Years of tasting Belgian and Swiss chocolates en situ, touring chocolate factories, and even interning at one in high school have left no doubt that I have a particular penchant for the dark, smooth, and rich type. It did not take long after moving to Napa to start exploring the town’s sweet offerings.
“This might be your next favorite place in Napa”, said my nail technician Francine, a cheerful local lady and an infinite source of my Napa news since week one. I obediently walked over to La Foret, a tiny place in an unassuming shopping mall away from downtown. On a very hot summer day, I was the only customer. Wendy, the store owner, was almost apologetic over the small – off-season – selection. I bought two things I’d never tried before: strawberry marshmallows covered with dark chocolate and dark chocolate-dipped honeycomb.
Francine was right: three days later, I drove back to La Foret with an excuse to buy a little gift for a friend. Wendy, who was working in the kitchen behind a large window, recognized me and came out to chat. Needless to say, I also bought a gift for myself.
Wendy’s chocolates have finesse and delicacy that one finds in best European chocolates. This isn’t surprising, given her training at Le Cordon Bleu culinary arts institute and Patrick Roger chocolatier in France. The chocolates’ sleek looks, silky texture and complex flavors leave me wishing for more. Milk chocolate isn’t too sweet, and dark chocolate coating isn’t bitter, so I could really have a piece any time of the day (I wish!) and feel light and content.
Particularly delicious: four marshmallows in dark chocolate – $8.50, a bag of chocolate-dipped honecomb – $6, a box of almond turtles (8 pieces) – $12.50. The store on 3261 Browns Valley Road is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 6pm.
With two prime locations in Napa – a retail store on First Street and a stand in the popular Oxbow Public Market – Anette’s Chocolates are hard to miss. The spacious store on First Street has three show-cases filled with truffles, caramels, bars, and brittles. One can take them home or enjoy right away with a cup of tea or coffee: there’re a few tables inside and on the patio. I wish the store had more character: the rows of bottled chocolate sauce, fudge, and drinking chocolate mixes make it look a bit like a souvenir shop.
Anette’s truffles are good: intense and flavorful, but perhaps a little straightforward. Among 15 or so different kinds I tried, my favorites were a charmingly disheveled and wonderfully nut-rich pecan flip with milk chocolate, and an intense tart cherry truffle, which would be interesting to pair with a big red wine.
For those interested to continue the chocolate exploration, there are about 40 other flavors to try. The store on First Street also does by-appointment tours and tastings.
Particularly delicious: large pecan flips – $ 4.95. Truffles and caramels are $1.60 a piece; a bag of 20 or so ‘seconds’ (less perfectly-looking pieces) at $19 is a steal when you’re buying for yourself. The store on 1321 First Street is open every day from 10 am (Sunday 11.30 am) until 6 pm, Friday – Saturday until 10 pm.
Vintage Sweet Shoppe
The oldest chocolate shop in Napa (established in 1978), Vintage Sweet Shoppe is located in the quiet and cosy corner of town, in the restored 19-century Hatt/Napa Mill buildings. Chocolates and wine share the space, and the store offers a chocolate and wine pairing. There’re also a few tables outside to enjoy a cup of coffee with a selected treat.
While I was intrigued by a chocolate and wine pairing, I ultimately bought some chocolates to taste at home. Of my selection, some were better than others. Chocolate-covered honeycomb was so hard, I feared for my teeth. Pecan flip was fine but had fewer nuts, compared to the one at Anette’s Chocolates. A chili truffle was intense and hot – a great wake-up treat after a heavy dinner.
Chili chocolate costs $14.95 for 0.5 pound, a box of 12 assorted truffles – $28.95. The store on 530 Main Street is open every day from 9am to 10pm.