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Thursday, December 20,2012

Lovely chocolate, Boulder style

By Clay Fong
Photo by Susan France
Alice Skok of Piece, Love

Saint-Rmy-de-Provence is a quaint village in the south of France, exuding considerable charm by dint of its vintage stone buildings and picturesque rustic landscape. Walking through the town center, one notices a stone facade marked “Jel Durand - Chocolatier.”

Durand’s shop is one of the foremost purveyors of chocolate in France. His specialty is the signature chocolate alphabet, handmade cocoa tablets marked with a single letter delineating a featured ingredient such as ginger or lavender. If you’re lucky, you may meet the man himself, friendly but courtly, in his chef’s whites. Despite the chocolatier’s amiability, there’s a serious gastronomic vibe here, and an underlying sense of formality one might encounter in a Michelin-starred eatery.

In many ways, Boulder’s Piece, Love & Chocolate captures the gestalt of Durand’s atelier in a far more accessible setting. Here one finds drinking chocolate, handmade truffles, cookies and decadent, over-the-top baked goods, in a vibrantly cozy, if not quirkily inviting, setting. The gregarious owner has traded in the traditional white chef ’s garments for a more Boulder-friendly tye-dyed version. One half expects to catch a fleeting glimpse of an Oompa Loompa peering out from the back room.

Colleague Carin and I started with hot, cocoa-infused beverages. Her choice of a small $2.50 cocoa flavored with caramel and whipped marshmallow for an additional quarter was perfectly fine, but it paled in comparison to the house sipping chocolate. Priced at $3.50 for a more-than-enough eight ounces, this luxurious beverage can be consumed straight or with additional flavoring. I went for the densely flavored dark chocolate version augmented with lavender, a modest homage to Durand. The floral tones accentuated the pleasing dark cocoa bitterness. Akin to drinking a melted chocolate bar, this decadent beverage is a real treat, but one to be enjoyed in moderation.

While this shop features truffles from outside suppliers, Carin and I made a beeline for an assortment  of the $2 housemade numbers. We both thoroughly liked the salted liquid caramel, contrasting texturally silky chocolate with buttery flavor. More pungent and best for the adventurous were the basil and ginger truffles; each perfectly spotlighted their namesake botanicals. The espresso confection was a double-barreled treat for the coffee addict, although the cinnamon holiday truffle was more pedestrian compared to the basil or ginger.

A final course, a $4.25 slice of salted caramel truffle chocolate torte, prompted Carin to remark that she wished she had known about this shop prior to purchasing her husband’s recent birthday cake. Arguably one of the best cakes in town, it was anchored by dense, moist and not-too-sweet chocolate cake sandwiching a layer of caramel cream. This filling could have been cloying, but it struck the right juxtaposition of sweet with a hint of salt. Mini truffles dotted the exterior, making this creation both winning pastry and candy.

The bottom line is that there’s no better local purveyor of things chocolate, in particular the exceptional truffles and cakes. While it may be premature to draw comparisons between this friendly shop and Durand, or perhaps even California chocolate doyenne Alice Medrich, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Piece, Love & Chocolate reach comparable status in the long run. As it is, it’s a must-visit destination for the ardent chocolate lover.

Piece, Love & Chocolate is located at 805 Pearl St., Boulder. Call 303-449-4804.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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