Better Driving Through Chocolate
1326A Grand Ave., St. Paul, (651) 690-0075,
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m., except Thursday, 2:30 p.m.-8:00 p.m.
To those interested in calming traffic in these Cities, the sequence of events in and around my car last week may possess a certain clinical interest. It began, as many travails do, with a list. A To Do list, to be precise, on which were inscribed many and sundry tasks, the first of which was to call upon the new St. Paul home of Just Truffles and procure a dozen lumps of pure chocolate, butter, sugar, cream, and assorted flavorings for the purpose of professional sampling leading to the edification of the greater metropolis.
In this flower-wallpapered, sweetly fragrant, mirror-tabled storefront I met Robert Johnson, the large, bearded proprietor, who himself seemed to be sweetly fragrant, though this effect might have been conjured by the fields of handmade chocolate surrounding him. Johnson, who runs Just Truffles with his wife Kathleen, prides himself on the fact that his candies contain no adulterants, no waxes, no preservatives, no nothing but the best ingredients--which is what limits production to a mere 750 luscious, hyperpowered pieces a day. (Truffles, you see, are not mere chocolates: They are the plutonium of the candy world--chocolate, butter, and cream. They are the richest, most potent form of chocolate, and aficionados search them out from all over the globe--fully half of Just Truffles' product leaves the shop as mail order.)
I purchased a little less than two percent of that day's production, a dozen truffles of various flavors, for $29. (A single truffle runs $2.25, or $2.75 in a fancy gift box.) As I tucked my haul under my arm and prepared to abscond, Johnson offered me his newest creation, vanilla ganache enrobed by white chocolate, and I accepted it reluctantly, out of a certain obligation to truth and duty. I am not overly fond of white chocolate. I returned to my vehicle and piloted the craft down from Grand and Lexington to the winding crevasse of Ayd Mill Road, my white-chocolate truffle resting pale and knobby on the dash. Idly, with an air of frosty indifference, I nipped off the bottom. Buttery, I thought, with all the perfume of white chocolate, but none of the waxiness I've come to associate with the product. I casually sampled the vanilla-ganache center. Buttery, buttery, buttery: mild and silky as buttercups in spring--and suddenly, mysteriously, the truffle went missing.
Ascribing the disappearance to wood sprites or perhaps Neptunian interlopers, I groped the seat for a replacement. I found a Kahlua truffle, milk chocolate and coffee liqueur combined in a fluffy cream surrounded by dark, bittersweet chocolate. The net effect was one of concentrated bûche de Noël, and I expressed my joy by employing all my turn signals at once and playing Vivaldi's Four Seasons on my car horn. At this point I was driving south on Lexington, and the sight of residents approaching their windows, brows furrowed in musical appreciation, only served to enhance my pleasure.
I reached into the box and extracted a chocolate-malted truffle. Discovering it to be the perfect melding of soda-counter shake and gourmet tidbit, I swung gaily from lane to lane on West Seventh Street, whooping with joy. Many of my fellow drivers shared my happiness and gestured at me festively.
Next I plucked a lemon-cheesecake truffle from its nest and, finding it too sweet, proceeded to the raspberry truffle--white chocolate around a luscious raspberry/raspberry-liqueur/dark-chocolate center. Convinced that this potent combination was too marvelous to keep to myself, I went into a Highland Park hardware store and offered the shopkeep the uneaten half, going so far as to hygienically wipe off the bite marks with my sleeve. Sadly, the clerk was less interested in sweets than in explaining that he didn't have the combination to the safe and so, bright-cheeked and bright-eyed from my chocolate mainlining, I paid cash for a packet of screws and a tape gun and resumed my errands, leaving the parking lot just as several squad cars entered it, no doubt in pursuit of some dangerous criminal.
Continuing on my journey, I simultaneously merged onto Highway 55 and swooned over a pecan-turtle truffle, in which a dark chocolate cover held a stack of caramel, pecan, and chocolate-caramel ganache. Delectable, I thought: No wonder so many marriage-minded lovers take Johnson up on his offer to spell out some variation of "marry me?" with up to 14 truffles assembled in a clear-plastic rose tube. Could you refuse anyone anything with this stuff coursing through your veins? Next I headed to the airport and hit one of those bewildering midday traffic snarls. Instead of letting my temper flare, I took the opportunity to leave my vehicle and announce to the world that Just Truffles, a local establishment that last summer moved to Grand Avenue from its longstanding home in the St. Paul Hotel, has developed an international following of such luminaries as Luciano Pavarotti, Yo-Yo Ma, and Marie Osmond. (In fact, a truffle called "Tenor's Temptation"--made with chocolate, cream of coconut, and Malibu rum--is reportedly Pavarotti's favorite morsel. Fans from all over the country order it as a gift to the singer, who in turn has been known to wear the gold elastic from the box onstage for luck.)
Several drivers received my news about Just Truffles with such enthusiasm, they drove up on the embankment in what I can only imagine was an effort to make it to Grand Avenue posthaste. Owing in part to these hasty departures the traffic soon thinned out and I completed an airport errand. Multitasking, I also inhaled a tasty, but not very chocolatey, key-lime truffle that balanced sweet and tart much better than the lemon-cheesecake version.
In rapid succession I devoured a perhaps-too-sweet maple-walnut truffle, then rejoiced in the bounty of the American harvest by riding two-wheeled down Lyndale. I gulped a white-chocolate-Champagne truffle, which didn't taste much of Champagne but inspired me, in the style of the French, to buck tradition and drive north on a southbound-only avenue. Finally, I found the pièce de résistance, a dark-on-dark all-chocolate truffle that perfectly showcased Just Truffles' particular variety of chocolate, one that emphasizes balance over sharpness, and deep, penetrating flavor over the cinnamon-and-spice notes other styles offer. If this were a Scotch, it would be a dark blend; if it were a wine, it would be an old-vine zinfandel. To celebrate I treed a promenade of nuns and did doughnuts in a local daycare playground.
In sum, I can't remember a more pleasant day's driving, and I believe all readers will agree that there is likely no more efficacious way to calm the currents of traffic in our cities than the liberal distribution of pounds and pounds of truffles.
Just Truffles' truffles are available at the Grand Avenue store, online at www.justruffles.com, and also at: La Paperie, 783 Radio Drive, Woodbury, (651) 731-0325; Tickle Yer Fancy, 2000 W. Main St., Red Wing, (651) 388-1992; Hepzibah's Sweet Shoppe, 394 Lake Ave. S., Duluth, (218) 722-5049; and TLC's Secret Garden, 4738 Banning Ave., White Bear Lake, (651) 762-8934.
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Brown plans a demonstration of epic proportions, beginning with an appetizer of hot smoked Atlantic salmon with his famed wild-rice boxty cake and--mmmm--sea-urchin crème fraîche. The entrée will include pan-roasted hanger steak, which several of you have asked about recently, so there. To add to the fun at Cooks, the immensely amusing owner of the Local and Kieran's Irish Pub & Restaurant, Kieran Folliard, will be on hand to tell tales of Ireland--and if the past is any guide, Folliard will charm you so thoroughly, you'll have no choice whatsoever but to sign up for the four-course, $40 St. Patrick's Day feast at the Local March 19. It promises to be a night replete with dazzling menu options (think hearth-fired woodcock stuffed with foie-gras sourdough dressing, served with baby artichokes, pine nuts, and whiskey cream), live music, Irish beverages, and all the remarkable options the Local affords: Personally, I like to have a couple of black and tans and use the bathroom phones to page my friends, who wait innocently back at the table. For reservations call the Local, 931 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, (612) 904-1000; www.the-local.com.
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