Hi, my name is Pat, and I am a chocoholic. What began at the age of six as an obsession with milk chocolate (my secret vice was a Saturday matinee and a Hershey’s bar with almonds) eventually morphed into a full-blown addiction to dark chocolate. I’m talking ten or more bars of different chocolate on the kitchen counter at any given time, chocolate seminars, trips planned around chocolate, and dreams of starting a chocolate culinary tour company. My heroine is Chloe Doutre-Roussel, author of The Chocolate Connoisseur (there are a few of “the pink books” still available on Amazon). So imagine how happy I was when an email popped up a week or so ago touting a two-month-old chocolate boutique in the River Oaks shopping village in Houston. I went, I ate, I was bowled over. Araya Artisan Chocolates is the real deal. True, these are truffles and bonbons rather than chocolate bars (a distinction which separates the mere chocolate lovers from the nut cases such as myself), but these are carefully crafted made from a top-of-the-line chocolate (El Rey) and the flavor combinations are astonishing. Even some that I had my doubts about (like the Margarita) ended up working. Not only that, they’re gorgeous, like gems, or butterflies, which you will see on Araya’s web site. I must have sampled about a dozen or fifteen last weekend, and there really wasn’t one that I disliked. But if I had to choose my favorites, they would be these three: Chipotle (61 percent dark chocolate ganache mixed with chipotle puree, finished with a dark chocolate couverture, or shell); Key Lime (milk chocolate ganache with lime zest and juice under a thin white chocolate couverture); and Cafe Cafe (this one is chocolate ganache infused with Colombian coffee and rolled in flavored sugar). I expect the little boutique (it’s to the right of the River Oaks Theater) is going to be slammed for Mother’s Day, so plan to go another time. It’ll still be there, and when it’s not so busy, you might have a chance to meet one of the three charming young owners–husband and wife Stefano Zullian and Karla Susi, and Karla’s sister Silvana Susi–who are from Caracas, Venezuela. (Shown: cacao pods in the raw.)
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