Saturday, January 30, 2010

Salon du Chocolat, Isetan Shinjuku

Tokyo has nearly limitless capacity to delight, and to disappoint. I thought I was terribly clever for proposing a late-afternoon trip to Shinjuku Isetan and the 2010 Salon du Chocolat. This is a fabulous event - what is ostensibly a trade fair for the chocolate industry in Paris is transplanted and reimagined as a consumer frenzy in Tokyo for a few short weeks. I was very excited, expecting it to be crowded but still looking forward to the chance to try some famous brands that are never seen in Japan.

After negotiating the odd elevators at Isetan (each bank of elevators has one that stops on each floor, one each for odd and even-numbered floors, and one 'express' to the 6th and 7th floors only. When I arrived at the 6th floor, I saw immediately that several other people had had the same idea, as expected.

I pushed on through the crowds, intent on getting to the few brands I really wanted to try - Bernachon, Jacques Genin, Fabrice Gillotte.

Here's the Jacques Genin booth. Loosely translated, the sign says "We're sold out, but here's an example of what you can't buy from us. Dumbass."

Bernachon makes one of the 2 or 3 best chocolates I had last year (the Kalouga salt caramel-filled bar). And no one is under any illusions about that. They didn't even keep a sample bar to taunt latecomers, nor did they have any remaining inventory of lesser products as Genin did with the caramels.

Well, enough bitterness (oh, not quite - Fabrice Gillotte was also sold out of anything priced below about Y4000, which is more than I need to spend on his chocolates).

Here's the one thing I wanted to try that was still available - Guido Gobino, Italian master of hazelnuts and salt. The staff was very solicitous and forced us to try all the different flavors they make, but we settled pretty easily on a whole box of the most famous option, salted chocolate lozenges. Which are terrific. Thanks for the recommendation, Nick.

These entries from Sweden's Emanuel Andren were strikingly beautiful and displayed appropriate language about the care lavished on each piece and its filling and flavoring. Plenty of stock available - someone may want to let ol' Manny know that $10 per piece is not the friendliest pricing strategy.

The Japanese Cagi de Reves brand makes these darling round samplers with key-shaped chocolates pointing at pink chocolate hearts. Cute! The name is also cute - first in the use of a 'c' to spell cagi, second for the mix of Japanese and French, and third for being called 'key of dreams', if I'm interpreting that mix correctly.

Meiji's 100% Chocolate Cafe still has a lovely design concept. I think it's a cinch that anything presented in 100 variations of color will look great. You can get mail-order service and 'box of the month'-type stuff from them, and then you'll get one square per day delivered at monthly intervals with themed tastes (e.g., 'October is spice-flavored'), but it's a little expensive for what is still Meiji chocolate.

Overall - disappointing? Not exactly. We bought a few things to try later at home, but it was just neat to be in a room with so much chocolate and its makers. Considering how often I see the names and pictures of famous chefs and chocolatiers, I thought it was cool to see Philippe Bernachon, Olivier Balaguer, Fabrice Gillotte, Christine Ferber, Henri Le Roux and others, all in person and all in one room. Not that I need to make a steady diet of celebrity chef-spotting, but it's a cool diversion.

A bit tardy, but I've managed to get this up in time to let you know that there are still 6 hours left. It closes at 6 PM on February 1st, so if you're not working today, why not head over? For the love of god, buy me some Bernachon and I'll pay you back with interest.

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