Sunday, November 20, 2011

Vosges Boutique - Haut Chocolate for Cold Winter Day

It doesn't very often rain this hard in LA.  Yes, it's November, but we have been spoiled with continuing sunshine for the most part - and until today I haven't had to dig out the old fleece-lined, waterproof, zips up over nose, nearly ready for nuclear winter ski jacket.  Today it poured down so hard I could hardly hear traffic beyond the pounding on my car as I drove; on many streets the backwash from storm drains swallowed sidewalks whole; cars parked by the (now invisible) curb were on the verge of floating away in bumper-height water.    

LA doesn't deal very well with unusual weather conditions.  I don't deal very well with unusually bad weather conditions.  But holing up in my apartment, I knew, would only give me cabin fever.  So I pulled on my ready-for-almost-anything-double-lined ski jacket, my no longer fashionable but perfect for this weather Uggs, and headed out in search of that which makes everything better - even in the dreariest downpour of grey - hot chocolate.

And if I'm going to risk pneumonia and/or a 10-car pile-up, might as well do it for really good hot chocolate. So good it's spelled haut - at the newly opened Vosges boutique, whose owner and chocolatier Katrina Markoff was an apprentice at El Bulli.

I first became a fan of Vosges chocolate when I almost literally stumbled onto a display of them around the checkout aisle at Whole Foods 5, 6 years ago - and fell in love with the sweet/savory Mo's Bacon Bar. According to legend (i.e. her bio printed on the back of Vosges chocolate bar boxes and/or on the Vosge site) - Katrina studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris before launching on a world tour that started with an apprenticeship with the inimitable Ferran AdriĆ”. Her journey inspired the concept of travelling the world through chocolate, bringing global ingredients to gourmet chocolates with the stated goal to use her creations to raise interest and awareness in different cultures.
Apparently all Vosges boutique locations take inspiration from different cultures as well - and this latest branch in Beverly Hills draws from Moroccan design aesthetics.

The gorgeous yet cozy space has a lofty and elaborately painted ceiling, with ornate white stone arches at each end of the retail area, which is in turn bookended by cafe seating area and counter/kitchen.

The retail area is lined with shelves of gourmet chocolate bars ($7.50 each, buy 5 get 1 free!), truffles as well as fun boxes of chocolate-powered baking mixes like a bacon-chocolate chip pancake mix ($12) and ultimate chocolate chip cookie mix ($18).  They also have a chocolate dipped tortilla chip and chocolate toffees. 

 It's a somewhat interactive experience with bowls of generous samples for select items and bell jars displaying more exotic ingredients in their original form like star anise, curry powder, goji berries etc.
I loved the cafe spaces, with its Moroccan / French flair and delicious sounding blackboard drink and food specials (surprisingly affordable, especially for a Beverly Hills venue!)

There are three hot chocolates ("Chocolat Chaud", $5 each), two of which are more classic: Parisienne (tahitian vanilla and dark chocolate), Aztec Elixir (chili ceylon cinnamon) and a third, which I went for, that is more unique called Bianca (with white chocolate, lavendar and lemon myrtle).

The Chocolat Chaud Bianca was lovely, served steaming hot in a large ceramic bowl, though a bit of an acquired taste - the first sip reminded me a little of lotion due to the floral and citrus notes.  But as the initial disorientation wears off quickly, it's a smooth, nuanced and unique hot chocolate drink. 

(Coffee lovers note they have Blue Bottle drip coffee for $4! Other drinks include gourmet teas and "cocoa water")

I wanted to try their Love Goddess Cake with ancho & chipotle or chillies, with Mo's Bacon chocolate ($6) but unfortunately they did not have it today.  So I went for the Armenian Apricot & Saffron Pot de Creme ($6) - which ended up going perfectly with the hot chocolate, with its well balanced sweet / savory/ tart flavors, and subtle crunch of sugar crust with hefty, juicy pieces of apricot on top.

Here's a shot of their menu so far - I can't wait to go back and try the cake, Saffron & Rose Petal Sugar Cookies ($3) cheese and chocolate plates ($9) and affogato ($4)....

First impressions count, and Vosges was a ray of sunshine on a truly dreary day.  I love initmate and well designed spaces without the pretentiousness, and Vosges (today anyway, all staffers at hand were warm and friendly) - fit that bill.  I could see myself going back to meet up with friends, or on my own, for afternoon tea or dessert, as a pit stop on the way to/from the Beverly Hills Cheese Store :)

[For 25+ photos from my visit, check out the album on my Facebook page]

Have you tried any of their other cafe fare or specialty chocolate items? If so do share in comments below!


Vosges Haut Chocolate - Beverly Hills
311 N. Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Ph: 310.275.3621

Parking: 2 hours free parking at 345 Beverly Dr (between Brighton and Dayton, entrance next to Williams Sonoma store)


Vosges on Urbanspoon

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