3401 Esperanza Crossing #104 (in the Domain), 339-VIVA (8482)
Monday-Thursday, 11am-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-11pm; Sunday, noon-10pm
Modeled after European cafes and with a mission of "connecting people over chocolate," this locally owned chocolaterie at the Domain is truly a paradise for chocolate lovers. Granted, it is high-end, and the prices are a bit dear. But, oh man, what chocolate!
Owners Mark and Melissa Adams and partner Nino De Falcis spent more than a year carefully tasting and selecting the amazing array of domestic and imported truffles that sit behind the glass counters like tiny pieces of fine art. They also have an in-house chocolatier who makes a few flavors of original truffles, including a dark-chocolate jalapeño and a blue-cheese truffle that is the best piece of chocolate I have ever put in my mouth. Creamy, salty, bitter, and slightly nutty, it's a world of flavor in one bite. All I could think of was how great it would be to have a few of these with a glass of Port.
Thankfully, the folks behind Viva Chocolato! share my passion and carry a small list of wines, carefully selected to pair with chocolate. In fact, they have different wine and chocolate flights every day of the week, providing an opportunity to taste three wines – sparkling, red, white, Port, or a combination – with three domestic truffles for only $15. A daily 5-7pm happy hour also features wine and chocolate specials, and they host a ladies' Diva Night on Mondays from 7pm 'til close, plus live music on weekends.
The offerings also include coffee drinks, sundaes, decadent cakes, a variety of ChocoFundues, and homemade gelato (made with organic milk) in delicious Italian-inspired flavors including – of course – chocolate. The cozy and cute patio is perfect for a couple to share dessert and drinks after dinner, and they'll be serving a special Valentine's menu. – Claudia Alarcón
Bakerman's Patisserie and Chocolatier120 E. Seventh (at Brazos), 476-0060
Monday-Friday, 7am-4pm; Saturday, 9am-3pm
Award-winning chef/chocolatiers Jeffrey Ontiveros and Hope Arabie took over this Downtown bakery in August 2007; they offer luscious pastries, specialty and wedding cakes, sandwiches, artisan chocolate bonbons, and chocolate showpieces. San Antonio native Ontiveros graduated from the Culinary Institute of America pastry program in New York and taught pastry at the Texas Culinary Academy in Austin for five years. Arabie, a native of New Orleans, graduated from TCA. Both competed in national-level professional pastry competitions in 2007.
Bakerman's uses imported Belgian and French couverture, and all their bonbons are hand-rolled, -dipped, and -molded and individually filled and finished. The chocolatiers are inspired by venerable traditions of European confectionery, and they strive to create products as rich in flavor as they are in history.
For Valentine's Day, Bakerman's is offering a variety of holiday chocolate treats, including an edible chocolate box that is personalized with names and contains six double-chocolate truffles brushed in gold and two white-chocolate-and-passion-fruit truffles ($35). They also have assortment boxes of four, six, and 12 truffles ($8, $12, $24 respectively) that you can select from their wide choice of flavors.
Bakerman's chocolates are available via phone, e-mail, and at the Downtown location. – MM Pack
Expressions Fine Artisan Chocolates & Confections900 RR 620 S. Ste. C-108, 263-9724
Valerie Meyer's chocolate shop is located out by Lakeway, on the west side of 620 between Stewart Road and Kellmeyer Drive, and she makes a variety of gourmet chocolates, shaped, coated, and decorated by hand. Expressions' truffles are intensely flavored, silky and smooth-textured, and absolutely delicious. Our favorites are Valerie's Chai Tea, a white chocolate with exotic spices and black and Darjeeling teas; the Red Wine Raspberry, a dark chocolate with red wine, raspberries, and cream; the luscious Crème Brûlée; and the assertive Espresso. She makes a wide variety and can even custom-craft your requests.
She also makes a full line of addictive confections using the same high-quality chocolate. The Almond-Pecan Florentine is slivers of nuts in a honey glaze sitting on a thin raft of dark chocolate. The Pistachio Marzipan Bars are logs of almondy marzipan and dark-chocolate bark with pistachio crumbs. Both are so good that you literally cannot stop eating them until they vanish.
For Valentine's Day, they are covering large, ripe Driscoll's strawberries with dark- or milk-chocolate couverture and also offering a complete range of truffle assortments (some including the seductive Florentines) in a number of different sizes and ornamental boxes, from $8 to $105. Meyer also brought us by some samples of her new heart-shaped, edible chocolate boxes; the white-chocolate box covered with a red, cinnamon-flavored swirl design with gold leaf was extraordinary.
