple of chocolate. What location did I choose? Why Shake Shack of course. What better way to gird your stomach for an evening of chocolate than with burgers and fries. Plus, Lauren had never been there. So we went and ordered and sat under Christmas lights and soon got our food.

“Maybe we shouldn’t eat all our fries,” I suggested. “So we have room for the chocolate.”

Lauren considered this and then ate all her fries. I ate all of mine too. Shake Shack has good fries.

Then down from Madison Square Park we walked to 19th Street, the location of ABC Carpet, and in through the front doors we went.

It occurs to me that non-New Yorkers may find it strange that food can be found inside a carpet store. ABC Carpet is more like a mini-department store that sells eclectic goods that are very very expensive and very very pink and orange. Even when I see something that looks cheap there, I’m usually off by $8000. Inside the store are four restaurants—one’s a Tapas bar, one’s Le Pain Quotidien, the other is organic food and the fourth is the newest addition, the one I’m here to tell you about. Michel Cluizel. Behold his store!

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As you can tell, the store is very new and because most people don’t know about it yet: very empty. Lauren and I had the entire place to ourselves.

We were quickly greeted, though, by the store’s manager (or at least I think he was the manager; he had some kind of high position) named Sage. He observed us walking around the glass case of bonbons, ooh-ing and ahh-ing and when I told him I was there with a genuine chocoholic he presented Lauren with the true litmus test of her devotion. “This,” he said handing her a small square, “is 99% cocoa. It’s so intense that you have to break it up and only eat one piece because it can be so overwhelming.” Look at Lauren wrapped up in the excitement of it all:

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She unwrapped the 99% cocoa chocolate and broke it into four pieces.

“You have to have one too,” she instructed me, handing a piece over.

Always game for food experimentation, I didn’t protest. We each popped a tiny quarter in our mouths and waited.

A few seconds later, Lauren had the look of a mathematician who finally understood a very deep concept. I had the look of a 4 year old who just ate chalk.

“Mmmm,” she said. “Wow, thank you.”

“Do you guys want a table?” asked Sage. We accepted and studied Michel’s dessert menu.

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As someone who looks down on chocolate people as somewhat inferior to fruit-dessert people, I was sort of ambivalent about what we ordered. Lauren, on the other hand, was overwhelmed. “They all sound so good.”

“You want my advice?” asked Sage, returning. “Get the Chocolate Chestnut Decadent with Framboise. It’s unbelievable.”

We accepted and also ordered a plate of 6 bonbons.

“Those you get to choose yourself,” said Sage and sent us back to the counter to choose which ones we wanted. A woman waited there for us.

We both stared down through the glass.

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“Hmmm,” I said, “Maybe I should get the raspberry but raspberry is too ordinary… I know, the passion fruit!”

“Figures you’d choose a fruit one,” said Lauren condescendingly.

She proceeded to choose an all chocolate one which made me roll my eyes.

“Of course you’d order an all chocolate one,” I retorted.

By the end, we’d assembled these six chocolates:

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Mine are on the left, and Lauren’s are on the right. If memory serves me correctly, I had the passion fruit, the chocolate covered orange and salted caramel.

Lauren had raspberry (aha, she submitted to the power of fruit!), the all chocolate one and then one with whiskey.

We made a policy of sharing each bon bon and made our way through them all. The whiskey one seemed the most off-putting: who wants hard liquor in a bon bon?

But, funny enough, when we got to that one (which, incidentally, we saved for last) it was the very best one. Completely unlike any chocolate I’d eaten before. And there’s a very good reason for this: Michel Cluizel is the only New York chocolate shop that has a full liquor license.

“Other places can sell wine and beer,” explained Sage, “but we can serve it all.”

He said this as he presented us with the decadent, which you saw at the very top of this post. Lauren and I stared at it in awe. We quickly lifted our spoons and dove in.

Now Lauren’s face conveyed complete rapture.

“Ohhh,” she grunted. “This is…I am…ohhhh.”

And, despite my contempt for the chocolate-obsessed, I found myself growing to love this dessert like Steve Guttenberg, Ted Danson and Tom Selleck learn to love the baby in “Three Men and A Baby.” It’s not something I planned on loving, but it’s hard to argue with creamy, silky, incredibly rich chocolate mixed with chestnut paste and served on a plate of raspberry sauce.

Just when I’d hit my chocolate limit, Sage came to us with this plate:

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“You can’t leave here,” he said, “without trying our cherries. This is what started it all. This is why this place is here. Because we have our liquor license, we can soak our cherries in Kirsch which is what we did with these. There’s a specific way to eat them. Put them in your mouth, pull out the stem, and chew them slowly. These have pits. First you’ll taste the Kirsch, then the chocolate, then the fruit… and it’ll all come over you like a wave.”

With a description like that, it was difficult not to put the whole plate in my mouth. But the chocolate-covered cherry went in and sure enough I found myself on a sensual journey that pushed forward in several phase. I’ve been reading Joseph Campbell, recently, and he tells us that the hero’s journey has three parts: separation, initiation, and return. Here, we separated the stem from the fruit; the Kirsch washed over us, initiating us into the world of the cherry, and when it was all over we returned the pit to the plate. A multi-part adventure all in one bite.

And so it was that we left Michel Cluizel’s new chocolate shop completely invigorated, high on chocolate.

“We hope you come back,” said Sage.

“Oh we’ll be back,” said Lauren. And even though the old me would’ve rolled his eyes, the new me sort of agreed. I’d been reborn a chocolate lover.

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