SoHo Hot Chocolate Tour

For my Artist Date this week, I took myself on a tour of three renowned hot chocolate establishments in SoHo. And I ended up having quite an adventure, which is of course the whole point of the Artist Date, so I felt compelled to share it with you!

The Preparation

First, a couple days beforehand, I spent an hour or so (I’m embarrassed to admit) looking up different hot chocolate best-of lists for NYC. I was prepared to jet around the city, but it so happened that a few of them were in the SoHo/Tribeca area of Manhattan, an area in which I really haven’t spent much time. It occurred to me that perhaps a good date plan would be to spend some time exploring the area between restaurants, to soak up a part of the city I’d never really experienced – and to walk off three hot chocolates. (Indeed, I wondered how my stomach would feel about three hot chocolates in two hours. Spoiler alert: not thrilled.)

Let me just say to those who will inevitably ask, YES, I have tried the hot chocolate at City Bakery. If you like a giant marshmallow, it’s great; if you don’t (like me), it’s less exciting. Although I do have my eye on their February Hot Chocolate Festival. And I should also put in a plug for the delicious Max Brenner near Union Square! So many amazing flavors and a cute, fun store experience. But THIS hot chocolate tour was focused on SoHo.

Now, to be clear, I put these three locations into my calendar without a single memory of what they were known for, so I was really going into this adventure with an open mind!

Hot Cocoa #1: Dominique Ansel Bakery

My first stop was the Dominique Ansel Bakery at 189 Spring Street, which I quickly realized I’ve heard of for years, as it’s the home of the “Cronut”, an amazing-sounding croissant doughnut. Sadly, I have never tried one. (The whole “wait in line for hours” thing is generally not my style.) Having stocked up before this date on some actual lunch, the better to anchor all this sugar, I wasn’t planning on buying anything other than the hot chocolate. However…

I realized while in line that the sign announcing “Out of Cronuts!” wasn’t hung up in its place, as I could see the empty Velcro above. My heart leapt in my chest. Could it be? Might I be fortunate enough to get to try one?! When I got to the cashier, I sweetly asked if there happened to be any Cronuts left. To my (unwarranted yet sudden) disappointment, he told me that the man just ahead of me in line had bought the last one. Nooooooooo! I pulled myself together, smiled, and said, “No worries! Just the hot chocolate then!”

And here it is:

You can see that it looks like….a normal hot chocolate. I confess it tasted like one too. Huh, I thought. Are they all going to be this…basic? I wasn’t disappointed, per se, as it was a very chilly day to be walking around, and so my hot cocoa did exactly the job it was supposed to do, warming up my tummy and making my mouth all happy. But I was underwhelmed.

To be fair, they had some amazing looking pastries, but I had a long afternoon of hot cocoa ahead of me, so I exhibited restraint. It also looks like maybe I should have tried their Blooming Hot Chocolate, but that’s just an addition of a fancy marshmallow, and imo a hot chocolate should be able to stand on its own.

From there, I walked a couple blocks south and one block or so east to MarieBelle at 484 Broome Street. And here, the date took a definite turn.

Hot Cocoa #2: MarieBelle

Oh. My. Goodness. From the moment I walked into this store, I knew this whole Hot Chocolate Date idea had been a great idea, if only to have discovered this store. It was GORGEOUS. The front half was a retail store for the most incredible collection of stunningly packaged chocolates and other goodies in a variety of styles and forms and flavors. I’m trying to keep the overdescriptive adjectives to a minimum, but my pictures just don’t do justice to how beautiful this store was. Here’s the view when you walk in the front door:

And here’s a view of the retail area:

Then, at the back, there was a little sign that said “Cacao Bar,” and when I walked through, I found myself in a tiny but very fancy teashop. This was the view from my little café table.

The menu was delightful. I could have gotten high tea, or actual (delicious-sounding) lunch food, or one of (I think) fifteen different hot chocolates! So many options! I can’t wait to go back with friends or guests in from out of town. It is such a destination, charming, opulent, and incredibly stimulating.

And then I got my Tropical Orange Aztec Hot Chocolate.

