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To Heaven and Back

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I’m sure I was one of the millions of people who were ecstatic a few years back when reports came out touting dark chocolate’s health benefits. Now we can rejoice every time we savor a nibble of rich, dark chocolate, because we’re consuming the same healthy flavonoids found in fruits, vegetables, tea and red wine. And how good it feels knowing that I can succumb guilt-free to two of my favorite indulgences: wine and chocolate.

As it happens, my passion for dark chocolate was only recently sparked. I grew up eating milk chocolate, never knowing what I was missing. All it took was one pretzel coated with the stuff to get me hooked—and I’ll never go back. It’s either dark or nothing.

And so, as my chocolate horizons broadened from Snickers to Ghirardelli 60 percent Cacao Dark, I figured I’d reached the pinnacle of my experience. That was before Éclat Chocolate came to town three years ago. The moment I walked through the door of Éclat’s low-key downtown West Chester headquarters, I was engulfed in an intoxicating aroma like no other. And that was just the beginning.

A master of his edible art form with impeccable international credentials, Chris Curtain opened the shop after working alongside the world’s finest chocolatiers for more than 15 years. In his quest for the best chocolate, he’s turned to such exotic locales as Madagascar and Ecuador. So don’t expect to see his unique blends covering potato chips or pretzels.

“I want to do something unique and different with chocolate—because if not, why bother?” says Curtain. “Everything I do has to make sense in some way. I don’t do anything for shock value.”

I’ll never forget my first taste at Éclat. It was one of Curtain’s signature creations, the Dark Caramel, covered in dark chocolate and topped with a sprinkling of sea salt. Why sea salt? My taste buds quickly had the answer.

Based on my limited experience with caramel, I expected a solid center. I was pleasantly surprised by the luscious liquid that greeted me from the first bite. As for the sea salt, it perfectly offset the sweetness of the caramel and dark chocolate.

Éclat’s caramels were highlighted in 2007’s Best of the Main Line and Western Suburbs issue. That same year, the praise went national with a Best Caramel designation in Vogue. And while Éclat’s caramels have been the subject of much exuberant praise, the shop offers plenty more to swoon over. Really, there’s no substitute for tasting everything for yourself. Until then, you can ogle over the images and descriptions above (though pictures can never do Curtain’s otherworldly creations justice.)

For me, the Vanilla Truffle runs a close second to the caramels; its smooth Tahitian vanilla cream has a pure flavor that’s second to none.

Curtain also uses bold combinations of herbs and spices in his chocolate, relying on extensive knowledge and expertise to guide his judgment. Well-received combinations include Sichuan Pepper, Balinese Long Pepper, Star Anise and the Aleppo Chili Truffle.

Early last fall, Curtain introduced his version of the modern chocolate bar: Éclat’s take on the classic thin, disc-like French mendiant confection, which comes in 10 varieties—each one more extraordinary than the next. Six of them incorporate single-origin chocolates named for the area of the world from which they were sourced. They feature unique patterns designed by Curtain to enhance taste.

Among the varieties, São Thomé is a rare 70-percent cocoa grown in the tropical rainforest on the West African island of the same name. Since its unique taste comes from a place surrounded by water, Curtain patterned the top of the mendiant with ridges that resemble waves. The ridges melt
quickly, enhancing the rich flavor of the chocolate. Another mendiant variety uses Alto el Sol, an intense chocolate imported from a small estate in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon. “Only a ton is made each year,” says Curtain. “Since this chocolate is made with beans from only this estate, it’s our most exclusive.”

Other mendiant varieties combine single-origin chocolate with dried cranberries and walnuts for a one-of-a-kind tasting experience. Like everything at Éclat, the quality and care that goes into all of them is evident from the first bite.

“Once you drink a fine wine, you know it,” says Curtain. “It’s the same with chocolate.”

 

Visit Éclat Chocolate at 24 S. High St., West Chester. To learn more, call (610) 692-5206 or go to eclatchocolate.com.
 

 

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