Sweet Retreat

Here are a few more ways life is like a box of chocolates: You’ll run into the occasional nut, and if your name is Russell Stover, girls probably don’t want you. You also want to seek quality over quantity, and the chocolate at Araya, the tiny, elegant boutique next door to the River Oaks Theater, is definitely the former.

Other than Chocolate Du Monde, which is fantastic but imports its product rather than make it, Houston didn’t have much in the way of gourmet chocolate until a year ago. That’s when owners Stefano Zullian, his wife Carla and her sister Silvana quit their day jobs to spend some time learning the chocolate trade from friends in Venezuela and relocate to Houston to set up shop. In a moving tale of American commerce, the family took a comparative look at several U.S. cities before choosing ours as the best setting to start a small business.

Armed with stocks of Venezuelan El Rey chocolate, considered some of the best in the world, the team dreams up recipes with the Houston palate in mind and whips them up in a Katy kitchen. Tender little packages of orange marzipan and hazelnut praline in ganache rest in orderly rows within a glass case. Among the bestsellers are pink salt and margarita, a shiny dark chocolate orb sprinkled with bright green flakes. I was instructed to place the entire chocolate into my mouth at once to fully experience the layers of chocolate, tequila, lime and salt as they moved to and from the foreground.

The strawberry balsamic, another customer favorite, is an adorable hand-painted, marbled red heart that hits notes both sweet and savory. Key lime had a brilliant citrus zing to it, and the peanut butter and berry was surprisingly adult. More international flavors include a Moroccan tea with mint, and the bright passionfruit is a very Venezuelan option.

A few vegan chocolates recently made their debut, sweetened with agave in açai pomegranate and royal cherry. For a sturdier, heftier portion, there are also a few chocolate bars (including one studded with bacon) to choose from. Life is also like gourmet bacon dark chocolate in that we try hard to look pretty on the outside but on the inside we’re just pigs.

ARAYA ARTISAN CHOCOLATE, 2013 W. Gray, 832-967-7960 and 1575 W. Grand Pkwy. S2, Suite #1000, Katy, 281-395-1050

 

by Nikki Metzgar | SideDish | Date May 24, 2011

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