Thomas Haas Patisserie – Vancouver, BC Canada

Love is the most beautiful of dreams and the worst of nightmares’

– William Shakespeare

Love, oh love, how dark, bitter and semisweet thou can be, but chocolate, I prefer thee exactly that way. As bars, truffles, fudge and cake, no person can resist the allure of chocolate. From ancient Mayan civilization to modern 21st century times, the cacao bean has been an object of seduction, temptation and satisfaction. Processing, blending, tempering, decorating and molding is not as easy as one thinks, and it takes a true artisan to master the complex craft of chocolate making. I had the privilege of meeting one such chocolatier in Vancouver, once during dinner at Le Crocodile and the following day at his newly opened patisserie and café in Kitsilano.

Born and raised in Germany as a fourth generation Konditormeister, or Master Pastry Chef, Thomas Haas was destined to follow in his great grandfather’s footsteps. His great grandfather opened Café Conditorei Haas in 1918 in the Black Forest village of Aichhalden, Germany. After graduating from school, Thomas went on to work at several Michelin starred restaurants in Europe before settling in Vancouver for his first executive pastry chef position at the Four Seasons Hotel. It was shortly after working alongside Daniel Boulud as Executive pastry chef to open the famed Michelin starred restaurant Daniel in New York that Thomas exploded onto the scene, winning numerous competitions and awards for his creations. He now runs 2 namesake patisseries in Vancouver, the original location in North Shore and the newest addition in the trendy neighborhood of Kitsilano, which happens to be right next door to Daniel Boulud’s restaurant db Bistro and Lumière.

Thomas Haas patisserie and café in Kitsilano is one of the few places in the world where you can buy handcrafted artisanal chocolates and pastries, and also enjoy it with a cup of coffee or tea. On any given day, you will see Thomas behind the counter, serving viennoiserie, packing chocolate truffles and working the cash register while answering questions and giving recommendations to customers with a friendly smile. For a busy konditormeister and restaurateur, it’s nice to see that he is so involved with the front of the house and extremely approachable. He even came over to our table with complimentary macaroons and took the time to chat with us about all of his beautiful creations.

Thomas Haas’ signature dish is the dark chocolate ganache with pecan, caramel and Brittany fleur de sel, but his silky dark chocolate ganaches with fruit flavors like cassis, rasperry, lime cachaça, lychee and passion fruit are also famous. Perfect little balls of chocolate truffles made with Jamaican rum and matcha are tantalizing, as well as his elegant pastries like raspberry financier and pistachio sour cherry tart. He doesn’t stop there- chewy caramels, pâtes de fruits, chocolate sparkle cookies in the freezer that you take home and bake, chocolate bars that come in several flavors and cocoa percentages (I love the dark chocolate rooibos-rose and milk chocolate chai), and hot chocolate made with Valrhona chocolate that come in gorgeous tins (the Aztec with chipotle and ancho chile has even made a guest appearance in a foie gras appetizer in one of my previous dinners).

Manjari chocolate cake with manjari chocolate mousse and rum crème brûlée with a cup of vanilla rooibos tea was seductively rich and subtly sweet with a slight hit of smooth rum, and the perfect dessert to follow our burger lunch at db Bistro. The white chocolate wedge printed with the Thomas Haas logo was a cute touch.

Cassis, chocolate, vanilla and passion fruit macarons were an absolute delight, and some of the best macarons that I have ever had, rivaling the Pierre Hermé, Fauchon and Ladurée versions that I have had in Paris. A perfect crunchy outermost layer, deceptively thin, that gives way much easier than expected to a moist meringue that collapses around the flavor packed center filling. The passion fruit is my favorite, as the filling is made with the perfect balance of sweet and tart, but they’re all light and soft with a clean finish.

Thomas Haas’ award winning chocolates and pastries in Vancouver are absolutely worth the trip, and Thomas makes the visit even more worthwhile by creating a unique atmosphere for those who want to stay for a cup of coffee and scrumptious pastries. His North Shore store, which houses the main kitchen, is constructed to look like the inside of a chocolate box. The Kitsilano location takes a more scientific approach to its decor, where the door frame is inscripted with the molecular structure of theobromine, the primary alkaloid found in cocoa and chocolate, and the mirrored ceiling tiles represent the structure of this chocolate molecule.

Love can be dark and bittersweet, but Thomas Haas’ dark and bittersweet chocolate creations will make you forget about lost loves and make everything just perfect.

Thomas Haas Fine Chocolates and Patisserie

Kitsilano store:

2539 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC V6K 2E9, Canada
(604) 736-1848

Random trivia: Did you know that chocolate contains over 1500 flavor components? Just like coffee or wine, chocolate has many different flavors due to complex layering of distinctive notes like cinnamon, tobacco, berries and rose. The origins of the beans (Ghana, Jamaica and Venezuela, for example), process of fermentation, soil and roasting process all contribute to distinct subtleties in flavors, which is one of the reasons why chocolate pairs with wine so well.

