TOP’s Guide to the Very Best Chocolate Shops

I love chocolate. Wait, wait, wait. Let me try that again. Love is too weak a word. I need to have an Annie Hall moment here. I lurve it. I loave it. I luff chocolate. It’s perfect for every occasion, but when it comes to Valentine’s Day, it’s almost a prerequisite. So today I’m sharing my five favorite chocolate shops with you. Let’s do this.



Compartes has been an L.A. fave for more than 50 years, so you know I had to lead with this one. Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and Elvis Presley were all fans, so I’m definitely in good company. Their spicy chocolate truffles are to die for, but my personal favorite is the Love Nuts. They’re hand roasted, coated in Tahitian Vanilla, sprinkled with sea salt, and then covered in 14 layers of chocolate.

Oregon Bark


Hazlenut toffee drenched in chocolate and coconut. Bittersweet toffee chips. Cardamom white chocolate bark with English toffee, salted pistachias, and dried apricots. You drooling yet? Anne Smith ran an LA cooking school for 12 years before moving to the Pacific Northwest and creating Oregon Bark. Damn, I’m glad she did. The snow capped Oregon bark is my crack. It’s coffee-infused chocolate topped with sugar crystals and sea salt. Gimme, gimme, gimme!

La Maison du Chocolat

choc 3

Erinn V may or may not have binge-eaten these chocolates in the South of France for an after-nap snack.  Okay, who are we kidding. She totally did. But what could be more indulgent? La Maison du Chocolat’s little pieces of heaven are so totally decadent and so totally DELICIOUS. We’re talking ganaches, pralines, fruited chocolates, champagne truffles, and (ooh!) whipped praline twigs. These guys aren’t messing around. It’s pure, unadulterated chocolate bliss.

Jacques Torres Chocolate


Jaques’ chocolatier wife, Hasty, makes these Christian Louboutin glittered stilettos.  And while they aren’t currently on the market, I do hope they will return.


While I’m waiting, I’m more than happy to stuff myself silly with Mr. Chocolate’s Java Junkie chocolate bars, milk chocolate Cheerios, and chocolate gingerettes. There’s a reason they call this guy the king of chocolate. All hail. Not in New York? Not a problem. The online chocolate shop is (almost) as much fun to shop in.

Christopher Elbow


So we’ve covered L.A., Oregon,  France, and New York. Next stop on our list? Kansas City. That’s right– Kansas City!  It’s actually an unexpectedly charming city with a world-class chocolate shop. Christopher Elbow creates a seasonal chocolate collection several times each year, and his 2015 Valentine’s Day painted heart collection includes a red wine caramel that I’m dying to try. Good stuff here, guys. And damn pretty, too.

Let’s Talk Paleo

Today on TOP Talk, I chatted with  Robb Wolf, Paleo expert and biochemist. And here on the blog, I’m sharing his recipe for a super tasty (and quit beautiful) beef borscht. Check it out!

Beef borscht 1

Photo by Conner Middelmann-Whitney –

Beef borscht

Beets may not be everybody’s favorite root vegetable, but this recipe may just reconcile all but the most recalcitrant beet-hater with this gorgeous superfood. One reason to eat beets is that they are the only food that contains co-called betalains, plant nutrients with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxifying properties. In lab studies on human tumor cells, betanin (a type of betalain) from beets has been found to reduce tumor cell growth through a number of mechanisms, including inhibition of inflammatory enzymes. Don’t worry if your urine turns pink after eating beets; some 10-15% of all U.S. adults experience “beeturia” after eating beets (as shown in a recent episode of TV comedy show, Portlandia). While this is not harmful per se, it may indicate problems with iron metabolism: Individuals with iron deficiency, iron excess, or specific problems with iron metabolism are more likely to experience beeturia than people with healthy iron metabolism. So if you experience beeturia and have any reason to suspect iron-related problems, ask your doctor to check your iron status.

Traditional Russian borscht includes beef, but vegetarians can leave out the meat, use vegetable stock and add one to two poached or hard-cooked, chopped eggs per person just before serving. The vegetarian version tastes great served cold in the summer. Serves 4. Freezes well. 

