Thursday, February 07, 2013

Chocolate Arts


I received an invitation from Chocolate Arts to attend their 20th anniversary chocolate reception at their newly expanded location on West 3rd Ave in Vancouver. I couldn't make it as I've moved away, but I sent fellow chocolate lover Py to check it out. The following is her take on the experience.

Chocolate Arts, at 1620 West 3rd Ave in Vancouver, is the new sleek chocolate café in the neighborhood. It’s small, but good things can sometimes come in small packages. Like their chocolate.


The characteristics of a good chocolate includes the absence of the plastickyness of store brand confectioners (think Cadbury and Hershey’s), a depth of flavor that is sweet, but not overly so, and so rich and satisfying that you can very quickly become sated on chocolate and happily forgo dinner.
The vast majority of chocolates I got to sample at Chocolate Arts’ new location opening were very good chocolates. The best thing about this chocolatier? They’re always experimenting.


The round chocolates in the lower right corner of the picture below are a new experiment of Chocolate Arts. Here, they are attempting to mix the flavors of apples with chocolate, without having either flavor overwhelm the other. This new experiment consists of finely chopped organic fuji apples that were cooked in a sweet syrup, then chilled, then poured into a pre-chilled chocolate bowl. This was then topped with mousse, if I recall correctly, which was then topped with oven baked julienned fuji apples. The chilled apple filling is a surprising shock to the palate. It’s not overly sweet, but neither is it tart. It is simply refreshing.
The macaroon-like chocolates in the left centre are their mini lemon and basil ice cream sandwiches, also available during the Vancouver hot chocolate festival with the Amoury Amour order. The lemon and basil were very apparent in the ice cream, but that was the highlight of this piece for me. The sandwich bits were rich, satisfying bits of dense brownie, but there wasn’t anything special about it.


We also got to try the candied almonds. They didn’t look that impressive, and were actually a little dusty to handle, but there were certainly three levels of taste: first the mellow chocolatey covering, then the almond, then a hint of saltiness. Perhaps I haven’t had almonds in a while, but it reminded me of pistachios.


Chocolate Arts even had a guest chocolatier on hand, making espresso-topped, chocolate covered gianduja to order for us to try. When I asked him how to spell it, the chef wrote gianduja, in chocolate, on a spare board for me.


Remember when I talked about the plastickyness of store brand chocolate? The only time I encountered this at Chocolate Arts was with the kalamansi, which is a regular item that they sell. It’s difficult to make good white chocolate without it being too sweet, and while the white chocolate in the kalamansi certainly wasn’t sweet, it did come off as plasticky, particularly when contrasted with the sharply sweet and tart filling.


The strawberry and champagne seduction, true to its description, had two solid layers inside a cover of heart-stamped chocolate. This was one of my favorite pieces, because it wasn’t sickeningly sweet, which one often finds with strawberries, but it showcased well the pairing of strawberries with the flavor of champagne.


Chocolate Arts is also a chocolate café, and while they do serve coffee and tea, it’s the chocolate shot I was most interested in. One thing that is different about Chocolate Arts, compared to other specialty chocolate cafes like Thierry and Mink Chocolates, is that they allow you to sample and choose your chocolate – at least for the chocolate shot. I forgot to ask about their hot chocolate.


Upon entering the store, there is a shelf of small black urns containing generously sized chocolate ovals of different cacao percentages. There are miniature tongs on glass plates for handling the chocolate ovals to sample before you choose your preferred chocolate for yor chocolate shot. (Chocolate Arts also sells small packages of these chocolate ovals, presumably if you wanted to make your own hot chocolate or chocolate shots at home).


The favorite by far is the abinao, at 85% cacao, so that was what I elected to try.


The chocolate… barista?... measured out a generous portion of the abinao by weight for me, then proceeded to preheat my single shot mug with hot water while she steamed and foamed the milk. When the milk was heated to her specifications, she tipped the abinao in and proceeded to mix it with the heated milk. A few minutes later, she presented me my shot with the warning that “it’s hot!”.


Now, the oval sample of abinao was a little bitter. It wasn’t as fully bitter as some of the high cacao chocolate squares one can find in a grocery store, but there wasn’t enough sweetness in the sample to fully counteract the bitterness for my present state of enjoyment. In the chocolate shot, however, the bitterness disappeared and instead lended the shot a depth of gravity and richness that paired well with the mild sweetness of the drink. Compared with the chocolate drinks I’ve had at Thierry and Mink Chocolates, this was the least sweet by far but it doesn’t lose any points for that. While the frothiness at the top gives the shot a physical sensation of lightness, the drink itself is velvety, but not cloyingly rich, which was a welcome end to the night after all the chocolates to be sampled!


After sampling some of the chocolates and the chocolate shot, I would definitely return here if I needed to buy a gift for a friend, or if I was just in the neighborhood and needed a hot chocolate made to my specifications to ward off the Vancouver rain! Their hot chocolate prices are reasonable compared to Thierry and Mink Chocolates, if not a little less expensive, if memory serves correctly. As this is a new location, the staff is also more professional and less jaded than the staff at Thierry – at least, for now.

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