When it comes to chocolate, there's the good stuff, and then there's the really good stuff. Once you get past mass-market chocolate like Hershey's, the next step up is Godiva and Ghirardelli, which are both certainly good-quality and widely available in Houston.
But the really good chocolate traditionally comes from Europe. Parisian chocolatiers such as La Maison du Chocolat and Chocolat Michel Cluizel, and Belgian makers such as Neuhaus and Leonidas, are just a few of the standard bearers of truly great chocolate. In the past, acquisition of such chocolate usually involved a trip to New York City or to Paris or Brussels.
But several years ago Houston businessman David Heiland decided to follow his passion and open Chocolat du Monde. His objective was to bring the world's great chocolates to Houston. And a visit to this tiny sliver of storefront on a side street in Rice Village reveals the fruits of his labor -- row after row of jewel-like Leonidas, Neuhaus and Michel Cluizel chocolates.
Heiland procures the chocolates directly from chocolatiers around the world and has them shipped overnight in heat- and humidity-resistant containers. Chocolat du Monde is the only chocolate shop in Texas to carry such a diverse collection of world-class chocolates.
On a recent visit I sampled four of these chocolate wonders. From Leonidas, I tasted the signature gianduja (almond and hazelnut paste) praliné and a pristine coffee-and-chestnut praliné (praliné is the traditional European term for "chocolates," not to be confused with the American "praline," the pecan candy). Next up was a delicious Neuhaus truffle with a twist -- the filling was a creamy caramel concoction rather than the traditional chocolate ganache. And the pièce de résistance was a cheeky "golf ball" from Michel Cluizel -- a perfectly crafted sphere of white chocolate encapsulating a creamy center of gianduja.
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But Heiland doesn't just import chocolate goodies -- he makes them too. Chocolate-covered candy apples in Halloween themes are currently available, and chocolate-coated strawberries are a big seller around Valentine's Day. A tray of irresistible homemade fudge is temptingly placed next to the checkout register. And Heiland insists that he makes the best hot chocolate in Houston. Considering that the chocolate he starts with is some of the best in the world -- the really good stuff -- it's a plausible claim.