The Well-tempered Chocolatier: Dancing Lion Chocolates
Sweet dreams are made of this.
Walking past 917 Elm Street in Manchester on a brisk December morning will give you a good sense of what is going on inside. Pause for a moment and take in the pleasant aroma of melting chocolate and baguettes fresh from the oven. There is no question – you are in Paris … What!
Yes, Dancing Lion Chocolates can transport you to Paris without the long security lines. Owner Rich Tango-Lowy is a connoisseur of fine chocolates and a strong believer in the Zen of Parisian cafés. "A fresh baguette and a cup of hot chocolate. It's heaven," says Tango-Lowy.
Previously, Tango-Lowy used the kitchen at the Franco-American Centre in Manchester to make his chocolate bonbons for a word-of-mouth clientele. When the Centre was sold, he knew it was time to take his dream to the next level – a retail shop.
Tango-Lowy found his spot – the former Lee's Spot Used Bookstore – and got to work building his American-in-Manch/Paris dream. He envisions a bit of elegance from France in this, one of the oldest buildings in Manchester. To anchor the café in Manchester, Tango-Lowy wanted the exterior to "give a sense of what was here." He chose Amoskeag brick with a rough mortar to give it immediate age. A generous canopy tops the narrow space and will provide shelter for outdoor seating next spring.
Inside, a few tables and chairs offer respite to the weary walker or chocoholic on a mission. A jewelry case on the counter holds precious jewels – shiny handcrafted artisanal chocolate bonbons, bars and pralines, a few with delicate and colorful brush strokes. The day's chocolates are held at room temperature in drawers beneath the case. To seal the overseas connection, there will soon be fresh-baked croissants and Parisian teas, along with espresso, frothed with hot chocolate, if you so desire.
The workspace in back includes a seven-by-three stainless-topped table for tempering chocolate, an area for airbrushing glazes and hand-painting designs and a special cold room. Tango-Lowy says, "I knew I had to include space for keeping chocolate at the exact right temperature. Frankly, chocolate making is all about working it in the right temperature."
As a chocolatier, Tango-Lowy's got street cred. He's had plenty of international travel and chocolate culinary education at Ecole Chocolat in Vancouver and the prestigious Ecole du Grand Chocolat Valrhona in the Rhone Valley of France. It's at the latter where he made a lifetime friend with chocolatier Carlos Eichenberger of Guatemala. The country is the historic origin of drinking chocolate. Today, Guatemalans still drink more chocolate than they eat. In this environment Eichenberger makes chocolate from beans to bonbons with single-source beans. Tango-Lowy uses his Danta chocolate for about 30 percent of his work. The remainder is sourced from Venezuela and other equatorial regions, including Madagascar. Each region brings its own character or flavor profile, much like a fine wine.
A good chocolate is full of complexity and nuance – second and even third tastes become present as it lingers on your tongue. As with wine, it is all about terroir, the weather and, of course, the wine or chocolate maker. As in wine, fermentation is an important step of the process. With chocolate, the beans are allowed to ferment before they are dried by the hot equatorial sun.
With so many variants, Tango-Lowy realizes he can never really duplicate any one piece of chocolate again. So why not make that a positive instead of a negative? He thinks of his chocolate bonbons as "limited editions."
The artisanal chocolates from Dancing Lion taste every bit as good as they look.
photo by susan laughlin
The favorite part for Tango-Lowy is matching his single-source chocolate with natural flavors for bonbons. There seem to be no limits. Recently he offered bonbons made with fresh corn from Lull Farms and a lemon-filled caramel made from Mom's lemon tree in Florida. And for obvious reasons, a key lime ganache from his mother-in-law's Florida lime tree and a quinine liqueur from Italy – each telling its own story, bite by bite.
All ingredients, says Tango-Lowy, are artisanal, found locally or from organic sources including the sugar, butter, eggs and cream. Artisanal products include Tasmanian honey and a 25-year-old balsamic vinegar. He confesses, "Each ingredient has to speak to me."
Are you a potential chocolate maker? "It's all about how you deal with failure," Tango-Lowy reveals. You see, there are many ways to ruin a batch. "Chocolate is never easy. Every technique is difficult," he adds. Time, temperature and humidity are all essentials that need to be controlled.
