The Room That Makes People Say “Oh!”
Not long ago I had lunch in Park Slope with Jon Armstrong, one of the hosts of the fun parenting podcast Turning This Car Around. Jon had recently moved to Brooklyn from Salt Lake City, so after lunch — because I wanted our conversation to continue, and because I wanted a cup of Dark Hot Chocolate — I suggested that we walk a few short blocks to The Chocolate Room on Fifth Avenue.
Looking amused, he said, “The truth is, I don’t really get into chocolate, let alone hot chocolate.”
I said, “Sure. I understand. But this is different than the hot chocolate you’ve had before. Why not try it? If you don’t like it, you don’t need to finish it. Either way, it won’t cost you a penny.”
He agreed. And with one sip, his face changed. He said, “Oh!”
As he said “Oh,” Jon was no longer looking at me, nor at the young woman who had handed him the cup. His eyes looked down and to the side, seeing nothing. For that moment, he didn’t need to see. He was tasting.
He appeared moved. Even reverent.
Just a few months later, in the very same Chocolate Room on Fifth Avenue, I watched the same thing that had happened to Jon happen to someone else. And she even used the same word.
I was savoring my Dark Hot Chocolate, reading a novel, when two women sat down at the table next to mine. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, I promise. But I overheard one of the women say to her friend, “You know, I don’t really care that much about chocolate. This is your thing.”
Her friend said, “I know, I know. I just want you to taste it.”
Soon Brian, the manager, placed a flourless chocolate cake in front of the doubter, and I lost all track of my novel. I had to watch.
One bite, and she looked up at her friend, and then beyond her — the same unseeing expression Jon had. “Oh!” she said — the same expression Jon had used.
She paused, and then again: “Oh! This is — this is like —“ she grasped for the right words, and found them: “When I was six — when I was six I had something this good.”
And not since.
It was like the scene toward the end of Ratatouille, where one bite vacuums the grizzled critic back to his youth.
But this was better, because it was real — and because The Chocolate Room’s dark chocolate is better than even the best ratatouille.
The rapture in her eyes, the smile on the face of her friend — who didn’t need to say ‘I told you so,’ and didn’t — reminded me of the words of George Bernard Shaw: “There is no sincerer love than the love of food.” (And how did he know that, by the way, living in an age before The Chocolate Room?)
How many cafés do you know that inspire reverence? How many make newcomers say “Oh”? I know two. One’s in Cobble Hill. The other’s in Park Slope. Both are The Chocolate Room.
(Bill wants you to know that we didn’t pay him to write this. He did it for love.)