New York — The Russell Stovers heart box sampler is the symbol of a kitschy, sickeningly sweet Valentine's Day — it's something your granny might get you, but hopefully not your boyfriend.
Over the past decade, chocolate has been reinvented as an upmarket, even jewel-like gift. Indeed, the sign of an upmarket city is the number of their artisanal chocolatiers. Industrial chocolate is going the way of the Twinkie — and good riddance. We've emerged from a dark age to discover hand-crafted ganache made from fair trade cocoa beans and infused with local organic zest and molded into intricate shapes. Chocolate is the new wine. Indeed, several months ago at a dinner, I sat next to Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, whose family were the great Bordeaux winemakers of Mouton and Lafite vineyards, and he told me his latest venture is a chocolate factory.
If you're shopping for chocolate in New York this Valentine's, here are nine clear standouts in the artisanal chocolate movement.
NUNU (Boerum Hill) $8-$20
Andy Laird and Justine Pringle import fair-trade Columbian cocoa beans and create sea salt chocolate caramels, ganaches infused with local beer or chile, chocolate covered grahams, and chocolate bars for purists.
Famous for: The perfect salt to sweet balance.
Valentines offerings: The Booze Box, Chocolate Heart Lollipops
MAST BROTHERS (Williamsburg) 5 bars for $40
The bearded duo import cacao from South American organic co-ops and make gorgeous big blocks and beguilingly-packaged bars.
Known For: Anti-kitsch, purist, chocolate for sophisticated palates.
Valentine's Offerings: Five bars tied in a bow.
MARIEBELLE (SoHo) $15-$100
Famous for: Mariebelle made spicy and Latin flavors popular. Try the cilantro, saffron, caipirinha, and lavender bon-bons. And don't miss the hot chocolate.
VOSGES (SoHo) $15-$80
Famous for: Avant-garde flavorings like bacon
KEES (SoHo) $2.50 per piece
Famous for: The minimalist vibe, and Asian flavors.
Valentine's Offerings: Put the black rose, champagne, and Thai chile in your box.
BOND STREET CHOCOLATE (East Village) $15-$50
MARTINES (Upper East) $10-$200
Famous for: Fresh cream chocolates and rich Belgian creations come in a pretty pink box. Try the Chocolate "Butterfly" filled with hazelnut praline and fresh whipped cream. Also chocolate molded into shapes like horses, dogs, metro cards, cabs, and the Statue of Liberty.
Valentine's Offerings: "Love" plaques of chocolate, and Valentine's assortments.
MAISON DU CHOCOLAT (Upper East) $40-$200
The legendary French chocolate house opened a New York City outpost in 1990, and chocolate genius, Nicholas Cloiseau, became head chef last year.
Famous for: Complex, not-too-sweet ganache. The most elegant (and expensive) chocolates in the city.
Valentine's Offerings: Assorted chocolates with unexpected fruit flavorings made for the Valentine's Collection. A heart-shaped box that announces the high cost of love.