Hot Chocolate at Café Pasqual’s, Santa Fe, USA

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The motto of Café Pasqual’s is ‘Panza llena, Corazon content!’ which means full stomach, happy heart. Over the past 3 days Café Pasqual’s did both for us; filled our stomachs (several times) and gave us warm and very happy hearts. Located just a couple of blocks away from the main plaza of stunning Santa Fe, the oldest capital city in the US and a magnet for artists and art lovers, it and all of the surrounding buildings are made from a modern version of the traditional adobe houses made with sun dried bricks of earth and water. At 8 am the sky was a perfectly crisp blue, and slowly but surely everything started waking up. The artists were setting up their turquoise jewlery in the plaza, and the tourists were already out and ready with their cameras, many of them lined up in front of Café Pasqual’s.

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Café Pasqual is named after the folk saint of Mexican and New Mexican kitchens and cooks, San Pasqual. His image hangs in the kitchens of many homes and restaurants in particular around New Mexico. Born on May 24, 1540, San Pasqual was a Franciscan Friar assigned to kitchen duties. The story goes that he created incredible meals with simple foods he found in the kitchen. His fellow Friars would see him meditating and praying while he was cooking and believed he was being helps by angels. Then date of his passing, May 17th, is celebrated around the world as the Feast of San Pasqual.

San Pasqual restaurant keeps this spirit of taking simple foods and turning them into incredible meals. Inside the dinning room is a celebration covered in hand painted Mexican tiles and murals by renowned Mexican painter Leovigildo Martinez. The food matches the atmosphere. It is colourful, flavourful and exciting with a New Mexican feel. Unfortunately we weren’t able to sit in the dinning room once during our trip due to the popularity of the restaurant, but we had their famous breakfast burritos twice during our stay which we took with us and ate in the plaza. We also had dinner twice (take out as well), which had specialty dishes like home made tamales with red chilli chicken, incredible mole enchiladas with cilantro rice, jicama salad and corn torte (hmmm my mouth is watering as I type this).

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And then there was the hot chocolate. Mentioned simply as Mexican Hot Chocolate, it was delicious and was the perfect start to our chilly but sunny Santa Fe mornings. Rich chocolate, cinnamon and a touch of chilli, all very subtle and beautifully blended. Because we got it “to go”, it came in a large paper cup with a plastic lid (usually this is a no-no) but I drank the whole thing and craved more. It was so easy to drink, such a beautiful way to start a day.

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Verdict: A true party in your mouth, New Mexican style. Café Pasqual’s, 121 Don Gaspar, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

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Hot Chocolate at Common Bond, Houston, USA

 

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Houston has been in need of a beautiful bakery for quite some time now, at least in my opinion. So when Common Bond finally opened a few weeks ago, we didn’t wait for an invite! On this corner in Houston there used to be an old historic house which housed an antique store. When the store burnt down over a year ago we wondered what would take its place and not surprisingly a very modern looking building popped up. Common Bond set up in the corner, and they’ve created a stunning space. It has incredibly high ceilings and windows that go from the floor all the way to the roof on three sides of the café. The whole space is filled with lots of seating and the baristas make your coffee (and hot chocolate) right in the middle. When you first enter you walk through a twisty line (often a very long line) to get to a never ending display case filled with rich and delicate looking desserts, chocolate cupcakes, multi-coloured macaroons, tiramisu and of course a selection of freshly made breads. While waiting in line you can watch bakers and pastry chefs doing their magic in the back.

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Montrose has no shortage of interesting and delicious spots to stop. In fact pretty much all of my favourite places to eat are along this road in Montrose and if you are a coffee lover this area is as far as you have to go. Now with the opening of Common Bond, this is definitely the area you want to be in for hot chocolates as well. Their hot chocolate is made from Valrhona Manjori, prepared by staff wearing white shirts, black aprons and white hats looking at cool as can be. This chocolate even though it is a dark, 64% cocoa tasted quite sweet and was very easy and enjoyable to drink. Paired with one of their many chocolate desserts it would be death by chocolate, a happy and colourful death by chocolate.

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Verdict: Glad to see Houston is slowly, but surely getting some good hot chocolate options. Common Bond is a stunning and happy place and you won’t be disappointed with their hot chocolate if you have a bit of a sweet tooth. Common Bond, 1706 Westheimer Rd, Houston, USA

Hot Chocolate at Kilwins, Baltimore, USA

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Baltimore is known as the Charm City and after having spent a couple of days there I can definitely see why. Charming is the perfect word for it. Walking along the waterfront past a range of ships and boats, an old power plant has been turned into one of the most beautiful book stores I have seen (if you go inside you can still see the structure of the old power plant). If you keep walking along the harbour, past Little Italy, through Harbor East and into historic Fells Point, that is where you will find Kilwins.

