It's an indulgence more than 1,000 years old, and we have yet to determine whether we believe it to be a food or a drug. We eat it, we crave it, we love it. Both research and myth condemn chocolate, claiming it is responsible for acne and tooth decay, and then in complete contradiction, both deify the ancient treat, proposing that it possesses healing properties, is an untapped resource as fountain of youth and simply makes us feel-good by releasing all those feel good brain chemicals. Food or drug, friend or foe, we care not.
Cocoa in the news: Each year at New York City's Chocolate Show, scores of chocolate lovers salivate, taste, ogle and buy nothing but chocolate. And arguably, the most unique part of the annual festivities is the fashion show. Runway models--who would never let the sweet stuff pass their lips for fear of it sticking to their hips--slink into dresses of all eras made from nothing but edible sweets. The runway room is kept icy cold to help prevent clothes from melting, but inevitably, the dripping dresses are half the fun of the show.
Cocoa oddities: Kooki Sushi makes bento look-alikes that are convincing sushi wannabes. While your brain wrestles with the classification of exactly what it's sensing (we imagine it's akin to eating blue Mac-n-Cheese), the colorful handrolls and sashimi pieces sweetly defy logic at www.kookisushi.com. If you don't fancy sushi, check out the chichi handbag look-alikes instead. Eat your way through a box of miniature chocolate versions of handbags you'd like to fill your closet with. Peruse the selection to find one that matches your outfit at http://store.yahoo.com/chocochocohouse
Cocoa sure thing: Chocolate Volcano Cake. If you're ever in Bali, head straight for Gado Gado in Seminyak, skip dinner and order the chocolate cake. A fist-sized mound of chocolate cake served with fresh whipped cream and a spoonful of blood mango sorbet. Stab it ever so lovingly with your spoon and warm chocolate gushes from the wounded cake like Old Faithful on a cold day. This confessed fair-weather chocolate fan ate no less than 21 of those little cakes in 32 days of travel. If Indonesia is a bit far to travel for your sweet tooth satisfaction, Williams-Sonoma sells a molten chocolate cake mix for $24, or use one of the dozens of recipes at www.starchefs.com, www.joyofbaking.com or www.foodnetwork.com.
Cocoa in the news: In September 2003, liquid chocolate covered three lanes of the Pinheiros highway in Sao Paulo, Brazil, when a tanker carrying the chocolate overturned and spilled all of its precious cargo. Brazilian media reported that children "stripped to their underwear ... covering themselves in chocolate." Though it sounds mildly disgusting to roll around on the highway in your underwear, we figure the scene is an often-fantasized scenario for chocoholics in the Northern Hemisphere.
Cocoa oddities: Funkin's Liquid Chocolate Indulgence is packaged in metallic bags that look like something the Jetsons left outside for the trash collector. With a shelf life of 12 months at room temperature, Funkin' products can be stirred and shaken (sorry, James), blended, chilled, poured, baked or drizzled into, onto, underneath, behind or after just about anything consumable. It's French, but is oddly enough, wildly popular in the U.K. A one-kilogram package is a whopping seven GPB and that's before shipping. On the (supposedly) non-consumable side, both chocolate massage oil and chocolate perfume make the grade as weird chocolate products. Give your loved one the gift of cocoa scents at www.choclat.com/perfume.
Cocoa sure thing: Ibarra's Mexican Table Chocolate is a personal favorite when the cold weather requires piping hot chocolate to warm the cold bones. Find it in specialty stores or online at www.chocoibarra.com. If the night requires a little more punch than what hot chocolate can deliver, make a chocolate martini. Shake 2 oz. chocolate liqueur (Godiva is popular), 2 oz. creme de cocoa and 1 oz. vodka (a self-professed martini purist, I reluctantly admit Van Gogh's Dutch Chocolate Vodka is an excellent substitute).
Carre ChocolateWith two years in downtown Boise under its belt, Carre Chocolate's claim to fame is that all of their chocolate is imported from Belgium, the crowned global expert on chocolate (the world gives Belgium the chocolate title since it was cheated out of French fry credit). Caramels are a favorite of Carre customers but the edible chocolate heart box is the hot Valentine's Day gift. 803 W. Bannock St., 342-7697
The Chocolat BarCelebrating its two-year anniversary in February, The Chocolat Bar is a bonafide chocolaterie. It's the kind of place where you expect to see a smiling Juliet Binoche spreading large puddles of chocolate onto granite-topped tables. Owners Chris and Kristi Preston make everything you see in the store, and even teach classes on the fine art of making chocolate art once summer rolls around. Though caramels and Lemon Lavender Almond Bark are the popular kids on the Chocolat Bar block, stop in for a taste of Boise's most unique chocolate: Red Chili Pistachio Bark. Spicy chocolate. Just chew on that thought for one second before you try it, because it's a whole new world. 206 N. 9th St., 338-7771
Dream ChocolateYou have daydreams about Dream Chocolate, though you may not know it by that name. The makers of the infamous PMS and Gift of the Goddess bars, DC is in just about every specialty store in the state, as well as Dillard's, the airport and the Co-op. Their dreamy-tasting chocolate, packaged in novelty wrappers, makes them popular gifts and promotional items. DC's Bronco bar includes tickets to Boise State sporting events and sales from the bars support Big Brothers Big Sisters, as well as the Bronco Athletic Association. 376-3463, www.salmonriverfoods.com
Idaho Candy CompanySating the sweet tooths of Boise since 1901, Idaho Candy Company is the proud proprietor of the Idaho Spud Bar. it is, without doubt, the official unofficial chocolate goody from Idaho. But let us not forget the oh-so-strangely delicious chocolate covered potato chips, which make us think it's perfectly acceptable to cover all junk food with chocolate for added nutritional value. (800) 8-YUM-YUM, www.idahospud.com
Lee's candiesGenerations of Boiseans have grown up eating Lee's candies. In Boise for the last 58 years, Lee's son Curt is now the fearless leader of the locally owned, locally loved shop. The orange creams and victorias (butter rum and walnut, yum!) are the frontrunners in sales, but Lee's claim to fame is its reputation. With the exception of its novelty items, all of Lee's goodies are handmade without any preservatives, and while its sweets are among Boise's favorite, Lee's also has the advantage of being one of Boise's oldest and most respected businesses. 840 S. Vista Ave., 344-1441, www.leescandies.com