I found myself at a conference here and, given that it’s a new city to me, I immediately plunged into researching artisan chocolatiers on my only free afternoon. Four places came up consistently in my search and were reasonably close to my hotel, so a good walking tour was in order. The route would have been shorter but one shop was an outlier and turned a modest walk into a nearly 10-mile round trip. That’s the best way to do a choc-hop though – where you really feel entitled to sample the findings and get to see some of the city in the process.
I expected to find excellent chocolatiers here, as I was finally on a continent where fantastic cocoa is grown. Here’s where I visited:
· El Viejo Oso: a few branches in Buenos Aires, and family-owned. Indeed, I was waited on by the granddaughter of the founder, who told me that her cousin now runs the operations. Small shop and a rather modest selection. Bars were labeled merely by cocoa content, which tends to raise red flags for me. Saying “70%, 80%...” to me just talks quantity of cocoa, not quality. It often signals that it’s made from a mass-produced blend. Interesting note: I asked the daughter if she ever tired of being around chocolate. Her response? “I can’t eat it anymore because I’ve become allergic. It’s because I ate so much when I was younger.” Since nutrition has been my a profession for over 30 years, I know that eating a lot of something is not likely to generate an allergy to the food, but there was no reason to pry. Indeed, I hope that’s not the cause of her allergy or else many of us are in deep trouble.
· Vassalisa: This shop has a wider selection of truffles and “bon-bons” and several bars as well. As with the previous shop, these are labeled by cocoa content, nothing more. I don’t know what was on the label other than the cocoa content. The print on the back of the bars is in a font that you’d need a microscope to see. Similar response to these bars however – decent, but not remarkable. Their white chocolate was smooth, not grainy, and had a nice buttery mouth feel.
· Compagnia de Chocolates: (pictured above) This is the place to go for some more nuanced bars – all of which have country of origin and region of the country. A box of truffles I chose individually included a wide variety of flavors. A particular favorite was the rose lavender, but this may be for the adventurous. Rosewater-infused chocolates are polarizing – you like the flavor or you don’t, but I’ve had rosewater-infused pastries since childhood, so there’s familiarity here. More about the bars in my next post. The adjoining café offers individual portions of pastry or whole cakes for purchase. Great place to buy a few truffles to have with a cappuccino.
· Tikal Chocolates: This shop was small and the farthest from my hotel, so I was hopeful it would be special. It’s the only chocolate shop I’ve been in that could really have used some air conditioning. The shop was a bit warmer than you’d expect and that was a bit worrisome. Most chocolatiers prefer a shop that’s on the chilly side. The bars were again labeled only by cocoa content.
Overall, not a bad run, but not as distinguished and unique as I’d hoped. Definitely worth a look for those in the area, but I did feel Buenos Aires deserved a bit more. There may be justifiable reasons, including poor demand, poor economy (it’s in terrible shape) and other factors. The people are wonderful, and I’d like to see more bean-to-bar here.