Jean Philippe- Las Vegas

The Aztecs drank it, the West Africans grew it, the Dutch produced it, the English sold it, the French refined it, the Easter bunny wore it, and everybody loves it- chocolate.  Archaeological findings suggest that humans were enjoying chocolate as far back as 1400 BC when it was consumed as a beverage.  The Mayans made it into a frothy bitter drink while the Aztecs, who called it xocolatl, often flavored it with vanilla, chili pepper or annatto.  With the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, chocolate crossed the high seas and fell upon the lips of the Europeans, leading to a continental frenzy over this little bean that could.  The first chocolate house opened in London in 1657, and the rest is history.  Everybody in the world knows what chocolate is, and everybody, whether or not they want to admit it, loves it.

Flash forward to the 21st century, and we now have chocolate available everywhere we turn.  Supermarkets stock entire aisles of it, and even local gas stations have a pretty impressive collection by the Cheetos rack.  But the really good stuff comes from learned pastry chefs and chocolate makers who have dedicate their lives to pleasing us with enchanting sweets.  On a whole other different level we have master chocolatiers, who are artisans in the art of chocolate who have studied the history and chemistry of chocolates and trained their skills extensively.

On a previous visit to Paris I was blown away by the artistry of Patrick Roger and his beautiful gallery on Blvd St. Germain.  One of my guilty pleasures when I visit my family in Tokyo is to nibble on a few of French chocolatier Jean-Paul Hévin’s treasures at the Isetan in Shinjuku.  Los Angeles isn’t host to a distinguished chocolaterie yet, but with the recent surge of fine dining establishments and discerning gourmands, I’m hoping that it’s not too far in the future.  On my recent trip to Las Vegas I got a chance to revel in the beautiful cacao installments of patissier Jean-Philippe Maury on the Vegas strip.  At the Jean Philippe Pâtisserie in the Bellagio and now the Aria, die hard sweets fans can sinfully indulge in Meilleur Ouvrier de France and World Pastry Champion Jean Philippe Maury’s sensational creations.  There is something for everybody at Jean Philippe, where he offers not only chocolates, but pastries, salads and sandwiches too.

The Pâtisserie on the ground floor of the Aria has multiple sections, starting with an impressive display of rotating white and dark chocolate flowers by the gelateria.  Adjacent to the gelato and sorbet section is a crêperie where skilled crêpe makers will make a savory or sweet crêpe for your liking, followed by the beautiful retail store with rows and rows of enticing chocolates and candies.

Nougats, brittles, spreads, sticks, artisan jams, caramels, cakes and even rice crispy balls are all made on site every day by a team of 80 bakers in the kitchen.  At the chocolate bar, you can choose from a variety of sensational hand crafted artisanal chocolates with flavors like anise, amaretto, banana, peanut orange and vanilla rum, and take it home in beautiful boxes.

Imaginative displays of chocolate sculptures sit high on rotating pedestals, delighting shop patrons even further with Maury’s whimsies.  All of the edible works of art are colorful, vibrant and dramatic in true Vegas style.

My favorite chocolate sculpture was the chocolate bonsai, delicately carved with fine details of the tree bark and spiny leaves, and accompanied by a dainty three-tiered sakura cake in celebration of spring.

Long glass display cases line the other end of the large pâtisserie, showing off endless rows of pastries and breads, and intricate cakes like tiramisu in a glass cylinder, cheesecake encased in a soft folded white chocolate envelope and tarts with raspberries piled high in a tall pyramid like a croquembouche.

What I love about this pâtisserie is that it’s not just a take away boutique like most pâtisseries.  It’s also a cafe where patrons can experience instant gratification at any one of the cafe tables that face the display cases.  Salads, paninis and cold sandwiches are also offered here, giving diners the option of having an entire light meal here.  Naturally, hot chocolate is on the menu, and with so many options for dessert, one may easily have a continuous dessert tasting and never leave the cafe.

Fortunately there is a reason to leave the Jean Philippe Pâtisserie at Aria- the Jean Philippe Pâtisserie at the Bellagio.  There you can take in the dramatic floor-to-ceiling 27 foot chocolate fountain that put Jean Philippe on the Guinness World Records.  Nearly 2 tons of dark, milk and white chocolate cascade down leveled tiers in a glass enclosed space in a spectacular display of this true life Willy Wonka factory.  On your way out, don’t forget to buy a box of chocolate truffles for that person you love.  Who are we kidding?  Buy it for yourself.

