MANCHESTER, N.H. - Designer bars studded with single-source cacao beans are displayed in an antique jewel case like edible artifacts from a Mayan mirage. It’s a sight that could leave the most jaded food snob breathless and would not be out of place in a small shop in Paris.
Richard Tango-Lowy is changing the taste and timbre of this New Hampshire city with his Dancing Lion Chocolate. Inside the months-old cafe, drinking chocolate changes daily, accented with cardamom, cinnamon, and exotic flavors such as kaffir lime. “ ‘Chocolate as Art’ is our tagline,’’ says Tango-Lowy, who perfected his passion at Ecole Du Grand Chocolat Valrhona in Tain L’Hermitage, France.
Some things seem over the top, like the tiny, intricate, edible masks that might look like they belong on a wall. But they are best consumed slowly, says Tango-Lowy, not just popped in your mouth. “Eating chocolate should be a mindful experience. It should be something that is just beautiful,’’ he says.
Granite Staters are warming up to the gourmet dollops in this Zen-like cafe, and other food-friendly businesses such as Mill Town Market and Vino Aromas have opened on this stretch of Elm Street in the past few months.
The entrepreneur’s Mayan-style drinking chocolate, made with milk or water, is served in large painted bowls. Indulge in the stunning, silky broth as subtle flavors transport you to Guatemala, Ecuador, Vietnam, or wherever the day’s chocolate originated.
This driven chocolatier and Manchester resident is more than a little obsessed with cacao. He works with chocolate maker Alan McClure of Patric Chocolate in Columbia, Mo., to create a house-blend derived from Madagascar beans. Like a vintner, Tango-Lowy selects the chocolates that go into his tasting squares, bars, and candies, paying close attention to flavor profiles and how a particular bean enhances the moment. “I think about how long will it linger in your mouth. There are ones that hit the fragrant front and each piece evolves as you eat it,’’ he says.
When you discover that Tango-Lowy is a physicist, his approach to chocolate begins to make sense. “It’s about sitting down and learning the chemistry and physics of chocolate, what’s really driving how cocoa butter works, the crystallization of chocolate,’’ he says. Everything about chocolate is hard.’’
But it certainly goes down easy.
For Valentine’s Day, he has hearts made with a ganache of rose hips, Tellicherry black peppercorns, green cardamom, and Tasmanian leatherwood honey in local cream and 67 percent Sambirano Valley chocolate from Madagascar. That will surely silence those noisy Conversation Hearts once and for all. The crimson hue and rustic sheen of these skillful bonbons make a romantic presentation.
But chocolate is not the only revelation at Dancing Lion. Traditional croissants, made the classic French way, are layered, buttery, Francophile-approved delights.
This is a cafe where specialty drinks such as chocolate espresso are elegant mainstays. Made with the chocolate of the day and a balanced double shot from Riverwalk Roasters in Nashua, this cup is no slapdash mocha laced with sugar, drowning in milk. It’s a straight-up yin and yang experience for a $4.75 splurge.
Brownies, a new addition to the Dancing Lion fold, hit the shelves recently. The original batch, made with Venezuelan chocolate and spiked with cinnamon and cayenne, is equal parts chewy and cakey. Reason enough to cross state lines.
Kathleen Pierce can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.