Chocolate. It’s one of the reasons I love to go to Paris, and an art the French do so well. Even simple chocolates are hardly mundane as Parisian chocolatiers have the talent in turning this gift from nature into some of the most complex, mysterious, and delicious creations.
As mentioned in my previous post, on this trip to Paris I took a chocolate shop tour that included three well-known shops. As it turned out, two I had visited several times before, but the first stop was a new encounter for me. It was Debauve & Gallais, the oldest chocolate shop in Paris. Its beginnings go back to 1800 when chocolate was still part apothecary (chocolate for your health), part mixology, and part extravagance. Chemist Suplice Debauve, together with his nephew Antoine Gallais, also a chemist, became the chocolate purveyor to Napoleon, and later, to Louis XVIII and other royalty. The deep green lacquered façade with gold leaf décor convey a regal style and the interior’s semicircular counter, wood paneling, and loads of shelves hark back to the feel of a pharmacy.
The chocolates here are awesome—and expensive. Chocolates are perfectly arrayed across the huge, curved counter, taunting you to try. The shop’s specialty are pistoles, thin chocolate disks of varying degrees of cacao (up to 99 percent) and flavorings, such as orange, coffee, and vanilla. They are good and a good way to try a variety of flavors. Fine teas are also a specialty.
After plying ourselves with five kinds of pistoles, we walked over to Pierre Marcolini whose sleek, minimalist shop is a stark contrast to the opulence of Debauve & Gallais. An entire wall devoted to limited, single origin bars of chocolate reflects this Belgian confectionaire’s passion in pursuing pure and sublime flavors. Our group got to taste and compare a chocolate from Brazil and one from Ecuador. Trying these types of chocolates side by side lets you pick up the distinct flavor notes. It’s worth getting a World Flavors sampler box to experience the differences for yourself.
Marcolini creates truffles with traditional flavors such as caramel, coffee, and raspberry, but he loves to play with spices, champagne, and the flavors of flowers (rose and violet). Like kids in a candy shop—wait, we were—we each got to pick out our own samples, and then more samples, to try. So much fun! Each perfectly formed delicacy delivers an intense flavor. It will be hard to hold yourself back from walking out with an assortment.
One item I always walk out with from Pierre Marcolini on every visit to Paris is a box of airy marshmallow (“guimauve”) squares enrobed in a deep, dark chocolate. Not too sweet, simple, and oh so divine. You can find them in the small room in the back at the cashier area.
Did we have enough chocolate yet? No! (But it is a good idea to bring a bottle of water with you.) Onward we walked to Patrick Roger, our third and final stop. Stepping inside the shop, a huge abstract chocolate sculpture amid a field of perfectly arrayed chicken eggs in the front window reveals the artist in Patrick Roger. Cute little creatures perched on shelves that hardly look to be made out of chocolate only reinforce that artist within. A large counter in the shop’s center displays chocolates with names like Audacity, Envy, Desire, Instinct, Flurry, and of course, Amour. It’s no wonder Roger was awarded a Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF) (best craftsman in France) in 2000. On the day of our visit, Roger quietly stepped into the shop and took time to make sure everything was arranged just so.
Parisians come here for superb pralines (hazelnut, almond, nougatine), and they are among my favorites, too. But Roger is known for searching the globe for the best ingredients and combining them into amazing creations. When was the last time you tried chocolate flavored with smooth caramel and verbena and yuzu? Orange peel from Corsica? A fusion of almonds and chestnuts? Honey ganache? And a must-try is the intense lime. And don’t pass up the chocolate-coated caramelized almonds, salted butter caramel chocolates, or the dark-chocolate dried fruit and ginger clusters. It will be hard to know when to stop. But be sure to stop in—and give yourself plenty of time to ponder.
All of the afternoon’s tasting had me pondering: why don’t we have more chocolate shops like these in Chicago? I’d like to hear your thoughts on the topic.
In the meantime, jot down these addresses for your next visit to Paris.
Debauve & Gallais
30, rue des Saints-Pères
Tel. 01 45 48 54 67
89 rue Seine
Tel. 01 44 07 39 07
108 boulevard Saint-Germain
Tel. 01 43 29 38 42
And other locations