“Like jewelry or perfume.  A blend, a shape, a texture.  Creating a candy with precision, emotion and passion.  Give yourself the pleasure of gods.”  – Jean Philippe Maury

Jean Philippe Pâtisserie

Bellagio – 3600 South Las Vegas Boulevard
Las Vegas, NV, 89109
(702) 693-8788

Aria- 3730  South Las Vegas Boulevard
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(866) 359-7111

Open 6am-12am

Random trivia: Recent studies show that chocolate gives us many health benefits.  It is believed to suppress the symptoms of migraines and stop diarrhea.  Regular consumption of dark chocolate can lower the possibility of a heart attack.  Post-exercise consumption of lowfat chocolate milk in athletes provided superior muscle recovery in studies.  Theobromine in chocolate proved more effective at cough suppression than codeine.  But eating chocolate for our health is just an excuse.  Studies showed that melting chocolate in one’s mouth produced an increase in brain activity and heart rate that was more intense than that associated with passionate kissing, and also lasted 4 times as long after the activity had ended.  Now that’s what I’m talking about.

Patrick Roger – Paris

Paris, France.  City of IMG_5457lights, city of romance, city of croissants, cheese, baguettes, wine and all things nice.  And of course, city of chocolates.  With a city full of chocolateries, how does one go about choosing his or her favorite?  La Maison du Chocolat will never steer you wrong, and Pierre Hermé will please you with both chocolates and macaroons.  Michel Cluizel is fortunately available in the US, and Christian Constant‘s hot chocolates will make you faint with delight.  I fell in love with Patrick Roger’s beautiful chocolaterie in St. Germain des Près on my recent trip to Paris.  Patrick Roger, who won the title of Best French Artisan in 2000, showcases his artistry and creativity in this modern St. Germain store.

IMG_5460 Although he is famous for his delicate chocolates, he is also known for his amazing store window displays.  Think back to that scene in ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ where the oompa loompas frolick about the flowery marshmallow meadows, and ornate gingerbread houses line the everflowing milk chocolate river.  Patrick Roger creates a similar wacky display in his store using  chocolate and confectionaries, only the oompa loompas have become baseball sized vegetable-themed creatures standing in front of a 4 foot tall chocolate house with an intricate roof made of thousands of round chocolate tiles.   A chocolate rooster stands atop the tall steeple, looking down at the chocolate nibs road below.  Foot ball sized cacao nuts made entirely of chocolate decorate a corner of the showcase, and other fun and colorful edible adornments liven up the space to create a culinary Grimm’s fairy tale fantasy world.

IMG_5462

Except for the gasps and sighs that will inevitably flow out of your mouth, the boutique is a quiet and peaceful space.  The courteous staff will allow you to silently peruse the beautiful store as you lose track of time in this chocolate dimension.  On one wall you can find shelves of prepackaged truffles, noisettes (chocolate and caramel covered hazelnuts) and amandes (chocolate dusted almonds).  On the back wall there are infinite stacks of flat rectangular chocolate bars, each labelled with the name of the country from which the cacao beans were harvested from, and the cacao percentage number.  I was surprised to find the amazing variety of chocolate bars-  Peru, Venezuela, Papua New Guinea, Ecuador, Trinidad and Sao Tomé just to name a few. 

IMG_5461

In the center island are rows of golden tin trays filled with Roger’s breathtaking creations that the staff with delicately collect for you.  He is a master of blending exotic flavors and spices with his chocolates, finding that perfect balance between the 2 such that one does not overwhelm the other.  I tried the lemon basil, the passion fruit, the ginger, and the sesame flavored chocolate squares, and they were all sublime.

IMG_5468

Other flavors that I would love to try on my next visit to Patrick Roger are the jasmine flower, Szechuan peppercorns and anise.  They also sell a variety of chocolate assortments that are pre-packaged in their beautiful signature turquoise green boxes.  The sight of Tiffany’s robin’s egg blue colored boxes used to make my heart flutter.  Now it’s Patrick Roger’s mesmerizing sea green packaging that gets me panting with joy.

IMG_5471

Chocolaterie Patrick Roger

108 boulevard Saint Germain, 75006 Paris

http://www.patrickroger.com/

Random chocolate quotes:

‘Nine out of ten people like chocolate.  The tenth person always lies…’                  –John Q. Tullius

‘If one swallows a cup of chocolate only three hours after a copious lunch, everything will be perfectly digested and there will still be room for dinner. ‘
–Brillat-Savarin (famed French gastronomer)

‘Las cosas claras y el chocolate espeso.  (Ideas should be clear and chocolate thick.) ‘
–Spanish proverb

‘I have this theory that chocolate slows down the aging process.  It may not be true, but do I dare take the chance?’   — Anonymous

‘Man cannot live on chocolate alone, but woman sure can’   –Author unknown

‘If you get melted chocolate all over your hands, you’re eating it too slowly’   –Author unknown

‘Researchers have discovered that chocolate produces some of the same reactions in the brain as marijuana.  The researchers also discovered other similarities between the two but can’t remember what they are ‘   — Matt Lauer