February 1 – 28, 2011
3 West 18th Street @ 5th Avenue, NYC
While the winter weather has been dreadful this year, there’s still a great reason to celebrate the cold. Hot chocolate! For the past 19 years, City Bakery has been hosting its Annual Hot Chocolate Festival for the entire month of February. Every day of the week, they jazz up their signature chocolate blend with a different featured flavor. Some are fruity, a la lemon, banana, or fig; some are spicy, with cinammon, ginger, or chili pepper; some are boozy, dosed by bourbon or beer. Some are a mystery, with playful names like “Love Potion”, “Ode to the Polar Bear”, and “Moulin Rouge”. My favorite of the bunch is “What Would Faulkner Drink?” – a special concoction of honey, lemon, and homemade moonshine – and a most heavily googled search term this month in NYC.
City Bakery’s hot chocolate is made from their very own, finely crafted recipe made entirely from melted chocolate bars. No cocoa powder here, folks. I visited on “Earl Grey Tea” Hot Chocolate Monday and made sure to add one of their highly touted handmade marshmallows. It was well worth the extra buck. The handmade marshmallow is so dense, it wasn’t about to melt into my drink. No biggie. I actually ended up grabbing a spoon, pouring the hot chocolate over the top of the marshmallow iceberg, letting it sink it, and then scooping it out in big bites. It was akin to eating a sweet cloud floating in chocolate soup, and certainly not a hot chocolate experience I’ve ever encountered before.
This luscious bowl was so very rich, I found it challenging to drink the whole cup, though I wasn’t going to let a drop go to waste. I didn’t even touch the baker’s muffin – a decadent cinnamon infused croissant meets bread pudding monster pastry with juicy currants – I bought to accompany my mug. My eyes were clearly bigger than my stomach and the combination was complete sugar overkill, but the muffin made for a fabulous breakfast the next day.
If you plan to frequent the fest more than once, I suggest getting a large cup with a marshmallow ($6) on your first visit, with a small cookie, if you can handle the diabetic coma that’s sure to ensue. On repeat visits, consider grabbing one of their “shots” ($3) to sample other flavors throughout the month. To check out the full festival calendar of flavors and plan your ideal visiting day, click here.
You can also buy their signature blend in a convenient take home carton ($6) to experiment with your own favorite flavor combinations. Carton upon carton are amply stacked Warhol-style throughout the bakery and in their Chocolate Room – a little phone booth sized den, with beautiful deep red embroidered walls, chock full of various locally made chocolates delights.
I love that City Bakery has devoted a whole month to celebrating the diversity of hot chocolate and theirs is certainly one of the finest concoctions I’ve sampled. That said, there are a few other hot chocolates in NYC that I would be remisce not to mention in a post devoted to the subject. Luckily, they’re all conveniently located within striking distance of each other, so therefore, may I suggest you gather a few friends together and go on a Self-Guided Hot Cocoa Crawl of SoHo!
Start your journey at Jacques Torres (350 Hudson @ King St), as it’s probably my favorite hot chocolate in the city. Torres seriously knows his chocolate. It’s not only mouth-watering, but the individual truffles are beautifully decorated with cool designs, and you can taste the love with which they’re prepared. Not at all surprising, considering he’s one of the kindest food purveyors around. I had the pleasure of meeting him recently at The NY Chocolate Show, and he greeted absolutely every visitor to his booth with a warm welcome and big smile. I adore his original hot chocolate, but I think the “wicked”, with cinnamon and chili peppers, is the bomb! It’s got a nice kick that’s perfectly balanced (unlike my experience at Max Brenner’s which I asked to exchange because it was utterly undrinkable). If you’re craving something a bit more unusual, go wicked.
Then head east on Houston to Aroma Espresso Bar (145 Greene Street @ Houston) which makes a wonderful “sunken treasure” style cocoa. They place pieces of luscious dark chocolate at the bottom of a mug and pour hot steaming milk over the top. You grab a spoon and mix the frothy milk and melty chocolate together as you sip. I give Aroma props for the presentation, served in a clear glass mug so you can see the treasure at the bottom, as well as the flavor.
Next, head south to either Vosges (132 Spring St @ Wooster) or MarieBelleChocolates (484 Broome St @ Wooster). These are really high-end chocolatelier boutiques that elevate chocolate to an art form in an almost gallery-like setting. Vosges features an Aztec (chilis, vanilla bean, and cinnamon), Bianca (Australian lemon mrytle and lavender with white chocolate), and La Parisienne varieties. MarieBelle uses Colombian whole bean dark cacao, not cocoa powder, for their Aztec and Spicy Hot Chocolate (made with ancho and chipotle chili). They also have three milk chocolate varieties – original mocha, hazelnut, and white chocolate vanilla. All are decadently rich and uniquely aromatic due to the quality and freshness of the ingredients.
Jacques Torres, Vosges, and MarieBelle are also ideal places to pick up chocolates for your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day, or even better, any day of the year when you want to express your love. They treat their chocolates like tiny canvases, hand-painting uniquely colorful designs on each to distinguish the different flavors. You can customize your own sampler box at any of the 3 locations and devise a romantic tasting for two – in a dimly-lit lounge with cocktails, or at home in bed – that is sure to score you some major brownie points. Pun intended.
For the complete list of Best Sweets and Chocolate in New York City, go to Eye For Style maps.