Sunday, December 9, 2007

Produce Aisle Meets Chocolate Box: Richart's Festive Garden

Gingerbread, peppermint, cranberry...Ah, the comforting but predictable flavors of the holiday season. "Mais non!" says Michel Richart. The "Festive Garden" holiday collection that debuted last week at Richart includes potato, celery root, tomato, carrot and corn. Despite its old school origins, Richart prides itself on pushing the envelope with flavor and form. But this time, have they gone too far?

On Friday evening I attended a Tasting Party at Richart's Union Square boutique. Francophiles and chocophiles enjoyed glasses of port and zinfindel while trying to decode the new flavors laid out for sampling. Like the Petit Richart collection, the Festive Garden chocolates are all exactly the same size, but it takes some pattern recognition, color matching and French translation to figure out what exactly you are going to eat.

I must confess that when it comes to chocolate, I am not a swashbuckling adventurer. Chocolate falls into the dessert category, and I like my desserts sweet. Some of the notorious Vosges bars (with bacon, curry and wasabi) are still languishing in my cupboard uneaten. But I did enjoy some of the milder flavor combinations from the Festive Garden:
* Caramelized celery root coulis on a bed of ganache flavored with mild spices
* Pear coulis on a bed of cassis de Dijon ganache (Dijon the town, not the mustard!)
* Pumpkin coulis on a bed of chamomile flower ganache

My least favorite was the "tomato on a bed of basil ganache." Even though I stopped by the party before dinner, I still wasn't quite ready for an appetizer! After trying the "kalamanzi in soy milk ganache on a bed of carrot coulis," one of my companions noted "it was like someone hid the baby food in my truffle." Yet my French friend could not get enough of these chocolates, dashing back for just one more sample when the saleswoman disappeared momentarily. Although these flavors have not scored highly for clients on my San Francisco Gourmet Chocolate Tour, the manager of the San Francisco boutique assures me that overall customer response has been quite good.

The Festive Garden collection costs $74.50 for the large 37 piece box and $33 for the small 16 piece collection. At an average of $120/pound, Richart is likely the most expensive chocolate in San Francisco. But where else can you find a little kalamanzi in your chocolate?

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