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Chocolate round-up: J. Torres v. Kee's v. La Maison

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Chocolate round-up: J. Torres v. Kee's v. La Maison

Tim | Mar 3, 2005 05:27 PM

I'm sick to my stomach and flat-broke, but I've learned a lot about this city's chocolatiers during my 24-hour gourmet chocolate binge. Here is my comparison (in chronological order):

La Maison du Chocolat

Ambiance:
I started out yesterday with a 12-piece assortment from La Maison du Chocolat. I've been to their stores before and I really don't enjoy the experience of shopping there. While for the first time I was able to find a friendly (though not particularly helpful) clerk, I could really do without the stereotypical french service (indifference bordering on contempt) especially when all of the chocolates are labled in French and have names that don't necessarily describe what's actually in the chocolate.

Presentation:
For such an upscale and expensive place, I really thought the packaging was quite bad. The boxes are a plain brown color with nothing stylish or romantic about them. As good as their chocolate is, I would never give it as a gift because the presentation is so poor.

The chocolate:
I ended up going with a pre-packaged assortment rather than having the clerk explain all the individual flavors, so I wasn't entirely sure what I was eating. Clearly the quality of the chocolate here is first-rate. Very rich, simple and, well, chocolaty. They do chocolate and do it well, but they don't seem to get as inventive with their flavors as Kee's or Jacques Torres. And my final beef was that the chocolates were mostly in very simple, thin rectangular shapes, unlike the more creative designs at Kee's and Jacques Torres.

Verdict:
As top-notch as the chocolate is here, the combination of haughty service, sky-high prices, unnatractive packaging, unninventive chocolate designs and standard flavors has me vowing not to go back any time soon.

Kee's
Ambiance:
Cute tiny shop in Soho w/friendly service. Only place that offered me a free piece of chocolate, which I really think should be a standard in all of these places.

Presentation:
Pretty cute. It's a light green box with a bamboo kind of string around it. Not very evocative of chocolate like the brown boxes at La Maison and J. Torres, but still stylish in an Asian-influenced kind of way.

The Chocolate:
Oh man, this is great chocolate! The chocolate itself is clearly very high-quality, but the great thing here are all of the wonderful flavors and fillings. They seem to be best-known for their creme brulee, which is dark chocolate with a near-liquid creme brulee filling (wow!). It's a thick piece of chocolate in a pentagon-shape. My other favorites were a wonderful heart-shaped passion-fruit dark chocolate, a round tiramisu truffle, an oblong cappucino pyramid, an almond white chocolate concotion and the Thomson, which was filled with a layer of whipped cream sitting atop rich chocolate ganoche.

Verdict:
This knocks Jacques Torres way off of its pedestal as my favorite chocolate place in the city. I am seriously impressed.

Jacques Torres
Ambiance:
I was a major fan of Jacques Torres' DUMBO location, but I'm really turned-off by his store-within-a-factory in Manhattan. The place is just too cavernous and this industrial-size feel somehow detracts from the sense that you are buying a gourmet product. Service is friendly-enough, but unlike Kee's you get the feeling that the clerks really aren't that into chocolate and could just as easily be working in a Starbucks.

Presentation:
In my opinion, nobody presents chocolate better than Jacque Torres. The brown and orange boxes with an orange ribbon are stylish, clever and evocative of chocolate.

The chocolate:
This was my favorite chocolate until I tried Kee's. I was enamored with their heart-shaped, passion-fruit dark chocolates until I tried the heart-shaped, passion-fruit dark chocolates from Kee's and found the Kee's version much bigger, much higher-quality and quite a bit tastier too. This is painful for me to admit because I was singing the praises of J. Torres until today, but after trying Kee's then walking straight to Jacques Torres and sampling the chocolates within minutes of each other, I have to say that Kee's makes Jacques Torres taste like Hershey's.

Verdict:
I'm sorry, Jacques, I know I was the president of your fan-club till early this afternoon, but Kee's really has you beat.

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