My name is Tina and I’m a chocoholic. Note I did not say recovering. I have no plans to recover. Once as a teenager, I tried to OD on chocolate. I thought this might cure me. Nope. Au contraire. It only made me want more, more, more.
As I matured quality replaced quantity and I began the search for each locale’s best chocolate. This column details some of my findings. As you well know fine chocolate is expensive, which is as it should be. It makes each nibble matter. Each lick and inhalation. If I am going to spend $X per piece, I want to be wowed, unable to speak, incapable of describing the bliss as it spreads through my taste buds.
It’s said you can find the best of everything in New York and in this case, it’s true. Maybe I’m biased because I grew up less than 100 blocks from this nirvana, but Kee’s Chocolates wasn’t around then. In fact it’s only existed since 2002.
The brainchild of Kee Ling Tong, a former businesswoman who grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the unassuming shop is located just off Spring Street in SoHo, under the green canopies of 80 Thompson Street. Inside, the unfinished brick wall and two small glass cases belie the food of the gods awaiting there.
I had read of lines snaking out the front door on weekends, of the New York Times calling it perhaps the best chocolate in the world so I came prepared to wait. Happily I arrived during a snowstorm, and with only one customer ahead of me and one behind, I could linger a bit and ask questions.
I tried an assortment of the handmade daily ganaches, truffles and filled chocolates: honey kumquat, black rose, black sesame, jasmine, lavender, passion fruit (superb), hazelnut praline, tiramisu, mango green tea and bought the bag of mini macaroons. Did they pass the more, more, more test? O yes, indeed.
A dark chocolate lover’s paradise, the most popular chocolate here is filled with crème brulée. The award-winning one and one I would not have chosen to sample, had Kee herself not offered it to me, is a delicate blend of basil and lemon in a perfect shell of creamy dark chocolate. I understood immediately why it was trophy-worthy. My whole body was shooting off fireworks.
“Not too sweet,” Kee remarked, not a sweets eater herself.
Yes, sublimely not too sweet. An inexpressibly incredible trio of flavors.
I asked her where she finds her inspiration. This one came eating dinner at a restaurant. The idea for lotus flower chocolate, one of the two new flavors, came from a friend who travels often and asked her if she had ever tried lotus flower tea. When she did a new chocolate was born, one whose subtle and unique taste lingers like a coolness on the back of the throat.
I bit into pink peppercorn, and not even being a pepper aficionado, I found it subtle and wonderful. U.S. chocolate makers usually go one of two ways: either way too additive (sugar, milk solids, junk) or the more radical just-out-of cooking-school opposite: the quasi-purist whose inedible mouth-puckering dark mass has to be explained to patrons who were thinking desserts were meant to be sweet. Imagine.
Somehow Kee has found the magic formula. With 48 choices, and Kee herself working just behind the shop’s wall making the next batch, I’d gladly wait in line for these any day.
Kee’s Chocolates SoHo, 80 Thompson Street, New York, NY 10012, Monday through Friday, 9am to 7pm, Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., (212) 334-3284
Kee’s Chocolates Midtown, 452 Fifth Avenue (inside HSBC), New York, NY 10018, Tuesday through Friday, 11:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., 212 525-6099