Forget all those Valentine’s Days you skipped the chocolate because you were watching your weight.
Haven’t we all agreed that it’s fine to eat a piece of delicious chocolate every day? If you haven’t had this epiphany, get on board! Here’s the secret: If you indulge in a piece of dark chocolate, you won’t be tempted to graze on ridiculous empty calories, (like that handful of sugary cereal).
This year, upgrade your romance with chocolate. Ignore the dime-store hearts with their vanillian (a fake flavoring) and PGPR (a cocoa butter substitute). Ask your beloved for some delicious, artisanal chocolate from one of these amazing local sources.
The European-based Leonidas is more than 100 years old, and still makes chocolates using the traditional methods of its Belgian founder. The chocolates, plus hard-to-find favorites like candied orange peels and Pâte de Fruits, are flown in weekly during the busy season.
Valentine’s Day Favorites: Owner Marie Douailly says that the half-pound box is very popular at just $22, and people frequently come in and buy six or 10 of them. Even more festive are the heart-shaped boxes, which range in price from $35-48. 59 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago, 312-929-2323; 1907 Central St., Evanston, 847-686-0910; 1348 Shermer Road, Northbrook, 847-686-0100
Pediatrician Heather Johnston changed careers from doctor to chocolatier after taking a class at the French Pastry School and realizing that her growing hobby was meant to be her vocation. She opened Veruca in late 2011, and found instant acclaim for her gorgeous and delicious reinventions of classic American tastes. Currently, the retail space is simply the front nook of the production kitchen, but she welcomes customers there and also sells through local stores like Foodstuffs and the Goddess & Grocer, as well as the Veruca website.
Valentine’s Day Favorites: From simple to sublime, you can choose a box of nine bonbons or four delicious turtles for $20, or move up to a stunning 36-piece, twist-open box for $75. Don’t miss the fabulous caramels! 2409 N. Western Ave., Chicago, 773-998-2462
Founder and chocolatier Katrina Markoff started her chocolate voyage in Paris at the Cordon Bleu shortly after graduating from Vanderbilt. She continued on to Spain, where she apprenticed with the famed Ferran Adrià, and continued her travels through Australia and Asia. Along the way, the idea for Vosges’ international flavor palette was born. Markoff’s delicious infusions of non-traditional flavors, like chili, curry and balsamic vinegar, have won her deserved acclaim.
Valentine’s Day Favorites: The gift to give from Vosges this holiday is their Noir Truffle Collection. At $48 it comes in a heart box with a modern design. For smaller gifts, the bars are popular and cost about $8. 520 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, 312-644-9405; 951 W. Armitage, Chicago, 773-296-9866; also available at their O’Hare shop for that last-minute purchase on the way home from a business trip
In business for 30 years, Bob Piron hasn’t stayed at the top of the chocolate heap by cutting corners. He trained in Belgium and continues to make exquisite small-batch chocolate. Any doubts, just take a deep breath when you walk into the store and let the aroma sweep you away to a very happy place. To further the bliss, order a hot chocolate. It’s drinkable chocolate ganache, served with fresh whipped cream.
Valentine’s Day Favorites: Going old school, Piron brings back red-velvet hearts for the holiday. Fill with a half-pound for $27 or go big and get a full pound for $50 (make sure to include the Passion Fruit Ganache and a few Hartjies). For friends, a solid chocolate heart costs just $2.25 and a bag of little solid hearts costs $7. 509-A Main St., Evanston, 847- 864-5504
A veteran pastry chef, Uzma Sharif decided after 16 years spent working in restaurants to focus on chocolate. She started small, selling at the farmers’ market in Western Springs, but soon her following grew and she opened a retail boutique in the South Loop. She makes all the chocolate on site, and even offers classes during her less-busy times. We loved her original flavors that reflect her South Asian heritage like the Kashmiri Chai Truffle.
Valentine’s Day Favorites: For romance, the handmade paper heart box is the play for $55. To give to friends, she offers smaller, three-piece boxes for $7.50. 1823 S. Halsted St., Chicago, 312-694- 3471
Special Note: 2nd Fridays Gallery Night, when the Chicago Arts District galleries and shops open their doors, is February 14 from 6-10 p.m. For more information, visit the Chicago Arts Districtwebsite.