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Taking chocolate out of the box

Taking chocolate out of the box

Posted on 29. Aug, 2009 by admin in TASTE

I live in the chocolate capital of the universe. Here in Brussels, we take the dark stuff seriously. Stocking up on chocolate before traveling to the New World is a serious matter and invariably involves, in my hypermanic state, at least 4 specific chocolate stops to select just the right type of chocolate for each friend/family member. 15 years in Brussels have made me a demanding, picky and intransigent chocolate lover even without being as savvy some feinschmeckers I could name in my immediate circle. There is a dizzying range of grades, shapes, densities, colors, textures and some varieties which, creative as they may be, are hugely disappointing. All this by way of saying that it takes guts, passion and folly to launch a new chocolate boutique in this fair city given the insane competition and the standards of people like me. Which is why I have to hand it to one of my current favorites: Zaabar (not to be confused with the successful Eli Zabar grocery and bread stores hailing from NYC, a success story of its own) for taking such a gamble with its huge, expensive real estate location and its quirky, out-of-the-box creations. Zaabar feels more like a workshop than a store, with machinery and cooking accessories in plain view. Here, they believe in mixing chocolate and spices in ways most of us, well, wouldn’t. Some combos jive better than others–dark with chili, yes, dark with lemongrass, so-so. Or in the words of my brother-in-law (a less demanding chocofreak) Why are you making us eat mosquito repellent? One of the things I love about Zaabar is the central bar cum observation deck cum check-out area where you can sample hot chocolate zinged with cardamon and other surprises. On some days, they’ll walk around the shop totting free shot glasses of the stuff while you browse and frown trying to choose between Zanzibar, Ecuadorian or Kenyan cocoa blends. Almost all varieties on offer are broken up into samples for free noshing (80% dark with smashings of meringue or white with crushed pistachios were the last ones I nibbled) and everyone seems to temporarily suspend any awareness of swine flu, based on how many hands I saw liberally dipping in and out of those collective dishes. Zaabar also offers chocolate making workshops for kids, basic espresso service and unlimited patience and smiles. And of course, I almost forgot, the packaging is sooo beeeyyutiful.

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