It's only been a few days since Borne Confections introduced Oriol Balaguer's chocolate pods to Manhattan, but news seems to have caught on fairly quickly. During my visit this weekend, it seemed like a popular gift choice, and it's not hard to see why. Aside from winning accolades like "Best Dessert in the World" in 2001, the man behind the magic was trained by none other than Ferran Adria during his seven-year residence at el Bulli.
Though Balaguer's chocolates are certainly delicious, they're not the avant-garde or revolutionary treats you'd expect given the credentials and back story. In fact, I found that behind several of the pretty little pieces were pronounced hints of nostalgia—references to classics from supermarket shelves and checkout aisles.
The much talked-about corn and hazelnut pod (all pods $2.50) in a milk chocolate shell, for instance, reminded me of a Ferrero Rocher—the corn lent more crunch than flavor, and tasted almost like puffed rice. The women behind the counter insisted it was a salty-sweet combo, but I didn't get as much of a salty kick as I'd have expected. I certainly wouldn't argue if you made me eat another, though.
A dark chocolate and mint truffle reminded me of the flavors and textures of an Andes after-dinner mint—that perfectly creamy and not-too-pepperminty filling done in a far less artificial way, and wrapped in a more delicious shell.
Fans of Israeli Elite chocolate or Max Brenner will be excited about the pop rocks pod, which is just what it sounds like. The little candies are enveloped in a hazelnut crème that conceals the popping sensation until about thirty seconds after you put it in your mouth—the layers make it possibly to get some serious chocolate appreciation and childish fun one right after the other. Fun foodie trivia: like Balaguer, Pop Rocks are based in Barcelona.
Perhaps the most unusual flavor combo was the olive oil and white chocolate ganache, wrapped in dark chocolate. Here, the olive flavor was strong and present, but well balanced by the combination of chocolates. I'm not sure I'd buy it again, but it was the most surprising and unexpected of the pieces I tried.
I don't love white chocolate, but Balaguer works well with it: the yuzu white chocolate pod may have been my favorite of the bunch, with a brightly citrusy flavor that really popped vibrantly.
There's a whole line of liquor flavors, but be warned: they're quite strong. We did love the pear liqueur and dark chocolate ganache, though, and this may have been the prettiest truffle I've ever seen. Then again, at $2.50 a piece, they'd better be.
In addition to Balaguer's pods, Borne also carries a fine selection of Parisian chocolatier Pierre Marcolini's truffles ($2.75), and I was especially fond of the coconut (top center) and passion fruit (top left), which balanced often-strong tropical flavors in a more delicate way than I'm used to. The champagne truffles (top right) were lovely and subtle, while the caramels (salted, bottom right, and ganache, bottom left) had an awesome texture but not such a nuanced flavor.
I'm eager to see what Balaguer does next with his chocolate work—and whether Borne will be carrying any of his more avant-garde creations.