Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Postcard from Paris: On a Quest for Perfect Hot Chocolate

We are in Paris for a week, thanks to Miss Pain. Miss Pain was in charge of selecting vacation spot for the spring break and she proclaimed that it must be Paris. Miss Pain is six, she should be oblivious about Paris. I ask her "Pain, why do you want to go there?", and she tells me, "I want to see Mona Lisa, the Eifel Tower and where Coco Chanel lived." Did I mention that Pain is six? I wonder where they learn such things these days. Regardless of the source of Miss Pain's knowledge, I concur that these are all valid reasons, so Paris it is.

I was incredibly fortunate that my aunt lived in Paris for a long time. It's a blessing to be able to visit as many times as you like and avoid the pressures of making the trip as dense and eventful as possible. It's a blessing to be in Paris, guilt free from skipping the museums altogether, in order to spend endless hours just wondering up and down rue Cler, or in a coffee shop planning your next edible adventure.

But this time it's different.

This time our trip to Paris is carefully researched and planned, as we are on a quest to find THE best hot chocolate in the City of Lights. I am bursting with knowledge on the topic, drawn from a detailed study of Jeffrey Steingarten's profound article "Haute Chocolate", as well as countless other resources and reviews. I am burning with curiosity to compare my list to Mr. Steingarten's. I fear that Mr. Steingarten's research efforts will pale in comparison to mine, as I have enormous competitive advantage. Unlike Mr. Steingarten, I am armed with two valuable assistants -- Miss Pain and Dr. V. No person in the world can gulp as many cups of hot chocolate as Pain and V can.

I soon realize how gigantic our undertaking will be. I revise Mr. Stengarten's list gently, kicking out La Maison du Chocolat, since, thanks to Miss Pain's drinking habits, we are close to regulars in NYC, replacing it with the master chocolatier Christian Constant (not to be confused with Christian Constant, le chef). Hence, we will be sampling Jean-Paul Hévin, Fauchon, Angelina, Ladurée and Constant. My scientific background calls for truly scientific sampling, and we will visit each place not once, but twice. Minimum. We have enough days to make it happen.

Unfortunately, Dr. V quickly proves quite useless. His benchmark is orange flavored hot chocolate at Jacques Torres in NYC, wonderful indeed, but Dr. V keeps on comparing every single cup to it, and as we do not tolerate subjective opinions here, V is kindly requested to leave the panel of judges.

I will not proceed with all the details of our little adventure. "Haute Chocolate" is the most entertaining and educational piece on this topic, and I would have very little to add to it. It suffices to say that all these places are worth a trip to Paris. I did, however end up with somewhat different ranking, and thought you might be curious to take a look...

No. 1 Christian Constant -- maybe it's because it was the very first one we tried, being just a couple of blocks from our hotel on the Left Bank. Maybe it's because it was an incredibly cold day and we played in the Luxemburg park for a while, but that cup, oh that cup, it had the depth and complexity like no other.

No. 2, No. 3 Laudurée -- a vibrant, playful, floral and tiny bit romantic cup, just as you would expect from a place like Ladurée. I go back and forth trying to decide between Ladurée and Fauchon. Objectively, Fauchon should have been No. 2, but Pain, moi and a long line of Japanese tourists waited for about 30 minutes to enter the old tea room on rue Royale, and were positively famished when we got in, which might have accounted a bit for the high score.

No. 2, No. 3 Fauchon -- this was a classic, just how I envisioned a classy hot chocolate must be. Enough said.

No. 4 Angelina -- a solid cup. I had it, Pain-less at the Angelina outpost at the Musee de Luxemburg, after the sublime Chagall exhibition (is sublime an appropriate word to describe Chagall?). Maybe it was the Chagall effect, but Angelina scores higher then the highly praised Hévin.

No. 5 Hévin -- I believe that it was too much of the window watching on rue Saint-Honoré that left me depleted, and at this point I lost the enthusiasm for the project. Miss Pain did not experience the same effect though, she gulped both my and her cup, and then asked for a macaroon.

p.s. The pink drawing with the slippers and Chanel bag is not mine.  It's a a magazine clipping I later on found among Miss Pain's belongings. At least we established where the Paris idea came from.

p.s. p.s. To save you from googling...

"Haute Chocolate" appeared in "It Must Have Been Something I Ate" by Jeffrey Steingarten
Christian Constant is at 37 rue Assas
Ladureé is at 16 rue Royale, (and many other locations in Paris + one in NYC)
Fauchon is at 30 Place de la Madeleine
Angelina is at 226 Rue de Rivoli 
Jean Paul Hevin is at 31 Rue Saint-Honoré

1 comment :

  1. I also enjoyed the hot chocolate at Carette- on one side of the beautiful Palace des Vosges. Thanks for sharing; your blog post awakened wonderful memories.


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