Up until this point I’ve done a pretty good job of staying one to two weeks ahead of deadline so that I can manage producing new content for the blog in the midst of a demanding job… in Real Life. However, last week all my well-intentioned plans to be ahead of schedule fell short, and I found myself working against a deadline.
Inspired by the gold-infused hot chocolate featured in Hallmark’s Winter in Vail starring Lacey Chabert and Tyler Hynes, I intended to go search out my own Hallmark hot chocolate moment by tasting a number of hot chocolates and declare a winner. Now that my back was against the proverbial wall, though, my instinct was to power through, fitting in hot chocolate tastings any evening I could. That’s how I found myself visiting Squish Marshmallows in the Lower East Side. It was 55 degrees, and I wasn’t much in the mood for hot chocolate, but I got it done.
But then, when the opportunity to enjoy this Hallmark adventure in the company of a friend arose, I had to remind myself why I began this journey in the first place. It wasn’t to create and check off to-do lists or create one more mandatory (self-imposed) deadline. The goal was to better appreciate and engage in my real life outside of work.
So I threw out my original plan to squeeze in hot chocolate tastings wherever time allowed and instead decided to enjoy spending time catching up with a friend, whom we’ll call the Irishman since he’s from Ireland, and together we spent Saturday doing a hot chocolate crawl through New York City.
While I may not have found hot chocolate with gold flecks like they enjoyed in Winter in Vail (I did look!), my city is no slouch in the hot chocolate department. In fact, according to TimeOut New York, there are a plethora of choices. So many, in fact, it’s a bit overwhelming. Instead of tackling all 25 options on TimeOut’s list, I committed to tackling five. And since I’d already visited Squish, the Irishman and I had four locations left.
Armed with postcards to record our opinions of the various hot chocolates we were about to consume, we met at Daily Provisions on the Upper West Side to begin this Hallmark adventure. (And today, unlike my Squish Marshmallow evening, it was finally a shivery 30 degrees—perfect for hot chocolate drinking!) This bustling café had all the elements of a friendly neighborhood spot, complete with chatty customers and baby carriages. Their customer service was hands-down the best of the day, with the saleswoman talking us into buying two crullers (one cinnamon and one passionfruit) in addition to our hot chocolates. I was charmed by the presentation of hot chocolate served in blue mugs topped with whipped cream and double marshmallows. The Irishman, however, was not sidetracked and kept us focused on the actual task at hand: evaluating the taste. Truth be told, our drinks were lukewarm, and the Irishman spoke the line of the day: “hot chocolate for Instagram, not for a cold day.” He also identified my signature Hallmark moment when, after my first sip, I got chocolate all over my face. We were off to a solid start.
He said: “Adequate, but I know NYC can do better. The crullers though… Top Notch.”
She said: “The most beautiful presentation. I loved the marshmallows.”
With one hot chocolate under our belts and an agreement that the postcards were the key to our reviews, we began brainstorming an evaluation system. On the subway ride to the West Village, we devised the Goldilocks system (Too Hot=1, Too Cold=2 and Just Right=3) to evaluate our newly defined five categories: Presentation, Temperature, Texture, Toppings, and Hallmark Moment.
We arrived at our next destination, Bar Pisellino, a triangle-shaped bar situated on a corner in the shadow of the Freedom Tower, steps away from where the Stonewall riots occurred. Once inside, we were bathed in natural light because two of the three walls were covered in windows. It had a hopping, trendy vibe, just like the neighborhood it inhabits, and most everyone was there for a Saturday afternoon cocktail. We found a spot at the corner of the counter to take in the sights. I was enchanted by a chandelier that looked like a combination of junkyard plumbing and crystals.
Despite our concerns that a massive sugar crash or major bellyache was in our future, we ordered two hot chocolates and one cake. Lost in translation was our request for one cake, so instead we were served two and enjoyed them while covering a range of topics including the history of the Irish Queen Maeve. The Irishman, who is a scientist at heart, was diligent with our rating system and gave his hot chocolate a nearly perfect score of 14 out of 15. Everything scored 3 except for toppings, which received 2, as there were no marshmallows. I gave it the same score, but not using the actual system. My notes were less numerical ratings than notes to myself about the scenery. (I had a blog post to write, after all!) My Hallmark moment streak continued, of course…chocolate ended up all over my face.
He said: “Come for the magnificently creamy, not too sweet, proper hot chocolate in a schönwald cup, stay for the polenta cake with almond. On our newly developed goldilocks hot chocolate rating scale, a legit 14/15.”
She said: “I can scoop chocolate out of the bottom of my cup with my spoon!”
After a pit stop for some vegetables and protein, we made our way toward more sugar at Mah-Ze-Dahr our third stop on the tour. True to form, the Irishman gave the hot chocolate a numerical 7 out of 15, where I just called it blah. It did however serve a truly awesome gingersnap cookie.
He said: “The hot chocolate was in the parlance of our times – Basic, a lá the sterile avocado toasts of Midtown.”
She said: “It was blah. My least favorite hot coco. The location lacked character.”
In the homestretch to our final stop at Dominique Ansel Bakery, we added another Irish friend into the mix. Although uninterested in hot chocolate, she was delightfully on board for the pastries and infused our sugar coma with a burst of energy.
Sitting in the back patio against a wall covered in flowers, we tasted three different pastries that were to die for, while we ordered the intriguingly named “Blossoming Hot Chocolate.” It turns out they place a marshmallow in the shape of a flower into a piping hot hot chocolate, and it literally blooms in your cup. The Irishman gave it a 9 out of 15 on the Goldilocks Scale, and it was by far the most creative topping we had seen all day.
He said: “Dominique Ansel Bakery: home of the cronut, but needlessly less famous for its blossoming hot chocolate, which at $7.50 is still better than the $6.75 regular Chef’s Hot Chocolate. The Madeline, The DKA, and the eclair were the business!”
She said: “Chocolate Coma! A day of exploring the city through a new lens. So fun!”
While the hot chocolate and pastries were indeed delicious and Bar Pisellino was our absolute favorite stop of the day, the overall experience was a fantastic winter adventure. In my opinion, the true Hallmark ethos is appreciating the moment that you are in, finding the beauty in the everyday, celebrating the community around you, and being grateful for the blessings, like friendship, in your life. I marvel at how different this hot chocolate story would have been had I continued squeezing in tastings on different nights of the week. My journey to the East Village to check out Squish was long on travel and about five minute on experience. Compare that to a day of exploring the city with the eyes of a tourist in the company of a friend, and there is no contest as to which experience is better.
Our lives get so busy we sometimes forget to enjoy them. So my charge to you is that the next time you find yourself checking off to-dos that are supposed to be fun, see if you can find a way to include a friend. You’ll both be happier for it.