1-2 tbsp olive oil
1.1 lb/500g pastured beef shank slices (bone-in) or lean stewing beef cut into 1-inch/2-cm cubes
1 large red onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely grated (no need to peel these)
1 celery stick, finely diced
1½ quarts/1½ liters home-made, de-fatted beef stock, or water
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried dill
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 lb/450g cooked beets, shredded on a box grater
1 lb/450g red cabbage, finely sliced (use a mandolin if you have one)
2 waxy potatoes, peeled and finely cubed
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt, freshly ground black pepper
4 sweet-and-sour dill pickles, finely diced
1 cup/250g fat-free Greek yogurt
8 sprigs of fresh dill (one per plate)
chopped dill pickles as garnish (optional)

In a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, sauté the beef in the olive oil until browned. Transfer to a plate.

In the fat remaining in the pot (add a little more oil if necessary), cook onion, garlic, carrots and celery for 6-8 minutes, stirring.  Add stock or water (whichever using), tomato paste, bay leaves, oregano, dill and vinegar and bring to a boil. Return the meat to the pot, stir to combine and cover. Simmer on low heat for around two hours, until the beef is tender. (A slow cooker yields the tastiest outcome; cook on “low” for 8 hours.)

Once the meat is tender, add grated beets, shredded cabbage and diced potatoes, and stir to combine. Bring back to the boil and simmer, covered, for another ½ hour. (If using beef shanks, take the meat out of the pot, allow to cool for 10 minutes and cut into small pieces before returning it to the pot along with the beets and cabbage. Mince the bone marrow and add it to the stew – it provides delicious flavor and valuable nutrients.)

Once the cabbage is soft, season to taste with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Serve in individual soup bowls, topped with a blob of Greek yogurt, a sprig of fresh dill and offer diners chopped dill pickles to scatter over their soup, if desired.

TOP Talk


I am a very curious person.  I love learning from other people, especially people who are creating exceptional food. And I love sharing my own experiences and recipes with people, too.  That’s one reason I am so stoked about my new weekly podcast, TOP Talk, which you can catch on, CBS’s new podcast network.

Each week, I’ll be talking about a new food-related topic. I’ll also be sharing culinary tips and recipes with you, and best of all, dishing with some of my favorite industry pros.

This week, I’m chatting with Brandyn Tepper and Matt Landes of Cocktail Academy. And you can bet your Jack Daniels that there will be plenty of boozing going on.  Click here to catch the podcast, and don’t forget to subscribe!

But wait! There’s more! Here’s a cocktail recipe, too.

From Brandyn:

Right now, I’m craving mint daiquiris with 2 dashes of Absinthe, otherwise known as a Maison Charles with Absinthe. It follows the simple 2 oz. spirit, 1 oz. lime, ¾ oz. simple syrup formula. You can use any spirit, any herbs, and any berries, and the drink will always taste great. A long, hard shake with one solid block of ice will result in an aerated drink with an almost frothy/bubbly top.

Maison Charles w/ Absinthe


2 oz. White Rum (preferably a dry Cuban white rum)
1 oz Lime Juice
3/4 oz Simple Syrup (1:1)
6-7 Mint Leaves
3 dashes Absinthe

Add all ingredients to a shaker, add ice and shake. Strain into a cocktail coupe.

Modern Meets Tradition: A Stylish So Cal Wedding

Hello, 2015! It’s time for new recipes, new adventures, and for those of you who got engaged over the holidays (Congrats!), plenty of new items on your to-do list. My favorite, of course, is menu planning. I love working one-on-one with couples and helping them bring their unique culinary visions to life, which is why catering this Japanese-Jewish wedding in Long Beach was so much fun.

Elissa R Photography

The bride and groom opted for a traditional Jewish ceremony, but added some very unique elements to the mix. For starters, the groom designed  3-D  “brass knuckles” that he and his groomsmen wore (printed by Shapeways), and the bride walked down the aisle in this completely amazing traditional Japanese wedding attire. (Click here to read more.)

The bride and groom envisioned a fresh, modern wedding that highlighted and blended their two cultures. So when it came to planning a menu, we amped up the standard reception fare (no chicken breast here!). Here are the selections that made the final cut:

  • peach, fig, arugula, radicchio, arugula, blue cheese, hazelnut vinaigrette
  • haricot vert, english pea, fava bean, butter lettuce, ricotta, herb champagne vinaigrette
  • miso sapporo braised short ribs, pickled ginger, micro shiso
  • brined salmon, caper lemon dill creme fraiche
  • corn, cherry tomato, blue lake, torn basil
  • classic potato puree

Since I can’t offer you a taste, I thought I’d serve up some delicious photos instead. Here’s a small sampling of the reception menu.

top wedding collage

Are you planning a So Cal wedding in 2015? Taste of Pace would love to be a part of it! Check out our wedding catering packages here for some culinary inspiration.