Squid Ink Food Fight: Valentine's Day Chocolates
This Sunday is a holiday, though not an ideal one for cynics, pessimists, depressives or alcoholics (that's what St. Patrick's Day is for). It is, however, a day to spend money on sinful indulgences, and when you do, we encourage you to shop locally. So rather than importing your chocolates from far away lands like Belgium and Switzerland, give a chance to this week's food fight combatants and neighborhood chocolate specialists at Jin Patisserie and Compartes Chocolatier. I am, admittedly, not a passionate lover of sweets, nor am I the target audience for Valentine's confections. With that, I've decided to bring in the expert advice of a research assistant; a living, breathing female on her first assignment, being paid entirely in chocolates.
The chocolates from Compartes are available with a dizzying amount of variety. Their less inventive creations will pass any test, from Hershey's-raised child to discerning gourmand, tasting both accessible and refined. The almond chocolate highlights the qualities of the chocolate itself, while the wild strawberry is a buttery, creamy a reminder of the Russell Stover of youth, yet with the ability to hold up to your now-more-developed palate. The honey with peanut butter and sea salt, meanwhile, tastes to us like a Reese's cup probably does to a four year old. (Research assistant's favorite of the group: "I like how the honey makes it sticky.") My favorites, though, were the smoked salt--an interior as moist as an under-baked brownie, with the flavors of smoke coming through strongly on the finish-- and the Mexican hot chocolate, which delivered a surprisingly spicy and complex assault on the tongue. (Research assistant: "This one, with the skull and crossbones, was my favorite to look at.")
At Jin Patisserie, there is less to choose from, but it does not make the decision any easier for a first time shopper. In general, these sweets are a bit more fudge-like, with only a thin layer of hard chocolate on the outside. The yuzu chocolate is a pleasant treat, highlighting the real flavor of yuzu, rather than something just vaguely citric. There are more than a couple of tea options, which tend to keep the focus where it is necessary. They also offer some rather complex flavor combinations, like the confusing toupet de legumes, whose gluttony of flavors winds up rendering them all moot. The ginger chocolate is pleasant only if you are particularly fond of ginger, and more specifically, ginger with chocolate. But then there is the sea salt caramel. It is their most popular creation, a gorgeous round ball with a gentle, dusted exterior and luscious, salty caramel inside. It is, I feel, good enough to win this battle all on its own. As I said, I am not known for my sweet tooth, but if you left five of these in front of me, they would not last through the half hour. Said the research assistant, "After all the really delicate chocolates, with the exterior so thin and the middle so soft and creamy, the chewiness and heft of the sea salt caramel was amazing."
So who wins? I suppose it depends on who is receiving the chocolate. Were it up to me, I would ask for an entire box of the sea salt caramel and leave the rest of them behind for some other sap. But after consulting with my research assistant, it was decided that if comparing the mixed boxes, the one from Compartes is actually the more desirable, both in regards to taste and visual appeal. But when pressed, she did agree that an entire box of sea salt with caramel would be pretty darn great too.