Friday, January 29, 2010

MARCIE BLAINE: We Made it Ourselves - NY Times Magazine

In her column, We Made It Ourselves, Charlotte Druckman writes about restaurants and small businesses with interesting house-made treats.

You gotta get a gimmick, Miss Mazzeppa advised in “Gypsy.” That might work when it comes to stripping, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to the art of making chocolate. If you’re going to mix garam masala and cocoa or add oyster water to fudge, you’d better have a great reason — and even greater skill, or it could go terribly wrong. In the case of Philadelphia’s Marcie Turney, however, it usually goes deliciously right. Marcie Blaine, her new line of artisanal chocolates, takes most of its cues from the micro-local establishments she owns with her partner, Valerie Safran.

In 2002, the duo set up shop in what they affectionately refer to as “the red-light district of Center City.” Open House, a home furnishings boutique, was their turf-marking flag in the asphalt. Since then, they’ve inaugurated a new business each year on South 13th Street. First came Lolita, a modern Mexican canteen with a B.Y.O.T. policy (that T would be for tequila); then Grocery, a gourmet food market with prepared dishes, packaged sundries and a catering arm; next, Bindi, a contemporary Indian restaurant; followed by Verde, a flower dispensary that also stocks ladies’ accessories; and, as of a few months ago, the chocolate kiosk, which is tucked away in the floral operation. At night, the kitchen in which the tempering takes place will become the pasta station for the duo’s next project, Barbuzzo, a Mediterranean wine bar that abuts Verde and should be customer-ready in March.

For her bonbons, Turney relies on organic cream and butter from nearby Lancaster County. Her fillings are informed by local, seasonal produce and the flavors of her professional cooking spaces, namely those from Mexico, India and the Mediterranean. The current truffle selection includes the well-calibrated Lolita Hot Chocolate, which features cinnamon ganache and ancho chile; the Bindi Madras, whose curry-coconut combo takes on an unexpectedly nutty, hickory-ish life of its own; and the Italian Prosecco, with its subtle boozy kick. More Philly-centric chocolates are also notable: Busy Bee Farm supplies the fragrant purple flowers for the Lavender Vanilla; the city’s beloved La Colombe coffee (the Corsica blend) meets Maker’s Mark whiskey in the Tipsy Poodle, so named for its alcoholic content and the chocolate curls that cover it; and the Cajeta’s caramel is made from Pennsylvania goat’s milk.

All are worth tasting (except maybe the Avocado-Lime number). Then there are the ones you’ll want seconds of, like, say, the Almond Brown Butter, which is the only good excuse for white chocolate. The Rosemary Pinenut sets the Italian nuts into a thick, herb-infused caramel that’s offset by its dark-chocolate exterior and, for contrast, Maldon sea salt.

For a touch of cupidity, Turney is working on a few aphrodisiac truffles. Fortunately, oysters are not involved, and if the White-Truffle-Cognac preview is any indication, the finished products will, at the very least, win the hearts of those with discerning palates. No striptease necessary.

The chocolates are $2 each or available by the box ($7.95 for 4 pieces, $11.95 for 6 pieces, $28.95 for 15 pieces and $44.95 for 24 pieces). There is no minimum order for shipping.

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