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I had a hard time finding Kilwins, or rather a hot chocolate along the waterfront, as charming little pubs with busy terraces are what is popular here rather than coffee/chocolate shops. I was actually on my way back to the hotel to take a taxi to the airport when I stumbled upon Kilwins. I was a bit hesitant at first, because Kilwins is your typical looking sweet shop. They have an icecream counter (which was very popular today), with the display case filled with fudge, toffee and caramel and lots of salt water taffy chews. There were chocolates of every shape and size in flavours such as blue cheese toffee, bacon maple and stout beer. Near the window a young man was making candy apples and crunchy brittle fresh.

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I, again hesitantly, ordered a hot chocolate. With all of the sugar surrounding me I was worried it would be too sweet. But I was very pleasantly surprised. I ordered their sea salt caramel hot chocolate and loved it. The sea salt caramel rather than making it taste sweeter actually seemed to round it out and just make it so easy to drinks. I drank every last sip of it while sitting on the docks, watching the Baltimore waterfront and a steady stream of locals dressed in orange Orioles t-shirts walk by (there was a big baseball game today apparently …).

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Verdict: Surprisingly nice treat…choose the sea salt caramel and take it over to the waterfront to enjoy.   Kilwanis, 1625 Thames Street, Baltimore, USA

Hot Chocolate at Francois Payard Bakery, New York City, USA

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There is no shortage of good hot chocolates in New York City. There is no shortage of anything really in New York City. This city attracts some of the best from around the world and luckily for the locals, some of the best pastry chefs. Francois Payard is one of those pastry chefs. His CV says it all, pastry chef in Paris at La Tour d’Argent, at Lucas Carton, at Le Bernardin, all set him up to be named Pastry Chef of the Year by the James Beard Foundation in 1995. And this is just the tip of the iceberg really.

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So as we walked towards his West Houston St. location between Soho and Greenwich Villiage, expectations were high. It was 8 am but there was already a steady trickle of locals coming in for their morning bread/coffee/pastry fix before starting their day. The space was much smaller and cosier than I expected. Around the entrance there were shelves covered in little boxes of multi-coloured macaroons, beautiful chocolates coated with colourful designs, copies of Francois Payard’s multiple cookbooks. On one side of the door there was an old waffle machine and Kitchenaid Mixer, neither I suspect have worked for a long time, but were a lot of fun in that environment. The counter was, as you would expect, jam packed with all sorts of deliciousness; éclairs, tarte au citron, crème caramel, mousse au chocolate, whatever you had a craving for, sugar wise, it was here and looked perfect. Along the walls there were large towers of macaroons, examples of the kinds of fancy cakes you could order for a special occasion.

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There were, however, a couple of things I didn’t like about this little spot, things that would be so easy to fix. The staff this early Sunday morning had chosen rap and hip hop with a lot of swearing as background music for the day and it was really far too loud, so loud in fact it felt more like a night club than a Sunday morning. On top of that, and this is a big thing for me, all the drinks were presented in paper cups, regardless of whether you stayed in or took out. Hot Chocolates in paper cups to me taste like paper cups rather than like hot chocolate, and for a business that is all about quality chocolate, it was a tough one to swallow.

The hot chocolate, even with of these things fighting against it, was beautiful. It was rich and creamy yet still light and airy. It was not a thick hot chocolate as I had expected, but rather a perfectly light option to start any day with. It has a slight malty taste, not too sweet, not too chocolaty, very subtle and satisfying. Mine was made with water but the woman at the counter did mention that if I preferred it could be made with milk. I ordered a small (which in a large paper cup was enough to satisfy probably 3 people).

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Verdict: A very nice hot chocolate but bring your earplugs…and your favourite mug to make it perfect.  Francois Payard Bakery, 116 West Houston St., New York City, USA

Hot Chocolate at Bouchon Bakery, New York City, USA

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As I have mentioned in blogs before, NYC is the playground of world famous chefs and pastry chefs, many of whom open little bakeries that tempt us and make us crave delicious French pastries all the time. If you are in the vicinity of the Rockefeller Center, start at Bouchon Bakery first before mixing and mingling with the tourists.

