Taking Revenge on Mr. Chocolate

One detail of my dessert trends tour that I failed to mention yesterday was a visit the wife and I paid to Jacques Torres Chocolate on Hudson Street in SOHO. SOHO (a sort-of anagram for SOuth of HOuston — pronounced HOW-ston — Street) was once a pop art mecca. These days the galleries are almost completely gone, replaced by high-end retail experiences of which Jacques Torres Chocolate is but one. Mrs. Pastry was chomping at the milk chocolate-enrobed bit to get there. I was considerably less interested, for I remembered all too clearly what happened the last time we’d tried to sample some of Mr. Torres’ wares…

The year was 2003. Mrs. Pastry had her first bun in the oven and we’d skedaddled to Manhattan for a weekend getaway. Life-altering events were at hand, and we were eager to get our last dose of the New York scene until God-only-knew-when. In typical style we were wandering south Manhattan, testing the wife’s sea legs and wondering if she had the stamina to cross the Brooklyn Bridge. For Jaques Torres, a.k.a. Mr. Chocolate, had just opened his new shop in DUMBO (that’s Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass), an area literally nestled among the structural supports of the Brooklyn Bridge. Only it’s over on the Brooklyn side (hence the “Manhattan Bridge” thing), so you need to hike to get there. Oh sure there are easier ways to get from point A to point B in Manhattan (cabs spring to mind) but so Mrs. Pastry reasons, great chocolate experiences need to be earned. I love her for that. She fixed me with a steely gaze and said: Let’s do it.

Bothers and sisters I can tell you it was a darn long walk. Just getting to the bridge was an effort for her, to say nothing of the long waddle across the bridge itself, dodging cyclists and joggers in headphones. When we finally got to the other side she slumped down on a stone bench, covered in sweat and panting, and we still had many blocks to go. Ambling down the hill into this dark little neighborhood, we had to wind our way around a sea of trucks and trailers. Clint Eastwood was filming the movie Million Dollar Baby there, so the atmosphere was crowded and confused. After some initial fumbling around we caught sight of the sign in the distance. The wife’s spirits soared as we marched toward the cups of hot chocolate the New York Times had compared favorably to ambrosia. When we got there — and I’m sure you can see this coming — it was closed. Why, no one could say since we were there during posted business hours. Mrs. Pastry stumbled to the curb, flopped down and wept.

Now, some of you tougher men out there, stouter souls than I, might be able to steel yourselves against the sight of your seven-months-pregnant wife weeping in the gutter. Me, I’m not made of such stuff. So there and then I vowed that one day I would take revenge on Mr. Chocolate, most likely by purchasing one of his overrated confections and not liking it.

That opportunity came this past Saturday, when, umbrellas in hand, when set out through the driving rain to find Mr. Chocolate’s new flagship store on Hudson Street. It wasn’t difficult to find since it’s in the far west of SOHO where there’s little else aside from warehouses. I have to admit it was a very impressive looking operation from the outside. Very industrial with towering glass walls, it provides near total transparency into Torres’ chocolate and pastry making processes. We collapsed our umbrellas and went in. Being a rainy day we were the only ones in the shop, save to say for the staff, and to my surprise and horror, Jacques Torres himself, who was hunched over a nearby table engaged in deep conversation with a small round Chinese man who, very interestingly, was speaking to Torres in fluent French.

My grip tightened around my folded Samsonite as I briefly contemplated giving him the business end of the thing (borrowed from the hotel, it had a nice thick wooden handle). But then I am by nature a man of peace. And anyway, where better to sting a man of Torres’ conceits than to clock him where it really hurts — right smack in the ego? We shopped.

Quality over quantity is the wife’s mantra when it comes to chocolate. She’ll nibble away like chipmunk at a tiny square of chocolate all afternoon if it’s good enough. But then it takes a while to find just the right thing. Oblivious to the presence of Torres, she engaged one of the enthusiastic store clerks while I looked over the machines. By the time I’d finished touring the plant, being careful to keep the necessary distance from Mr. Chocolate, Mrs. Pastry had made her selection, a small square of dark chocolate bark plus a sample of hot chocolate the clerk had given her. For my part I picked out a chocolate-striped cookie. We sat. Watching the wife eagerly unwrap her treasure, I pointed out the celebrity in the corner, at which time she paled slightly and asked that I not embarrass her. As luck had it, Torres finished his conversation just then, got up and strode into the back. Mrs. Pastry relaxed and nibbled her chocolate. A few minutes later we got up ourselves, assembled our things, and headed for the door. As we went I pulled the cookie out of its plastic bag and took a bite, determined not to like it. I didn’t.

Honor satisfied, we continued on with our day.

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