You can’t tell from my limited photography skills, but that is a very small teacup. With some of the richest, thickest, most delicious hot chocolate I have ever had. It took me longer to sip this than it had taken me to drink the entire Dominique Ansel hot chocolate that was 2.5 times its size.

There aren’t words. Other than to say, I WILL BE GOING BACK. See you again soon, MarieBelle.

The Walk of Thought

From MarieBelle, I had a longer walk down West Broadway to the Tribeca location of Maman where I had planned on having my third hot cocoa (again, with no idea what their specialty was). But during this walk, I began to become really aware of my surroundings and my thoughts.

I realized that I was looking at my home of 8+ years with new eyes. I felt like a tourist in my own city! Everything felt new and interesting and exciting. I was so conscious of how charming SoHo was, with its cobblestone streets and quirky buildings mixing old and new. My mind was starting to map out a part of town I have never needed to grid in my head. (I’m a very map-oriented person; I miss the way driving gives you such a sense of location and physical relativity.)

SoHo (the area “south of Houston,” pronounced HOW-stun) slowly turned into Tribeca (the “triangle below Canal Street”), and I felt the buildings change, growing taller and more modern, while the streets became more clogged visually and audibly as I neared the Holland Tunnel. My mood shifted to match it, noticing too the gray skies above and the wind that had picked up.

Hot Chocolate #3: Maman

Maman is a little restaurant/bakery tucked into the back of a PaperSource at 211 West Broadway. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that the PaperSource is tucked onto the front of Maman, haha, I don’t know. But they complement each other beautifully. Very refined-rustic-luxe chic: cornflower blues and white trim and weathered wood and soft white sheer fabrics with twinkle lights. This palette is a stone’s throw away from my ideal home decorating aesthetic, so I was delighted to get to spend the rest of my afternoon here, prepping a book for work.

At this point, though, I was really dubious of my ability to drink a third hot chocolate. In the name of adventure, I had to, so I looked at their hot chocolate menu to see what my options were. Quickly I realized that I chosen this place because it had a lavender hot chocolate. There was no other option at that point! (Though someone’s matcha green tea mocha looked excellent, if irrelevant to this quest.)

This was also a very good, rich hot chocolate, although not nearly as much so as MarieBelle. But a definite step up from Dominique Ansel. And lavendar was a delicious addition!

I also got myself a croissant, both because my tummy needed something to balance out all the sugar and because the entire afternoon was reminding me so heavily of Paris. Something about the exploring, and the weather, and the fact that all three bakeries were French, and perhaps the fact that the last real trip I took was in Paris, all combined to overwhelm me with longing.

Let’s Talk about Paris

When I was in junior high, I started French class much later than everyone else – one semester and a month or so later, in fact. My guidance counselor and future French teacher were surprisingly willing to take a chance on me when my second semester elective was not the right fit for me. I had to work twice a week with a tutor during lunch, but I had caught up with the class within about four weeks. Even then, I remember there was something about French that just felt so natural to me.

Later, when we studied Paris and the metro and French geography, I had the strangest feeling, like I’d learned all of this before. It felt so instinctive! Elements of French design, like toile and white painted cabinets and the rustic chic thing, had been on my short list of loves for years. And when I was in Paris a couple years ago, it felt like coming home.

All this to say, that I desperately want to return to France. To explore the countryside this time, to see even more of the châteaux, to speak all the French I possibly can (and maybe start to get better at my audible comprehension, which is by far my weakest) – and to eat a whole lot more cheese and baguettes! It may not be an option for several years, but what a balm to discover a little bit of Paris in my own city.

The Verdict

MarieBelle was the clear winner for me in terms of pure hot chocolate. I also think it’s the most fun for people visiting the city; the atmosphere, the décor, and the menu have something memorable for everyone.

That being said, all three of these were delightful (and French!) in their own way. If you’re dying to try the cronut, Dominique Ansel is your man; the bakery is fairly empty on a mid-winter afternoon.

Mostly, I’m so grateful that I pushed myself to take this adventure. This is the whole point of the Artist Date: to explore something new and to be alone with our thoughts and feelings as we fill our creative well with new images and smells and sounds.

And finally, as I have been craving travel and adventure lately, how comforting to realize I can find it in my own backyard.

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