Bouchon Bakery was created by superstar chef Thomas Keller and executive pastry chef Sebastien Rouxel, both with impressive CVs. They have a handful of these bakeries around the country in the cities where Chef Keller’s restaurants are.

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Since our hotel was conveniently close by, over the course of 4 visits we tasted many of their stunning desserts. All tasted just like the best versions of the real deal straight from Paris (but with a slightly more NYC price tag). The lemon tart with meringue was to die for, the éclairs were perfect to grab and eat on the go. They also made these little brownies in the shapes of corks and called them, as you can guess, bouchons (French for corks). Each was individually packaged and I lost count of how many of those I ate. I also tried the almond chocolate croissant which was so good I ate the whole thing before I even took a sip of my hot chocolate. They even have treats for dogs including a dog bone/pastry made with foie gras. Ah those pampered New York City dogs…

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This morning was Mother’s Day, and from our seats inside of the bakery we had a view of an outside studio that had been set up for the Today show. They were filming about 10 mothers getting pedicures and massages live to air. The public were waving signs wishing their mom’s happy birthday and hoping that the cameras would see them and transmit their message across the US.

My hot chocolate came in a paper cup….this seems to be a theme in bakeries in NYC, even with famous owners. I think it might be because of how everyone seemed be consuming their drinks here; on the go. I found this hot chocolate was very nice, light and easy to drink. Although I will note that each time I had it it tasted a little different, sometimes a bit too watered down, so the quality was inconsistent. But it was a nice hot chocolate and I will be back again…

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Verdict: They have a beautiful terrace outside surrounded by bushes that block the view of the traffic but still give you a view and feel for the area. Definitely grab a chocolate brouwnie bouchon (or 2…or 4) and a hot chocolate. Bouchon Bakery, One Rockefeller Plaza, New York City, USA

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Hot Chocolate at the Rodeo, Houston, USA

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When March comes around, all everyone seems to be talking about in Houston is Rodeo. This makes sense of course because the rodeo in Houston is big, big like Texas, seriously big. When I first arrived in Houston I was disappointed that there weren’t any cowboy hats and cowboy boots to be seen on the streets, it just isn’t that kind of place despite its location. But one month a year everyone dusts off those boots and hats, puts them on and heads over to the Rodeo. In fact this year 2.48 million people attended the rodeo! Yup, they don’t do things small here.

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There is so much to the Houston Rodeo that it would just be impossible to fully describe it here. In one area you have the livestock shows happening during the day. Cows, pigs, goats all being brushed and prettied up and showed off. Sheep dogs compete to see who can round up 3 little sheep the fastest. In another corner several sheep, horses, cows and pigs are just about to or have just given birth surrounded by an audience of fascinated adults and children. There is a large area with stores to buy yourself a cowboy hat, boots, jackets. Outside are a selection of large tents are filled with food, in particular BBQ including giant turkey legs that look like they have come straight out of the Flintstones. Beyond that there is a large area with an amusement park that has almost every ride you can imagine. There is another arena with horse shows and races, and smaller one with little pigs racing around a track. Then of course there is the main attraction that starts every night at 6 pm and goes until late in the stadium, the rodeo itself. To start, there’s the nightly competition, which is a couple of hours of bareback riding, team roping, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing and mutton bustin’ and then a concert to finish off the night. To top all of that off there are all the side events, a wine festival, a chili cook-off, trail rides, parades and the list goes on and on and on. There is really no shortage of things happening during rodeo time.

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So as this is a hot chocolate blog, I just had to find a hot chocolate so I could share the rodeo with you. Unfortunately, the one thing rodeo is not about is hot chocolate, and the one I found and bought was so absolutely disgusting that we didn’t even drink it, and the stall didn’t even have a name on it. To be honest I have no idea what was in the cup. But really people don’t go to the Rodeo to drink hot chocolate…unless they had some special Rodeo hot chocolates. BBQ hot chocolate, hot chocolate flavoured with BBQ ribs, or maybe even come with a little juicy rib to stir through it. Fried hot chocolate, Twinkie hot chocolate, the options are endless…very possibly all incredibly disgusting…but endless.

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Verdict: A million reasons to visit Houston Rodeo. Hot Chocolate isn’t one of them…but that’s ok. Houston Rodeo is a crazy thing. Houston Rodeo

 

Hot Chocolate at Southside Espresso, Houston, USA

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Houston has fallen in love for coffee and fallen hard. Not for watery, non descript coffee, for real coffee. I am indifferent, completely, but this has made my other half, who will (strangely) choose coffee over hot chocolate any day, very very happy. There have been several new and very good coffee shops open in Houston which we have been trying out one by one. The latest on our list has been Southside Espresso.

