So once again it is Monday and chocolate is on my mind. A few weeks ago, I was in in our nation’s capital visiting family and checking out a production of King Lear (where I saw Stacy Keach’s hiney). My sister, brother-in-law and I had some time to kill after visiting the Folger’s Shakespeare Library (read my version of Mecca), so we decided to get a bite to eat. We wanted to eat in a trendy little area that had some amazing looking places, but unfortunately there was also some sort of open air market or art show or something going on and there was nothing even resembling a parking space for several blocks.
On a whim, my b-i-l suggested we go over to Union Station. I figured what the heck. I’m usually the least picky eater in a group and can always find something edible at a food court. Union Station didn’t have a food court per say. They had a food hall. See, I had no idea that it was anything more than a mall (we also have a Union Station downtown, which I understand used to be a train station like a zillion years ago, but my entire life it’s been a mall, growing lamer and lamer–and more and more abandoned–over the years). Imagine my surprise when I saw people rushing all over the place to catch actual trains! And my surprise that instead of the standard burger, asian, steak sandwich and pizza joints that seem to come standard in most mall food courts, I had an amazing variety in front of me.
Right now, you are probably wondering when in the world I’m getting to the chocolate. Be patient, it’s coming, I promise. Anyway, the food gallery is located in the bottom of Union Station and after we ate a mediocre meal of bourbon chicken, we tried to find an elevator to get back up. Personally I was cool with the stairs, but my sis has some major health issues and can’t do stairs. We finally found an escalator that took us up the back end of the building. It was thanks to this little misadventure (it also involved a scary elevator we were pretty sure was an unmarked service elevator), we walked right past a little chocolate shop called Neuhaus.
The very nice lady working behind the counter with the very authentic accent told us all about the company, which has been making chocolates since 1857. According to our very informative sales lady (and confirmed by the website), the founder’s grandson actually created the very first filled chocolate candy, and called it a praline. She also told us that his wife created the first ballotin, which was a term I’d seen a thousand time on Godiva’s webpage, but had no idea was just a fancy name for candy box.
The very helpful lady also offered us a sample from behind the counter. I won’t lie, I don’t even remember what I sampled, but what I do remember is this: it was tasty, so I decided to buy more! I bought two boxes, one rather large box I haven’t broken in to yet. The other, is part of a special collection, the Discovery Collection.
Aw yes, finally I get to the actual chocolate. I actually grabbed a small sampler–it had one of each piece in it. For starters, I have to give Neuhaus a 10/10 for appearance. The chocolates are beautiful. Each one was uniquely crafted and truly pretty. The collection had a bit more dark chocolate than I usually like to see, but one thing I’ve noticed about fancy (and expensive) chocolatiers is that they tend to love their dark chocolate. I’m sure it’s a comment on the refinement of their clientel’s palates.
My first piece was the Grand Place which is a dark chocolate ganache with nigella. I had no idea what nigella* was, but that didn’t stop me from popping it in my mouth. The piece itself had a heavy layer of dark chocolate, which as I’ve mentioned is usually a bit off putting to me. It was offset by a creamy center. While not my favorite, I thought it was ok.
Next I tried the Louise which is described as Java milk chocolate ganache. Silly American I am, I read the word Java and immediately thought coffee. Boy was I happy when that wasn’t true! This piece had little crunchies all over the top that looked like Cocoa Pebbles. It was creamy, silky, smooth chocolate and it was delicious! It was by far my favorite piece. I had no idea that Java was known for chocolate, but I’m 100% on board! Get more chocolate from them!
My next piece was the Galerie, which is a caramel ganache. The piece itself had a layer of caramel over milk chocolate. The caramel was the squishy liquidy kind (my favorite) and quite tasty. My only complaint was that it was covered in dark chocolate. Had it been in milk chocolate, this would have been my favorite one. The dark chocolate outside just gave it a hint of bitter that I don’t like with my caramel.
I was really prepared not to like Jean, which is a 64% dark chocolate ganache. It was very dark, but still creamy. Although it was too rich for my tastes, it wasn’t too bad. It reminded me a bit of really strong homemade drinking chocolate. I can take a little of it, but more than a few sips and I have to get rid of it. Too decadent and rich.
The Adelson is the classic praline (it’s description is even in French). It had little bits of nuts on the top. The praline itself had almost a peanuty flavor, however it was completely overpowered by the heavy, heavy, heavy dark chocolate. I had real trouble tasting anything else. I had to make an effort to just get filling for a taste. Pitty, because I think the filling was good, but I wouldn’t eat this one again.
Frederic was a hazelnut ganache. This was probably the prettiest one to look at. It was a milk chocolate piece (yea!) with dark chocolate brushed on one half in an almost leaf-like pattern. The texture of the filling was that of a thicker squishy caramel, but unfortunately the flavor wasn’t very strong. I pretty much just tasted milk chocolate. It was a good, creamy chocolate, but nothing special.
Finally, the last piece was the Suzanne. I saved this one for last because I thought it would be my favorite. It’s a raspberry ganache and raspberry and chocolate is pretty much my favorite flavor combo. Even though it was yest another dark chocolate piece, I wasn’t worried. Most raspberry pieces I find are paired with dark chocolate and I ADORE them. They tart of the raspberry sets off the bitter of the dark chocolate perfectly. This one was not quite what I’d hoped for. I liked the bits of dried rasperry on the top, but the filling was only slightly sweet. It offset the dark chocolate, but only a little. It just wasn’t tart enough for me. Oddly though, despite being amazingly smooth, it did have a sort of seedy feeling to it, almost like there were real raspberry seeds I just couldn’t see in the piece. Good, but not great.
Overall, I’d give the collection a 7/10 for taste. Some of the flavor combos were great, but there was just too much dark chocolate for me. I’m hoping the ballotin I have waiting for me in my fridge will prove to be a bit more balanced. The company seems to have a real flair for creamy chocolate.
*According to Wikipedia, it’s a flower whose seeds are often used to flavor curries. It has a bitter oregano taste and can be used to pepper recipes. I did not notice anything that tasted like bitter oregano in the flavor.