Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Oriol Balaguer, Shirokanedai

Well, this was previously recommended in much the same breath as Debailleul (and my sincere apologies that I didn't share the goods with the recommender). Since I've concluded that Debailleul is almost worth the price, if you pick the right flavors (spicy ones, mostly), I've kept thinking of trying this also. After months of occasional speculation, I trundled along to Shirokane on a Saturday morning to make (hopefully) the last stop on this year's journey through high-end chocolate.

Oriol Balaguer has a long and storied history, which I won't go into. Suffice to say it contains words like 'El Bulli', "Best Dessert In Spain", "Best Pastry Chef In the World" and "Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of Chocolate On All 5 Continents". If I understand the Catala correctly, he also floats like a butterfly, stings like a jujube, and is a past master of Splentanxo, which is like a Basque version of The Dozens.

In this ridiculously dark and chic boutique on the second floor of a small building next to The House in Shiroganedai, he now sells preserves. The shop has a raised floor and massive, gently-humming air conditioners to maintain the temperature of the preserves.

And the champagne.

Interestingly, he also stocks some chocolate! No, I kid, I kid. He stocks a lot of chocolate, but very much on his own terms. You can only buy certain things - a box of 4, a box of 9 (3 flavors), a box of 12, a box of 36 (12X3), a set of 18. You can't choose the flavors in any of these, and the 12 and 18 sets only overlap a little. This was a little off-putting, but genius has its parameters and price, no?

You shouldn't care. They're amazing. They're the best.

At the price I paid for these, damn the laughs, I'm taking pictures obsessively. The packaging is lovely and extreme, the same way that the shells are all molded in his characteristic shape. From the left, the flavors you get in the 12 set are Yuzu, Peanut, Anise, Corn, Coffee, Spice, Orange, Raspberry, Champagne, Passion, Salt Caramel and Praline.

Maybe these shots are gratuitous. I don't care.

Similarly to the ridiculosity of the photography, I'm going to describe the flavor of every single one of these chocolates, most of which I only ate half of. Let's just start with a few basics, OK?
  • The shells are almost too good. They are such amazingly high-quality chocolate that in some cases they distracted from the fillings.
  • Either that or else the fillings are in insufficient quantities (although I've also eaten Richart, so what the hey). The fillings are incredibly smooth, unless they're supposed to be crunchy. And they're all complex. In some cases it took 10 seconds or more of sitting around your mouth before suddenly you said "Hey, it really IS corn, and now I understand how that fits with the flavor profile of the other ingredients." But you know, I thought EVERYTHING about these chocolates was in insufficient quantity.

OK, embarrassingly exhaustive descriptions.

  • Yuzu: a really disappointing start; I have a distinct feeling that this was just white chocolate ganache, because the outside wasn't sprayed yuzu-color as it is in the larger sets. Fortunately, after this it was all uphill.
  • Peanut: Very nice. Delayed peanut flavor, and not at all like it was just filled with crushed peanut or peanut butter. Complex. Not astounding.
  • Anise: Astounding. Disclaimer: I love anise and all that sail in her. For a little while I thought this wasn't going to be very anise-y, even though it was delicious, but then it was, among 2 or 3 other flavors I couldn't identify. Yow.
  • Corn: The time-delay effect mentioned above; perhaps since I wanted to maximize value and let these melt on my tongue, it took a long time to taste the corn and get to the crunch. The surroundings were hazel-nutty.
  • Coffee: Again...not the best, but better than any other coffee chocolate I can think of. Coarse-ground bean fragments mixed with the ganache.
  • Spice: Very nice, but perhaps Debailleul's pepper is a bit better? Still, Balaguer has a complex blend of spices in here, and I think I was just confused because I was expecting something more simple and spicy. Just not up to his level yet...
  • Orange: First of the gooey fillings. Molten orange love, cool from the fridge, slightly bitter, delicious. Clearly there's more than orange going on here, making it taste brilliantly orangey and yet somehow more, and very sophisticated.
  • Raspberry: What I said about the orange, but more raspberry-flavored, and even better.
  • Cava: Middling in comparison to the others. Which is to say, seriously good.
  • Passion: As in fruit, I think, and not something I could put my finger on while eating, though terrific. Fresh and acidic, as you'd expect from the name.
  • Salt Caramel: OMG. Along with Henri Le Roux (which I ate ages ago but still haven't posted on), this is the perfection of salt and caramel that everyone else in Japan has been chasing for the last year+. The filling just coated your mouth with balanced caramel and salt, followed by the residual shell flavor. Wow. Wow.
  • Praline: As above, but exchange the salt and Henri comments for something more appropriate. This was fantastic.

More gratuitous shots.

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