Category Archives: Reflections

Posts related to food and cooking.

Comet Coffee

At least once a week, I stop by Ann Arbor’s Comet Coffee. A short, pleasant walk from my office can have me there in five minutes. This is not a place I visit for quotidian caffeine supplements; rather, it is somewhere I go for pleasure- a brief escape from my workday.

Comet Coffee
Comet Coffee. 16 Nickels Arcade, Ann Arbor, MI 48104
734.222.0579 | Facebook | Twitter | Yelp

Admittedly, I was pre-disposed to like this place. It is nearby. It is aesthetically pleasing. It has a limited menu of coffee drinks and locally made pastries (some from Pastry Peddler, on occasion some from Miette). And, perhaps most importantly, the baristas make consistently good macchiatos, which they’ll serve you with a glass of still or sparkling water. If you’re not in the mood for a flaky croissant or a plate-sized oatmeal cookie studded with dried fruit, coconut, pecans, and chocolate chunks, you can order one of the bite-sized Ossi da Mordere to sit on the edge of your saucer.

Comet Coffee

MacchiatoSo, how is it that this coffee shop gets alternately lauded (by even the New York Times) and derided (as in this worth-reading coffee roundup from A2Gastroboy)? I believe it is a matter of customer expectations and coffee rituals. Not everyone wants the same thing. Here is my quick take on people who do and don’t like Comet:
If you’ve never been there before, try visiting during a less-busy time (avoid beginning of workday and lunch hour). And if you’re getting something to go, consider bringing your own mug (you’ll get a nominal discount, and your beverage will stay much hotter than it will in the takeaway cups).

For a little more about the business, try this article from the Michigan Daily.

François Pralus Boite de Mexicaines

Pralus Boite de Mexicaines
François Pralus is a French chocolatier whose company manufactures and sells nearly 100 tons of chocolate annually. In 2007, the only place I could find any of this chocolate was Mon Aimee Chocolat, a retailer in Pittsburgh’s Strip District that began stocking his colorfully wrapped pyramids of single-origin bars. I stared wistfully at the packaging for months, until they started selling a miniature version. At 1/10th the size of the original, it was a treat that fit within my limited student grocery budget.

The second time I encountered Pralus chocolates was a year later when I visited Paris for, among other things, the Salon du Chocolat. There, Pralus had transformed their small booth into a functioning bakery, cranking out loaves upon loaves of Praluline, a brioche studded with pink pralined almonds.

Pralus Booth, making BriochesNow, Pralus products are much more easily obtained. There’s even a Trader Joe’s copycat. Here in Ann Arbor, Zingerman’s Next Door has a great selection, and they’ll let you try anything before you buy, which may or may not be a good thing- a free sample convinced me to buy the Barre Infernale Lait, a hefty brick of hazelnut cream enrobed in their exceptional 45% milk chocolate (here’s a nice review from Chocablog). At around $20, it is the single most expensive confection i’ve ever purchased.

The latest treat i’ve sampled is the above-pictured Boite de Mexicaines, which I received for Valentines Day. It’s an elegant box of roasted Valencia almonds coated in 75% chocolate and dusted with cocoa (there’s also a milk chocolate-hazelnut variety). If you enjoy chocolate coated nuts, they are a luxury that will outshine any waxy, lecithin-laced versions you’ve had in the past.

2011 Edible Gifts for Foodies

White Nectarine & Elderflower Preserves

Bars from Xocolatl de David
In last year’s roundup, I suggested 8 types of gifts to please your foodie friends and relatives. That list is still a good guideline- in fact, everything on this year’s list fits into one of those categories. So, without further ado, here are eight of my favorite products from 2011:

1. Salted Caramel Bar from Xocolatl de David, $9
To my knowledge, Xocolatl de David is still a one-man operation helmed by David Briggs, a CIA grad based in Portland, Oregon. I happened upon his Salted Caramel Bar at DeLaurenti, an Italian market in Seattle. It’s one of the best dark chocolate bars i’ve had in a while- in mirror-bright perfect temper and filled with a toothsome salted caramel (there are some great pictures on If you want something savory, try the Almond & Pimenton bar (but be warned, the smoked paprika flavor is strong).

2. Bahlsen Contessa Minis, $3.39 [currently out of stock]
I’m a long-time fan of Bahlsen’s Contessas, a seasonal sugar-crusted, chocolate-bottomed Lebkuchen. I used to think these gingerbread cookies were obscure, until I realized for three years running i’ve only been able to make one purchase before my usual sources run out of stock. Lately I prefer the mini Contessas to the full-sized. They’re great alongside a cup of coffee.

3. Chocolate Marshmallows from Zingerman’s, $25
The chocolate marshmallows are the star of this half-chocolate, half-vanilla gift box. Made with Scharffen Berger cocoa and studded with chocolate chunks, they are hard to resist (I went through an entire bag in about two days). With a peppermint hot cocoa? Heaven. Looking for more flavors? Try Little Flower Candy Co. or Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory.

4. Preserves from Blue Chair Fruit, $12+
Sometimes, cookbooks lead me to a food product. In this case, the unique flavors in Rachel Saunders’ massive The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook piqued my interest in her company, and i’m pleased to report that these preserves are as tasty as they look. If you’re looking to impress a preserves-lover, spring for a Jam Club subscription.

5. Ice Cream from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, $12+
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home was one of my top cookbook picks of the year. After working my way, pint by pint, through the Jeni’s selection at Plum Market and The Produce Station, I made a 3 hour pilgrimage to the scoop shop in Chagrin Falls, Ohio to try her holiday flavors. My personal favorite flavors? Black Forest, Brown Butter Almond Brittle, Brambleberry Crisp, and Lemon Blueberry Frozen Yogurt.

6. Delice de Pommard, $14.99
I have no experience buying cheese online, but I am tempted to try it to get ahold of this mustard-coated, soft cow’s milk cheese from Burgundy. It was an October special at Zingerman’s which they’ve told me they’ll have again after the holidays.

7. Sour Cherry Spoon Fruit from American Spoon Foods, $8.50
Since many jams, jellies, and preserves are too sweet for my tastes, I was happy to find this tart cherry ‘spoon fruit.’ Made in Northern Michigan, this cherry-studded spread holds its own on strong flavored breads like rye and pumpernickel. I really want to try it on pancakes!

8. Pralus Barre Infernale Lait, $19-22
When I asked a Zingerman’s staff member if I could try this chocolate bar, he said “are you sure? It’s dangerous.” He was right- one bite and I knew I couldn’t leave without one. The price tag is steep, but it’s a big bar- a 6.4oz brick of hazelnut-studded praline, coated in the same milk chocolate they use for their fantastic Melissa bars. If you like gianduja and want a slightly cheaper alternative, try Sperlari’s Zanzibar Gianduja Classico (pictured in this post from Serious Eats).