16 August 2009

Guest Post: Paris chocolate shops

By Vicki Hicks

(Krik's Note: You've seen my friend Vicki Hicks in a previous post. She jets off regularly to Paris and then regales me with tales of her culinary ventures. After our dinner at Founding Fathers earlier this year, I asked her to write a guest post about her visits to Paris chocolate shops. Read on ...)

During my most recent trip to Paris in February I was only on the ground for four days. I have visited Paris many times and have hit most of the tourist highlights and a few obscure places as well. What to do with such little time? We decided to take a tour of some of the best chocolate shops Paris has to offer. To begin our search for the ultimate in chocolate decadence, we referred to an article in last December's New York Times. While we did not visit each of the shops mentioned in the Times, we did manage to identify two standouts from our tour.

It just happened that our chocolate tour was conducted on Valentine's Day. Our first stop was Patrick Roger's shop on Avenue Victor Hugo, not far from where I was staying with a friend who was living in Paris on assignment. I had visited Patrick's former location on St. Germain, so I knew we were in for a treat. Squares of chocolate ganache mixed with hazelnut were my favorite, and the chocolate covered orange peels my least. From there, we headed over to the area around the Luxembourg Gardens, to a chocolate shop I had visited before and is famous for its macaroons. I can't remember the name of the shop but it is just down the street from a candle store that has been around for centuries. We purchased several types of macaroons each, including pistachio, milk chocolate and dark chocolate.

From there we walked to Christian Constant, another chocolatier. After peering through the window we decided not to enter. Most of the chocolates were infused with a variety of spices and flowery flavors. We were looking to mainline chocolate and did not need any interference. As it turned out, our next stop was nirvana.

Upon reaching Pierre Hermé’s shop at 72, rue Bonaparte, we discovered we were not alone in our quest for the best chocolate in Paris. The line to enter the tiny shop was out the door and down the street to the corner. My friend pronounced that no chocolate was worth standing in line for and I said that a line that long indicated we had found the best chocolate in Paris. After about 20 minutes or so, we entered a shop that was filled with the most incredible chocolate desserts and macaroons I have ever consumed. We ended up buying one dessert that was a mound of chocolate mousse and ganache, with crunchy caramel - just as described in the Times. We also bought a dessert that was several layers of different types of chocolate, with a couple of layers of crunchy hazelnut. And, most importantly, we found the best macaroons I have ever tasted - filled with Pierre Herme's delicious chocolate. I sampled Mexican and Venezuelan chocolate, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, hazelnut and pistachio. Inserted in the box of macaroons was a full color booklet to identify the chocolates and macaroons.

Three days later, it was departure day. I decided I simply had to bring a box of Pierre Herme's macaroons back to DC with me. That morning we hopped on the Metro to make the trek across the city to Pierre Herme's. Not surprisingly, at 10:30 in the morning, a line was out the door and down the street. Upon entering the store, I quickly bought a small box of macaroons and ran back to the apartment to gather my bags and leave for the airport. Since I do not know when I will be in Paris next, I rationed the macaroons and allowed myself to have one a day for the next week. Yes, the delicate cookies had lost some of their freshness, however the chocolate was as luscious and creamy as when they were fresh.

For information on these two chocolate shops, along with several others, I refer you to the New York Times article:

http://travel.nytimes.com/2008/12/14/travel/14journeys.html, and for a map showing the location of the chocolate shops: