A few years ago, I found a cheap flight to Paris and took off work for a week to wander the city pretending to be an artist. In preparation for my trip, I packed a light jacket, a watercolor kit, lots of film (oh, those rustic pre-digital days!) and learned exactly three phrases in French:
- Hello! How are you? (Bonjour! Comment allez-vous?)
- Thank you very much! (Merci beaucoup!)
- I would like hot chocolate, please. (Je voudrais le chocolat chaud, svp.)
Did I achieve my romantic artistic aspirations? No. I shivered miserably all week, suffered the isolation of visiting a country without a solid understanding of its mother tongue and shared a hostel room with a stinky, hostile girl with a chainsaw snore (as a bonus, the charming lass inexplicably slept with a noisy cluster of crusted-over pots and pans).
"But surely," you exclaim, "you must have reaped important life lessons from the floor sweepings of your shattered vacation fantasy, yes?"
Mais Oui! I'm so glad you asked: (1) Paris in April can be quite chilly, (2) watercolors aren't my forte (3) one can answer hunger and warm numb fingers on a diet of ubiquitous museums, crêpes and chocolat chaud.
From October through April, I order the hot chocolate whenever I go out and nearly always receive a mug of hot milk that vaguely remembers bumping into a tin of powdered cocoa at a party long, long ago... in any case, the milk and chocolate are not generally close friends. I blame mass ignorance. Most of the sipping public must be unaware of what they could and should demand from a mug of hot chocolate. They've been duped by some bratty little swiss miss into believing that chocolate flavor is the same thing as genuine chocolate.
It would appear that Paris still leads the known universe in consistently delightful hot chocolate. Thankfully, there are a handful of dependable mugs here in Gotham City. Jacques Torres will not let you down. MarieBelle brews chocolate with love (and rich single-origin Venezuelan beans). City Bakery conducts an annual Hot Chocolate Festival (complete with house-made marshmallows) to honor the beverage each February.
And then, there's always the date you make with a handful of quality chocolate nibs, a splash of milk and a saucepan on low heat. Never over-milky, never too hot or too cold. 101 Cookbooks had a good post last April.
Some recent trials in the field:
Sometimes yummy, often over-milky... but the altitude!
200 Mott St
Consistently thick, rich and delicious. One cup is enough for two to sip together.
66 Water St
The best of the 'burg... served with extra chocolate shavings in the spoon.
St. Helen Cafe
157 Wythe Ave
Arrives in a bowl large enough to drown you — adorned with love and chocolate.
Zucco: Le French Diner
188 Orchard St
Lower East Side