Canada

The Sweet Life in Toronto

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so I have no shame at all about making SOMA Chocolatemaker my first stop whenever I’m in Toronto. Their amazing drinking chocolate is a perfect breakfast. Their Spicy Maya hot chocolate is smooth and wonderful and warm on a cold morning, and just spicy enough to wake you right up. It also serves as a precursor to the orgy of chocolate buying that’s about to commence.

SOMA right now is all decked out for Easter, with a bevy of white and dark chocolate bunnies. That is not my concern. I’m sure they’re very delicious and all that, but while I’m waiting for my drinking chocolate to be made, I usually linger over the truffle case. I still remember the first SOMA truffle I ever tried, mostly because it was such an odd experience. The Sparky, is hazelnut milk chocolate with Pop Rocks. It’s not my favorite by a long shot–I do, however, adore their Balsamic Vinegar, Maya Dome, Arbequina Olive Oil, and Douglas Fir truffles. This past Saturday, Day 2 of my Toronto trip, I picked up a few Cherry Bomb truffles, which are wild cherry jelly and milk chocolate ganache, and a cherry, all covered into dark chocolate, and a few Thai Stick truffles, with a filling of white chocolate, coconut milk, ginger, lemongrass, chili, and lime, all covered in milk chocolate. The latter won a silver medal in the International Chocolate Awards.

Admittedly, one of the fun things to do at SOMA is hunt around for their bars that have won International Chocolate Awards. Perhaps hunt is too strong of a word–many of their bars and truffles have won awards. Anyone who finds themselves on my holiday gift list often ends up receiving those bars. They’re too interesting to keep to myself! I’m pretty sure no one will be on the receiving end of my haul from Saturday, though.

The Porcelana bar is one of my favorites. I’ve been able to snag a bar here and there of this very limited batch chocolate, the beans for which hail from the region south of Lake Maracaibo in NW Venezuela. It’s a wonderful bar, and I highly recommend it.

I also picked up some new-to-me bars: the raspberry bar and the mango bar with chili lime salt. I have yet to tear into these beauties, but they’re super intriguing. These bars are basically white chocolate. I hate white chocolate. These, however, are no ordinary white chocolate. I just broke up these bars to try them, and I am blown away. The raspberry bar is a very intense, tart experience and tastes so much like fresh raspberries that I nearly gasped. The mango is a bit more subtle but no less wonderful. And I apparently picked up the very last mango bar in any of the SOMA locations; they’re impatiently awaiting a new shipment of mango powder so they can make more. Yes, please.

As much as I love SOMA, it’s not the only sweets game in town. While visiting Toronto, I also picked up a box of Peace By Chocolate chocolates that I had delivered to a friend. A read an article about the company about a month ago and couldn’t resist buying a box. These are old school chocolates–solid white, milk, and dark chocolate nuggets–produced by a family of Syrian refugees now living in Nova Scotia. The family, well-known Middle East chocolate makers for the last 30 years, fled Damascus after bombings left their factories and their lives in shambles. They lived in Lebanon for three years in a refugee camp before being invited to resettle in Nova Scotia. A year later, they employ ten people and are cranking out boxes of chocolates.

As an American who is embarrassed and disappointed by the current administration’s treatment of refugees, particularly in countries where we’ve contributed to the crisis by dropping bombs on civilians, I happily take any opportunity to support refugees. Ordering a box of chocolate is just one small thing I can do. The New York Times did a really great article a few months ago about how to help refugees in the U.S., by the way. I’m particularly interested in the Hello Neighbor project, which is piloting in Pittsburgh this year and hoping to expand to other cities in the future. I’ll be keeping an eye out for its expansion in Philly.

Another newcomer to Canada (in a manner of speaking) is Chocolates by Brandon Olsen, or CxBO. Olson is a well-known chef in the Toronto area, and he trained under Thomas Keller at The French Laundry. Automatically, I was intrigued–especially known Olson’s partner is an artist. It shows. The chocolates and even the chocolate boxes are all handpainted on-site in the shop that opened last year.

Look at these chocolates–they’re positively beautiful. Almost too beautiful to eat. Almost.

The shop itself is small, and there’s not a large selection for purchase: just three different boxes of nine truffles each, or two versions of a lovely handpainted Easter egg stuffed with treats. The bonbons are small batch and seasonally inspired. The box of bonbons I walked away with contained a fantastic Single Malt Scotch with vanilla bonbon, as well as a very very good chestnut, cherry, and marshmallow bonbon. Can’t wait to try the rest, although I’ll be very sad when these are gone. Looks like CxBO has made onto my regular Toronto rotation for chocolate shops. Of course, no one will be getting these bonbons as holiday gifts–they have a very short shelf-life of only two weeks (unless refrigerated, but who wants that?).

Another newcomer with an extra short shelf life is Nugateau. Hand-crafted eclairs using authentic French baking techniques and no artificial flavorings. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen savory eclairs, which probably isn’t a new thing, of course, but I was certainly tempted by the whipped Foie gras mousse eclair with truffle oil and roasted hazelnuts, topped by Tomato Glaçage, fresh figs, roasted hazelnut, and 24k gold leaf. Is your mouth watering? Yeah, so was mine.

What I did nab was the Lemon Bergamont Meringue eclair, the Stephanie Tatin (caramelized and poached apples, vanilla bean cremeux, and vanilla chantilly cream), and a special seasonal eclair that I devoured almost immediately and can’t for the life of me remember the flavoring (other than that it was delicious). Like a good wife, I brought one of the Lemon Bergamont Meringues back for Mr. Pretty, who was duly impressed.

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