By Max B. Mangè
Whether you are planning on sharing some sweets with a special someone on the upcoming Hallmark™ holiday or are just craving dessert, we at The Paper. have got you covered. This week I left my savory-centered comfort zone to scour the city for its choicest confectionaries.
You’ve probably noticed Buffet’s 12-foot candy cane statue while driving down Lomas, and the shop lives up to the statue’s promise. This local landmark feels like a trip back through time. Despite Buffet’s regularly updated candy offerings, the store maintains a strong 1960s vibe. It seems like every surface not obscured by sweets is white, red or gilded.
This is obviously a busy time of year for confection “shoppes,” and because Buffet’s imposes a five-person limit due to COVID restrictions, I tried to choose my chocolates quickly. It was no easy feat. They have every classic chocolate you could imagine and plenty of their own creations as well. I went with a selection of truffles, skewing toward the caramel-filled end of the spectrum. For each truffle I chose, the staff asked me “milk or dark?” And I couldn’t resist the chocolate-covered pretzels adorned with tiny edible candy hearts, or their green chile pistachio bark. That local favorite features Hatch green chile powder blended into milk chocolate and topped with crumbled roasted pistachio pieces from Alamogordo. It actually packed some heat, while still allowing the chocolate and pistachio flavors to come through.
Along one wall of the small confectionary were two dozen heart-shaped boxes of varied sizes and designs. They reminded me of an adorable news story that ran on KOAT-7 a few years back. A local man had been bringing his once-girlfriend, then wife, a box of Buffet’s chocolate truffles every year since 1979. That’s sweet. But the point of the story was that he was still using the box he’d first given her in 1979. Buffet’s encourages recycling: If you keep a Buffet’s V Day box, they will fill it up each year and waive the base box-charge—even decades later. After all, in 1979 Buffet’s was already an Albuquerque institution. They are celebrating their 65th anniversary this year.
After dipping into the classics on offer at Buffet’s, I wanted to try a spot with a more modern approach to all things chocolate. Eldora Craft Chocolate, with locations in the Sawmill Market and the North Valley, highlights the artisanal possibilities of fine cacoa beans much like a third-wave cafe does for the coffee bean. The intoxicating smell in this confectionery isn’t the melted sugar with touches of chocolate that we all know (and probably love), but an earthy, bittersweet, pit fruit and vegetal punch to the olfactory system. Eldora offers organic, single-origin chocolate in all its glory. They boast “responsibly sourced” cacao beans from many far-flung locales and combine the nibs with varying percentages of organic cane sugar and cocoa butter to craft their own bars in house. As the knowledgeable staff let me sample their Guatemalan, Nicaraguan and Tanzanian varietals, I felt like I was training to become a sommelier. Each bar offered a unique spectrum of nuanced flavors.
Eldora also crafts chocolate for less adventurous tastes. Their “inclusion” line pairs a more standard-tasting chocolate (made with beans from the Dominican Republic) with options including tart cherry, zesty mango piñon and “mole.” They also have a range of high-end truffles. I tried the blood orange, a stunning truffle topped with a candied piece of crimson-tinged rind. Imagine one of those orange-chocolate balls that you hit on the table to break into wedges, if it were both beautiful and intensely delicious.
Eldora has a special Valentine’s Day chocolate truffle box available at both locations; for $18, it includes a Strawberry Balsamic Truffle, Key Lime Truffle, Raspberry Caramel Heart-Shaped Truffle and a Pomegranate Rose Trophy Truffle. There are limited quantities of these curated sets, so get down to either location ASAP if you hope to get your, or a partner’s, hands on one.
Maybe that’s enough chocolate? Your valentine (or you) should have other options. Tonari No Mise is a hole in the wall, perfectly set up for COVID restrictions. Its name means, roughly, “the store next door,” and it sells both classic and unique takes on Japanese desserts. Here my usual savory focus is useful: Tonari No Mise is not only right around the corner from Magokoro, which serves up soulful and addictive bowls of authentic ramen; it was started by the same Nihonjin family. Like their already successful restaurant, Tonari No Mise has a clean, sharp and understated design. I settled on the strawberry dorayaki, basically two perfect little pancakes with fresh strawberries and natural-cherry-dyed-pink whipped cream sandwiched in between them, and a black sesame ice cream. Each was delicious in its own right, but even better when eaten in tandem. The hand-pulled ice cream, sprinkled with black sesame, was sweet but not overly so, allowing the sesame flavor to steal the show. I dutifully asked if they were planning any specials for Valentine's Day. They had been considering a V Day—as well as an anti-V Day—offering, but didn’t want to resort to carcinogen-containing food colorings and were not sure if the natural dyes they had hunted down and ordered online would arrive in time. They did not seem to be particularly concerned either way. This seems a clear sign of a quality spot; they have no interest in sacrificing standards to make a quick buck. And sitting on the bench out front on an unseasonably warm day, I can tell you, V Day or not, this is a cute-ass date spot.
My V Day message: Pass up the schlocky heart-shaped box of pre-selected chocolate truffles at Wal-whatever. Find your joy instead at Buffet’s legendary local chocolate factory, from Eldora’s ethically-sourced and intricate confections, or in Tonari No Mise’s local, quality approaches to sweets from the Far East.
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