Thursday, March 31, 2011

So Much Chocolate, So Little Time

“Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands and then eat just one of the pieces.” – Judith Viorst (American author and journalist)

I entered Houston Hall last weekend in need of a study break and with a craving for something sweet. Penn Gastronomy’s Chocolate Festival fit the ticket, hailing chocolatiers, bakers, and sweet extraordinaires from throughout Philadelphia. There were plenty of samples to go around and many tasty treats available for purchase. After attending the Los Angeles Luxury Chocolate Salon a couple years ago (which, by the way, I would highly recommend checking out for the sheer experience of so much sugar concentrated in one location), I’ve developed a method to approaching such fairs—start from one point and snake your way around. While PGC’s version was smaller, the strategy still applied as I circled the Hall of Flags trying each vendor’s offerings.

Sazon Restaurant, for instance, served five varieties of hot chocolate from their extensive twenty-type hot chocolate menu, including the aptly named “El Orgasmo” (dark chocolate infused with peanut butter, Kahlua and fresh banana) and hot-chocolate-for-the-purist “El Cacique” (water based 85% Dominican and Venezuelan gran cru cacao with a touch of Madagascan vanilla). Sazon also brought a vast assortment of truffles, fudgy cacao brownies, shortbread cookies, and jars of their signature hot chocolate mix. Buttercream had a wide selection of their always-popular cupcakes, including red velvet (my #1 pick in Philadelphia), chocolate with Nutella buttercream, and the “Turtle” (yellow cake frosted with caramel buttercream, drizzled with chocolate and caramel, and dusted with pecans). John and Kira’s provided tastings of their Valrhona chocolate Urban Garden Bars (“Mighty Mint” and “Rosemary Orange”), which use ingredients from four urban gardens in Philadelphia and Washington D.C., and sold gift boxes packed with toffee, fruit squares, or hand painted chocolate bees and ladybugs.

The fair also proved to be great exposure for new businesses. Kitchen at Penn, a delivery service specializing in home cooked fare that opened their doors a little over a month ago, dished out cups of creamy banana bread pudding and rich chocolate brownies. Boba Bros. had samples on hand of their milk tea filled with miniature tapioca balls (something new to me, as I’m used to larger marble-sized boba). The company is partnering with T-Bowl (the rice bowl version of Gia Pronto’s customizable salads), which debuted this week and features Boba Bros. on their drink menu. In addition to the countless opportunities to get your sweet tooth fix, Penn Gastronomy also hosted a raffle and a poetry contest (themed around the festival’s namesake… chocolate!). The lucky winners received gift cards to businesses like Scoop de Ville and Penn Chocolate Tours.
With my sweet tooth satisfied, my wallet lighter, and my arms laden with delicious desserts, I left on a happy sugar high and hoped that PGC’s Chocolate Festival would become an annual event.

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