At this point, it will stress me out if I don't begin writing on this topic because my stories, analysis and photographs are piling up and my fingers need to let the words loose into cyberspace.
The first chocolatier I tried was the chocolate shop in my town, Houilles. Daskalides is a Belgian brand with a tiny storefront 2 minutes from my house. I stopped by on a rainy January day for a few pieces. As I tried to enter, the door seemed stuck, so I assumed that they were taking a lunch break or some such French thing. The helpful and friendly shopkeeper ran out after me, explaining something about the door that I didn't quite comprehend. The point is, I made it into the chocolaterie. I told the lady that I am American and I am looking to try all of the chocolate I can while I'm here. She was very receptive and kind and patient while I made my selection of six bonbons. The confections were sold by weight and cost me only 3€. The saleslady even threw in an extra piece for me to try.
My selections included a variety of flavors. Nuts, fruit, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and liquor. The bonbons themselves were quite sweet, the shells a bit too thick and the fillings slightly dry. They reminded me of a box of Godiva. Not terrible, but certainly factory produced. I will return for the good service and good prices if I find myself at home and in need of chocolate.
During a walk in Le Marais one late morning, I found Girard. The shop itself was not particularly charming. Their colors of orange and brown were rather drab, their packaging not particularly chic and the lights were dim in a dingy kind of way instead of in a mysterious one.
As I was about to leave empty-handed, a package of peanut butter chocolates caught my eye, and I knew I would have to give them a taste.
Peanut Butter and chocolate are soul mates. In other words, it's difficult to come out with a bad product when you mix the two together. These Girard Praline Cacahuete suited me just fine. Were they the most delicious? No. Were they worth trying? Yes.
Girard could step up their packaging game, because chocolates tossed in a bag will never come out without some scratches and imperfections.
In the states, I've tried Michel Cluizel's couverture chocolates. I remember being impressed that a small factory could produce such high-quality and varied chocolate for tempering. But, Cluizel makes more than just chocolate for other chocolatiers to make chocolate with. You follow? The business has several shops in Paris and even one in New York.
I've now been inside two of the Cluizel shops in Paris and must say that I am impressed with the clean, yet chocolaty design. The shops are very bright and clean, with a chocolate fountain/wall featured somewhere in the shop. The window displays are appealing and seasonal and the shelves are full of chocolate bars with varying origins and percentages.
This time, I chose six pieces to test. Serious business, this.
Among the six were highs and lows. The pistachio-almond praline fell short, the 85% cacao hit the spot and the layered crunchy bonbon was completely new and unexpected.
La Maison du Chocolat
Perhaps the most famous chocolatier in the world, La Maison du Chocolat lives up to the expectations I had. I've been in two locations , and I'm sure the quality of the chocolate is consistent, but I had a slightly better experience at the shop in La Madeleine. The shop is kept by polite and helpful ladies and gentlemen who remind one of the classy people who work in the shoe section at Nordstrom. You know how professional those people are?
A young man offered to help me and I decided I would choose four pieces. He very carefully nestled my selections into a bag and offered me an extra one to taste. I told him to pick. He gave me a passion fruit-infused ganache that was exquisite.
My moments in La Maison du Chocolat were some of my best, as the employees did not break into English as soon as they heard my "bonjour." I somehow managed to get through the entire transaction speaking and being spoken to only in French. I felt quite Parisienne as I walked out the door with five chocolate sellers calling "au revoir, madame" after me.
The chocolates themselves have impossibly sharp corners, perfectly textured ganaches, and timeless designs. Everything about these confections says: classic. La Maison du Chocolat is fighting for the first place on my list of favorite chocolatiers.
Previously my favorite Parisian chocolatier, Patrick Roger is keeping up the quality. Patrick Roger is an experience. My favorite of his shops so far is the Madeleine location. The storefront itself is impressive and there is plenty of space for ornate displays of chocolate sculpture. There is a quiet lounge upstairs that is set up like a museum where shoppers can sit for a moment to enjoy the ornate sculptures. Apparently, chocolate showpieces can translate well into other mediums, because Roger recently opened an exhibition of metal sculptures at Christie's in Paris.
The shelves at Patrick Roger are lined with products that the buyer is informed not to touch. Unlike many chocolatiers, Roger does not make it easy to choose your own pieces. Each size box has preset flavors. For me, this is not a problem. I quite enjoy trying unexpected flavors.
The workers always seem to be ever so busy packaging chocolates that one wonders how much they sell on a regular Tuesday afternoon. It must be an awful lot.
The chocolates were enjoyed by me and my boyfriend at a little cafe close to St. Lazare with an espresso each. The ganaches were slightly dry and the flavors quite subtle, but the crunchy hazelnut praline saved the show. And come on, you can't beat that sleek packaging.
What other chocolatiers should I try in Paris? Are there specific specialty products that I'm missing out on?