Kee’s Chocolates (NY) – Best in America?
Are Kee’s Chocolates the best artisan chocolates in the United States? One woman, Kee Ling Tong, makes the chocolates in a tiny store-front in Soho (though I have seen helpers from time to time and the single store-front has now expanded to two small store-fronts.) This isnt the assembly line with marketing acumen of Vosges or Jaques Torres, nor the Paris-pedigree of La Maison du Chocolate and Richart; there’s only the shopkeeper (and helpers) with her name on the front of the store.
Manhattan adores her too – lines are frequent and if you arrive too late, you’re out of luck.
How good are they?
Their freshness is their distinguishing factor. The chocolates are made in small batches all day long – and carried over to the adjacent store-front for sales. It’s tempting to save them, and it’s hard to eat an entire box in one sitting, but I’d recommend eating the most appealing flavors first. Let them warm up a touch since they come out of the display case a little too cool.
You can see the menu online but, sadly for chocolate lovers nationwide, she doesn’t ship. Nor should she – it would compromise the chocolates’ most valuable characteristic. There is a marked difference in quality after 1-2 days. They are still delicious, and I find myself taking orders for others back home, but they’re best enjoyed of the day.
According to a Chocolate.com article, Kee uses “heavy cream, cocoa, cocoa butter, milk, sugar in different proportions according to my own recipes.” She doesn’t add butter or sugar, which can be hard to believe. From ChocolateZoom.com, the cocoa percentag is between 62 and 72; any higher and Kee feels the bitterness overwhelms the (delicate) flavors. She doesn’t make her own chocolate (hardly anyone does) – she uses Cacao Noel chocolate from France.
When you bite into one, the first sensation is one of freshness. It’s hard to write in words but you know it. Immediately thereafter, the texture distinguishes Kee’s from the others. The shells are crisp and yield immediately to the ganache inside. The ganache is usually very smooth and extremely creamy – often, sublime. The best flavors are subtle and complex; at worst, they can be muted. They can also veer towards the sweeter side but not offensively so.
Crème brûlée – Dark chocolate bonbon filled with creme brulée
If Kee has a signature, this is it. Met with nearly universal acclaim, I haven’t found a negative word written about it. Nor should one be written. Fresh cream and eggs are used. They will warn you this one must be eaten immediately because of the custard inside. Bite and vanilla custard gushes out, intense, and terribly delicious. A must-order for any first-timer; if they are out, place an order, do some shopping, and come back later in the day.
Thompson – Whipped cream over milk/dark chocolate, smothered with a milk/dark coating
However, this my new favorite flavor. Not normally a fan of milk chocolate, this piece delivers everything connotated by those words – milk and chocolate. The “ganache” inside is heavenly light, milky in taste, and ephemeral.
Some other favorites include Balsamic and Lemon Basil. You can read reviews of other flavors at CandyBlog, Lovescool, The Girl Who Ate Everything (and I might believe it!), and a quick review at Fork and Bottle (who has also tried nearly everything!)
I’ve been eating Kee’s since she opened and they get better with each visit. Best in America? Yes, but that may not be entirely fair. I’ve tried a few others in the past few months: John & Kira (better than average), Grocer’s Daughter (lacked freshness), and DC Duby (far too sweet); but none tasted as good as Kee’s; however, all were through mail-order. Nonetheless, Kee’s philisophy stands for something – don’t mail-order if it compromises the experience. Obviously, this isn’t financially viable unless you have a concetrated mass of chocolate lovers (like Manhattan) but it’s good to see people sticking to their ideals.
If I were to rank my favorite chocolates in the world, the list would read:
- Paul Young (London) – best all around and he uses Amadei chocolate
- Richart (Paris, SF, & NY) – the citrus, fruit, and floral varities pack intense flavor
- Kee’s (NY) – freshness and texture
- La Maison du Chocolat (Paris, London, Cannes, & NY) – traditional but very well done
- JP Hevin (Paris) – the cheese chocolates are the novelty (and they can be very good) but everything is solid
Official Site: http://www.keeschocolates.com/
Some Other Profles: