Love chocolate? You've got an excuse this special weekend. Splurge on something delicious to nibble on—be it for your Valentine, or yourself. Full of personality as well as free samples, these shops all make sweet date spots, but for those who don't want to brave the winter storm this weekend, they also take online orders. Satisfying vegans, sex kittens, and connoisseurs of fine dining alike, these chocolates all share an incredible attention to detail that gives customers the best experience possible.
Claiming to be “stubbornly old fashioned since 1923,” Li-Lac Chocolates serves up fresh chocolate in every imaginable form. Boasting an incredible selection that includes cordial cherries, chocolate creams, butter crunch, chocolate-glazed orange slices and ginger, or even marzipan acorns and nonpareils, Li-Lac caters to the unconventional while preserving traditional techniques and standards. Especially worth mentioning are the salted caramels—a creamy layer of milk or dark chocolate covering a soft caramel that will stretch in a thin line from your teeth as you pull it away, and the diagonal stripe of sea salt highlights the other ingredients' attributes by just the right amount. Notable and affordable Valentine's Day specials include Picasso's Heart (thirteen red-foiled chocolate hearts in a see-through, heart-shaped bag) and the Music Lover's Heart (a violin surrounded by truffles). It's the place to go for niche products, too—there's no better way to say “I love you” than by giving your best friend a life-sized chocolate sculpture of pizza or of a DSLR camera.
Vosges Haut-Chocolate offers chocolate paired with an array of ingredients from near and far to create a world tour via chocolate. Offering organic and vegan options, the entire store is filled with wonders at every corner, but customers often zoom towards the tried-and-true favorite of the bacon products: chocolate bars, truffles, and even pancakes. Also, for all “Hunger Games” fans, you can literally have a piece of Katniss Everdeen (along with President Snow and Effie Trinket, if you wish), which contains apples, bacon, and sea salt suspended in milk chocolate. Doesn't she sound delicious? As for truffles, the ingredient combinations all make it worth a try, but the Rooster is pretty amazing, with taleggio cheese, walnuts, and vanilla, as is the Olio d'oliva, which is high quality olive oil in a white chocolate ganache topped with dried Kalamata olives. The maple caramel is also an astounding experience for the senses—chocolate that melts with the slightest touch covers a caramel imbued with Canadian maple syrup, and the entire thing is sprinkled with a finely ground “praline” of maple sugar and California walnuts. You'd think that a pack of four would last you a while. It doesn't.
Mast Brothers Chocolate
Mast Brothers' chocolate is one of those rare food items where you get excited peeling back the paper and the gold foil. Taking the concept of terroir and applying it to chocolate, Mast Brothers' Original Collection is a story of five chocolates that takes the taster through the uniqueness of cacao from Central America (Belize), to South America (Dominican Republic), then Africa (Madagascar), and finally Oceania (Papua New Guinea) separately, then balances the flavors all at once in its famous Brooklyn Blend. Shiny in appearance, crisp when snapped, intensely flavored and always nuanced, Mast Brothers' chocolate is the wonderful product of proper tempering. Mast Brothers' minimalist factory, open to tours, is the definition of “artisanal”—the artists take you through the process of transformation from cacao to chocolate. If anything, visit to breathe in the glorious fumes—but if you need more motivation, there is free hot chocolate for any and all visitors from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Monday through Thursday. What's not to love?
Swedish chocolatier Håkan Mårtensson crafts the quirkiest treats in his TriBeCa chocolate factory, and New York has the privilege of housing several of his retail outposts. “Fika” in Swedish means coffee break, and in these FIKA spots you'll find delicious coffee made from Brazilian and Ethiopian Arabica beans roasted in Brooklyn to accompany your chocolate explorations. The most elegant, minimalist Valentine's Day gift from his shop would be the strawberry-and-champagne truffles, which are smooth, rich, and divine. An appropriate conversation starter for two would be the “Date Night Tasting Flight” truffle box, which takes tasters through the inception of love at a coffee shop (“Flirting Over Coffee”) to the post-love glow (“Morning-After Breakfast”). Since flattened beer or wine bottles were a “green” presentation trend earlier last year, FIKA has taken it one step further by making the flattened bottle tray out of chocolate. The red chocolate skull (“If You Like Redheads”) and miniature gold chocolate skulls (“Blending in Is Boring”) are perfect gifts for lovers of punkish decadence, while chocolate pills are a cute gift to the workaholics of Columbia—just make sure that they don't confuse them with their Advil. As one of FIKA's posters say, “Chocolate doesn't ask silly questions—chocolate understands.” Oh yes it does.