Expressions retails their products at Whole Foods, at their retail store on 620 (the best of the lot, since you can pick what you like from their latest au current creations), and via their website. They'll also be attending the Austin Chocolate Festival again this year. – Mick Vann
Cakes, Chocolates & More9414 Anderson Mill Rd. #300, 335-0500
Irene Selby's cozy shop in far Northwest Austin is a mecca for folks who are fascinated by her distinctive two- and three-dimensional sculpted cakes for birthdays, quinceañeras, and weddings. Whether you are looking for a cake resembling your favorite pet, the family crest, or the equipment representing your favorite hobby, Selby can bake it, sculpt it, and frost it to your specifications. In addition to decorated cakes in a variety of delicious flavors, Selby also creates elegant, handcrafted chocolate truffles flavored with fruits, nuts, liqueurs, and Champagne. Her Valentine's Day specials include Love in a Box ($25), a two-serving heart-shaped chocolate-strawberry cake with a personalized message, and the Date in a Box ($4.50), two Champagne-strawberry-chocolate truffles. She's also whipping up individual heart cupcakes ($5), red buckets of assorted chocolate treats ($15.95), and a heart-shaped tin ($16.95) filled with a dozen of her assorted truffles. Order by phone or online. – Virginia B. Wood
Wiseman House Chocolates406 W. Grubbs St., in Hico, 866/460-3571
In 1996 Kevin and LaDonne Wenzel fled Big D and started their gourmet chocolate-making business in a restored 1903 Victorian house in Hico (Hike-o), a small town on Highway 281 in the Bosque River Valley, a little closer to Fort Worth than Austin. They moved here in order to simplify their lives; to do business the old, personal way; and to make by hand the finest chocolates possible from only the finest and freshest ingredients. Back then the chocolates were made in the back of the Wiseman House and sold in the front. Now they are produced in a glassed-in kitchen, where visitors can watch each painstaking process, inside an old renovated stone bank building a few blocks away, but they are still retailed from the original house.
Wiseman House produces between 15 and 20 different truffles, plus seasonal specials, as well as sipping chocolate, toffee, caramels, and barks using chocolate from Belgium and Venezuela, real cream, and all-natural ingredients. Everything is made completely by hand in small batches, so it stays incredibly fresh. One bite is all it takes to realize the value of that extra effort: The flavors are concentrated, the textures sublime.
For Valentine's Day, they're doing a special Love Letter Collection ($36), inspired by a century-old love letter that was found in the attic of the Wiseman House, written from Adeline to Rufus Wiseman. It contains special truffles that will be offered for a limited time, including the Passion (white and extremely dark chocolate infused with passion fruit) and the First Kiss (white chocolate with a subtle hint of peach). With these are included an assortment of their bestsellers, including the Wild Woman (the richest dark chocolate) and the Love Potion (dark chocolate with ancho and chipotle peppers). Wiseman House chocolates are available online, in Hico, and in Austin at Oakville Grocery and Gardens. They will be attending the Austin Chocolate Festival. – M.V.
Roscar Chocolates4501 Hwy. 71 E., Bastrop, 512/303-1500
Wednesday-Saturday, 10am-6pm; Sunday, noon-6pm
On the way to Houston: That's what Bastrop is to many Austin commuters. In an attempt to lure drivers to stop on their way to the Bayou City, pecan-tasting rooms and retail outlets beckon with come-ons ranging from the garish to the discreet. And why not: Pecan farming is a major industry in this charming hamlet. Along Highway 71 is another tasting room and store from a more specialized industry: an unexpected sweet nugget called Roscar, where high-end and beautiful chocolate bonbons and truffles are created under exacting standards.
Roscar's bonbons are gorgeous jewels that look like they belong in the court of Louis XVI; the molds suggest coats of arms with fleurs-de-lis, crowns, cameos, and the like. Marie Antoinette herself would no doubt be delighted to receive such luxurious delights. Almost all fillings include a liqueur, making them a treat as sophisticated in taste as in appearance. Flavors include rum punch, Kahlúa and chocolate, Port and sun-dried cherries, and Cabernet made with Fall Creek Cabernet.
Their truffles are more rustic in appearance – hand-formed and -rolled in crushed nuts, cocoa, or shaved chocolate – and are therefore described as "country truffles." Equal quality and care is lavished on this line, however, and the flavor combinations are just as tempting: Grand Marnier rolled in white chocolate, amaretto and pecan, hazelnut and liqueur.
If a drive to the country requires more time than you can afford, you can get them delivered – in much the same way the French monarch would have, had he had access to them prior to his execution. Or you can buy them at Breed & Co., the exclusive purveyor in Austin. For your Valentine's Day indulgence, Roscar chocolates will be gorgeously gift-boxed in Italian treasure chests and boxes festooned with red satin ribbons and roses. – Barbara Chisholm
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