It takes two days to firm up a slab of chocolate in the cool room at 55 degrees. This chocolate will be reheated and poured into molds for bonbons or bars. The reheating, or tempering, has to be done right. It's a chemical process as the chocolate realigns in an act of crystallization. Well-tempered chocolate has a real snap – when broken or bitten it breaks very cleanly and with a snap. In your mouth it should flow, explains Tango-Lowy. His personal favorite bar is made with the chocolate and nips from Guatemala, molded in a unique silicone mold from Italy and then dusted with gold. ($14)
Sustenance offered at the café beyond bonbons is more chocolate. A hot chocolate of the day is made in the French manner with finely grated chocolate and water. The drink is further globalized by whipping it into a froth – Mayan style. Speaking of the Mayans, they were the first to drink chocolate. Reportedly, Montezuma drank 50 cups a day and fed the drink to his troops to fuel them for war.
Drink options also include espresso and café American frothed with hot chocolate and served with a square of chocolate. Tango-Lowy is working with a coffee consultant for pairing beans from Central America with chocolate, also from Central America.
On the chocolatier's to-do list is making the perfect brownie. Tango-Lowy says that most recipes have evolved to make up for the inferior chocolate used. Now that he has the superior stuff, we can expect great things. Maybe a concoction rich but not too sweet is my hope.
Tango-Lowy's ambition goes beyond the perfect brownie or the perfect Manchester chocolate experience. He wants to challenge the French at their own game. The Spaniards too. He hopes to open a shop in Paris and in Spain within the next five years. Would he be spreading the secret sauce too thin? On the contrary, claims Tango-Lowy: "By sending my people to France and Spain, they will learn techniques unique to those regions and bring them back here." Maybe the Mayans weren't the only ones whose ambition was fueled by chocolate.
Other Chocolates Ideal for Gifting
Order online or visit the café and shop at 47 Main St. in Walpole.
Using their special Swiss recipes, L.A. Burdick makes a variety of bonbons from almond chocolate with chamomile tea-infused ganache to infusions of lemongrass and peppercorn to their endearing signature mice and penguins. Assortments come in decorator boxes or wooden boxes, perfect for gift giving. They also offer an assortment of single-source bars, perfect for the serious chocolate enthusiast. A real special gift would be an enrollment in the Holiday Club. The receiver would get six deliveries at holiday times throughout the year. ($265)
341 Elm St., Manchester
Van Otis Chocolates is famous for their Swiss fudge but consider a bottle of champagne drizzled with gourmet dark, milk and white chocolate, creating a beautiful and irresistibly decadent gift. Simply break off a chunk of chocolate and enjoy the sweet indulgence while sipping a great glass of champagne. ($39)
27 Water St., Exeter
If you want to give chocolate to co-workers or employees consider The Chocolatier’s molded chocolates. You tell them what you want and they make a custom mold. They also already have 100 molds of animals and sporting equipment ready to go. Prices vary.
Lindt Factory Outlets
Stratham and Portsmouth
Save a bundle on bars (10 for $15) and truffles at the factory outlet store at 9 Portsmouth Ave. in Stratham or 72 Mirona Rd. in Portsmouth. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m Monday through Saturday, Sunday noon to 5 p.m.
135 Main St., Marlborough
A perfect gift for your lover — aphrodisiac chocolates created with a licensed herbologist. Of course, as the name implies, Unbridled Chocolates has a large selection of horse-themed molded chocolates.
Ava Marie Chocolates
43 Grove St., Peterborough.
Try their artisan chocolate collections, hot chocolate mix or whimsical chocolate trees ($8.25).
259 Endicott St. North, Weirs Beach
Temper your chocolate gift with cookies. The Kellerhaus generously coats Oreos with milk chocolate and tops them off with rainbow sprinkles. ($1.25 each)
Byrne & Carlson
121 State St., Portsmouth
Dazzle with a gift box of truffles or assorted chocolates from Byrne & Carlson. ($24) Their artisan chocolate bars are a work of art with embedded crystallized pansies or candied violets and mint leaves. ($10 to $14)
Stella’s Fine Chocolates
176 Rt. 101, Bedford
Owner Elaine Alexander and her daughter, Lydia Louzier, find the best chocolates available and make an amazing collection under the Stella’s label. Custom collections can be assembled in chocolate boxes or gift baskets packaged with New Hampshire-made wines, jellies, honey and maple syrup.
436 DW Hwy., Merrimack
Get all the goodies in one package — a 15-piece collection of holiday truffles featuring candy cane, egg nog, Christmas spice and more, all in a keepsake box from Nepal ($30). Their peppermint bark is perfect as a stocking stuffer ($5).