Southside is like a secret, but not a very well kept one…the steady stream of foot traffic going in and out of this tiny little coffee shop is proof that as much as we would like to keep this place a secret it is perhaps much too late. It is also perfectly located between Uchi (very good contemporary Japanese) and Little Bigs (incredible pulled pork sliders) to make it an important stop before or after lunch, dinner or anything really.

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Owner Sean Marshall opened this spot up late 2012 where he does his own roasting under the Fusion Beans brand. He also serves a wide selection of bottomless pots of loose leaf teas, a sommelier has chosen a selection of red, white and rose wines served by the glass and of course there’s some good ales on tap.

Inside it is tiny. Tiny, but full of good things. The beams in the ceiling have been painted with all sorts of colorful intricate designs. There is a cute terrace outside with a few tables and chairs. As with lots of good spots in Houston the tables are usually occupied by one or two students who seem to move in and stay for the whole day surfing the internet. Somehow though, our favorite table, the one just out front near the door, is always free when we visit.

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The other day we asked them how they make their hot chocolate, “ We make it in house, chocolate, a bit of vanilla and milk”. As we walked away he laughed and finishes up “ and plenty of sugar!”. He wasn’t joking. The hot chocolate at Southside is sweet, too sweet for me. But if you like your hot chocolate sweet, you will quickly become a fan of this little spot.

But I will never forget this hot chocolate, not for its flavor but because it is truly a work of art. The baristas always turn the milk and chocolate syrup into incredibly elaborate designs. I basically pay the price of the hot chocolate just to see what they will draw on it and am, understandably, disappointed the few times I just get plain froth. To see just some of their creations check out the pictures on their Facebook page.

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Verdict: I’m still in the search for some really good hot chocolates in Houston and am hoping some of the coffee shops that put so much time and effort into offering incredible coffee, tea, wine, beer will take up the challenge. Southside is close…maybe a bit less sugar? Southside, 904-C Westheimer, Houston, TX, USA

Hot Chocolate at Maxine’s, Bastrop, United States

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Bastrop is a small town right on the banks of the Colorado River near Austin. It was named a Distinctive Destination in 2010 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in recognition of the City’s work to preserve its historic character, promote heritage tourism and extend its welcome. We visited recently, and found that it does all that so well.

Bastop is really cute. Not only does the city have more than 100 historic homes, most of them beautifully restored, but the main street is straight off a movie set. In fact several movies were filmed here including the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Hope Floats, The Tree of Life, Bernie, A Perfect World to name but a few. This is what I imagined all towns looked like in Texas, but better.

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Maxine’s Cafe is at the centre of it all. It has been named as one of the 40 best places for breakfast in Texas by Texas Monthly magazine and one of the 40 best small town cafes in Texas. Their menu had all the Texas classics. Home baked buttermilk biscuit topped with a scrambled egg and bacon with gravy, or a bowl of stone ground grits with your choose cheese, cinnamon, brown sugar, raisins, blueberries or pecans on top. If you want something a bit bigger you can have chicken fried steak or a stack of twelve pecan praline griddlecakes served with a quarter pound pile of bacon. I was tempted by Milgas which is blend of jalapenos, onion, tomato and corn tortilla strips, eggs, bacon topped with cheddar cheese and serviced with flour or corn tortillas and a nice cup of hot chocolate.

My hot chocolate arrived at the same time as my meal and a water served in a large jar with a straw in it. The hot chocolate was too sweet for my taste but I can see how it would be a popular staple around here.

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After all that food it was easy to spend the rest of the day wondering around the town. The tourism office had some really good guides for walking tours you can do yourself. Down the street was an old drug store that still serves homemade sodas. My favourite thing about Bastrop though were the wild chickens.  A few blocks away from the main street is a small street that recently became a Historic Chicken Sanctuary to protect the flock of wild chickens that have long called this area home for many, many years. Signs have been put up all along the road to let drivers know not only that they have entered the Farm Street Sanctuary but that they need to slow down to avoid running over one of these special chickens. Random I know, but I loved it.

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Verdict: Good food, welcoming atmosphere and really friendly staff.  They are known for their breakfast, not their hot chocolate and I hope I will have the chance to come back for more. The people of Bastrop are lucky. Maxine’s Café, 905 Main St. Bastrop, Texas.