Thursday, October 2, 2008

Not to be Truffled With

For the most part, Manhattan is easy to navigate. Much of the area is laid out on a neat and tidy, East-to-West North-to-South numbered grid, and if you can count to 100, you can find your way around. But find yourself below 14th, and the terrain begins to gradually shift under your feet, and you realize there are many more than 13 blocks of the island still south of you. Soon you discover that the neat and tidy grid has transformed into a mess of crisscrossed zigzag side streets with unmemorable names that don't indicate where you've been or where you're going. Each block looks similar yet different to the one before, and you try to remember which way you came in so you can find your way out.

After a much needed haircut yesterday in Soho on the corner of Vandam and Varick, I decided to fall down the rabbit hole and explore the neighborhood in depth. I'd been to Soho before, but never really ventured too much off the beaten path. I felt like a hunter in an urban jungle. I wasn't sure what I was hunting, but I knew there had to be hidden treasure in this area dense with warehouse space, tiny boutiques and cobblestone confusion. Chanel, Dolce and Gabana, and Barney's Co-op loomed overhead, distracting from my search for the clandestine. Through tiny doorways of small storefronts, there are some interesting treats to be found. A few are so inconspicuous from the outside, I nearly passed them up. But once inside, many of these spaces are decorated in proper trendy Soho boutique fashion.

One such space was
Vosges "Haut Chocolat." Haut(e) indeed it was - an oversized, sparkling chandelier hung from the entryway ceiling, and the tiny space was garnished with visual candy. Scripty, purple words. Stylish graphics. Decadent gift packages. From the moment I stepped inside I was so drawn in by the marketing of the Vosges part, that I almost forgot about the Haut Chocolat part. In fact, the sustenence was hard to spot; I wasn't even sure they if they sold chocolate truffles or pretty little purple boxes. In all honesty, I appreciate fancy marketing. It generally keeps me employed during the day, and, a good meal being the exception, there is nothing I appreciate more than the graphic works of a creative mind. But when it comes to my tastebuds, I am a substance-over-style kinda gal. I was definitely interested in what their truffles had to offer my palate. The selections sounded promising, but I had to know: the work of a clever writer? Or the real deal? Heeding the advice of the staff, I selected the Balsamico: 12-year aged Modena Balsamic Vinegar + 65% Dark Chocolate + Sicilian Hazelnuts, and the Field Song: Milk Chocolate + Roasted Yams + Maple Syrup + African Grains of Paradise. Sounds good, right? The six of you who read my blog who voted for chocolate in this week's poll, your mouths are watering, correct? Verdict: the truffles were good, yes. Paradise? No. The taste was not as unique as I had hoped. Like a mall truffle I've had before. Quick flavor explosion in the mouth, then gone. No lingering sensations. The good-on-paper variety. Sigh.

To my good fortune, I turned the corner at Obscure (aka Thompson) and Spring Street and saw it - a small green awning with small white type that simply said
Kee's Chocolates. Since I have marketing on my mind at this point, it was hard not to notice that the typeface on the awning is comic sans. I might have just kept walking, but since I was on a mission, and just had a disappointing experience with a truffle called Field Song, I was in no position to judge. I really have nothing against comic sans, but ask any graphic designer and they will tell you it's the "hey baby what's your sign" of the typography world. It's corny, unimaginative, borderline offensive, and you generally just don't use it and don't ask questions, because you probably won't like the results.

Tragic font choice aside, entering Kee's was like visiting a holy site. First of all, it's an act of faith to simply go inside. It is quiet and minimal, and there is nothing to pretend to browse besides the small truffle case altar. It can be intimidating, but once you get past the mental barriers, it is the perfect place for chocolate zealots to worship. I selected the White Chocolate Green Tea, Dark Chocolate Smoked Salt, and Dark Chocolate Lemon Basil truffles and the Dark Chocolate Blood Orange Macaroon. Without going into too much detail, let me just say each was unique, surprising, and audible-sigh-inducing. And not the same kind of sigh that followed my Vosges experience. The take-me-dancing-and-then-to-bed sigh. I'm not sure if the herbal aroma of my freshly salon-shampooed hair fused with the taste of the Lemon Basil to create some sort of super sensation, or if it was really just that good, but that truffle in particular nearly sent me to my knees.

I know I'm not the first person to discover the gem that is Kee and her creations. One click on "press" on her website and that is made clear. But I still feel like I stumbled upon a hidden treasure, and I'm suddenly in on the same secret as other great explorers before me.

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