Best and Worst Chocolate in Manhattan

Just as coconut is a stone cold killer, chocolate is a lifelong friend.  It heals a broken heart, helps relieve stress, and tastes like nothing else.  It floods the brain with those feel-good endorphins,  it’s more legal than cannabis and safer than sex.  It even has lots of health benefits, if you read the right articles and ignore everything else.

New York loves chocolate.  In the last century, chocolate tended to play second fiddle to nuts.  Back then, New York had lots of nut shops.  I’m guessing it was because nuts were more expensive and harder to get than chocolate.  My favorite was the Broadway Nut Shop,   which had the nuts in the back counter for the more serious minded, and trays of chocolates and licorice right up front.  The local neighborhood nut shops are long gone,  killed by high rents and the internet.

Sorry to see you go.

I don’t mourn the nut shop.  Their chocolates were factory produced, and they tended to have a certain sameness to them.  Today, chocolate stores proclaim their goods proudly in their name: variety and high quality are offered, and not a nut is to be had unless it’s bathed in chocolate.

Here are the best (hint: go there) and the worst (hint: avoid).

Obsessive Chocolate Disorder

63 E 4th Street / 212.777.6363 / www.ocdchocolate.com

Unlike Jacque Torres, Sebastian Brecht is in his store most of the time, and you can talk to him.  He is, indeed, obsessive about chocolate, and also about fine caramels.  Yes, it’s expensive.  Yes, it’s worth it.  Get a cheap noodle dish up the street, then spend $20 on yourself here and skip the overpriced dinner with dessert elsewhere.

Buy them before he changes his mind.

There are a few quirks you’ll want to experience for yourself.  The theme tends to be fruity flavors, with lots of tropical notes.  The chocolate bars are expensive, but heavenly.  Also, the chef is always experimenting with new varieties.  You might point to a promising looking tray of chocolates and say “I’ll try one of those”, only to have Sebastian refuse to sell them.  When I was there, he popped one in his mouth, said “nope, not gonna sell it”.  I forgot why – the shell/filling barrier was faulty maybe, or the cocoa butter hadn’t integrated well.  Something like that.

“I’ll be the judge of that,” I said, holding my hand out, palm up, and angling for a free sample.  After all, how bad could it be?  But Sebastian wouldn’t budge.  No chocy for me!  I settled for an amazing array in a nice little box and left happy, but still curious about the one that got away.

Rating:  Do it.

Godiva

Godiva was sold by Campbell Soup, Inc. to a faceless international corporation, and it shows.  It’s not that their chocolate is bad – no, for bad, you’d have to buy a box of Whitman’s at Walgreens.  It’s just that Godiva is a fake.  They are pretending to be a fine chocolate shop, but they’re an overpriced shopping mall filler.  Any idiot can melt a Hershey

Let’s sell some chocolate.

bar and dip a flavorless huge strawberry in it – but Godiva acts like this is high-tech stuff that you need to witness.  Everything they sell is too sweet with not enough cocoa content, and overpriced.  If you want too-sweet chocolates that are affordable, nice, satisfying,  and that don’t give themselves airs, try Sees  instead.

Rating:  Avoid

Leonidas

2 locations  www.leonidas-usa.com/

This is the best-kept secret in New York City.  There used to be three locations, one on Madison Avenue and two downtown near Wall Street.  The Madison Avenue location closed, so you have to go downtown.  Leonidas calls their chocolates “pralines”, and they can be had for the best price in New York City.

Better than chicken soup.

The chocolates are made in Belgium, and those guys know chocolate.  It isn’t overpriced, they don’t try to combine chocolate with weird stuff like bacon, potato chips, or cayenne pepper.  They just sell good chocolate at a very reasonable price.

Rating:  Try the hot chocolate when it’s cold out.

Li-Lac Chocolates

5 locations  https://www.li-lacchocolates.com/

Lilac is the oldest chocolate store in NYC, having started in 1923. They used to be on Christopher Street, back when it was possible for a chocolate shop on Christopher Street to make rent by selling chocolate.  Li-Lac specializes in little chocolate statues.  You can get an empire state building, for example.  They got started in this after the Summer of Love, when Li-Lac jumped on the cultural band wagon by making realistic, oversized chocolate penises.  They expanded with other novelty shapes, and I remember with nostalgia receiving a life-size chocolate infant.  Solid chocolate, with a realistically hollow skull case.  “Shouldn’t it have been filled with nougat?” asked a friend.

No more chocolate babies, though.

Li-Lac no longer sells chocolate babies or penises, but they still make very good milk chocolate.  They also sell non-pareils, which are just solid disks of chocolate (milk or dark) with some sprinkles on top to give it crunch.  Your grandma would understand – and you will, too.   Try the chocolate covered graham crackers or chocolate pretzels, too.

Rating:  Why do they have a hyphen in their name?  No one alive today knows the answer.

Jacques Torres

All over the place mrchocolate.com

Once upon a time, when Brooklyn was just starting to hit its stride as the artisanal capital of Hipsterdom, Jacques Torres had a little shop in Dumbo.  It was incredible!  You could watch him make it, and it was so, so good.

Riiiiiight.

Now, of course, he’s all over the place.  Last time I checked, he’s bumped his prices up without delivering the goods.  Instead, he’s gas lighting you into thinking it’s YOUR fault that you hate eating lavender-flavored chocolate (tastes like soap),  chocolate-covered bacon (nasty), or chocolate mixed with cayenne pepper.  I think that last one is called molé, Jacques, and it tastes better with pollo.

Rating:  Go to Leonidas instead.

The M and M Store

Times Square

Wait, I said we were going to talk about chocolate.

Rating:  2 stars in the plastic-coated novelty category

Fifth Avenue Chocolatiere

693 3rd Ave and on Facebook

One word: Truffles.  No one else makes them like these.

La Maison du Chocolat

30 W 49 Street, and Columbus Circle US website

They are French, and they know it.  Their staff have been trained to reproduce all the mannerisms of a snooty French waiter, which I imagine scares the life out of the tourists.  That, and the prices.

Even the storefront is snooty.

Still, this is the best chocolate I’ve ever eaten on Planet Earth.  Forget the pastries that are gleaming softly in the back.  Forget the winter hot chocolate and coffee drinks that they sell for astronomical prices.  Forget the summer ice cream that now comes in individual cups, which retains the flavor of the plastic they are packaged in.  Forget all that.

Here’s what you do:

Step one  Walk up to the counter with the most chocolates in it, and browse your favorite flavors.  Do NOT let them intimidate you.  If they offer a free sample, eat it.

Step Two Select 3 to 10 pieces of your choice.  Then, ask for “that dark chocolate one with that darkest of dark chocolate filling”.  The attendant will look down her nose and ask “Deed you meeeen the ganASHSHHH?”  Say yes.  It is perfection.  Do not leave without it.

Your shock-o-lad, Madam.

Step Three Do not faint when they hand you the bill.  Wave your credit card as though you buy $40 worth of chocolate every day.

Step Four DO NOT REFRIGERATE.  I repeat, do NOT REFRIGERATE.  Refrigerating chocolate is a crime for most chocolate, but this? It is a felony.

Step Five Hide them in your underwear drawer or behind a can of pea soup, and do not let your children find out about them.

Rating: Bucket Lister for sure.

Make your own

Me, at a chocolate class.

You’ll have a lot of chocolatey fun with a one-day chocolate class.

 

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