With bottles of Taittinger Champagne and bites of chocolate, Choco-Story New York: The Chocolate Museum and Experience with Jacques Torres celebrated its debut last week, opening to the public on March 7. Renowned pastry chef and chocolatier Torres is at the helm of the museum, which also hosts a chocolate shop with a full range of chocolates and pastries. His partner in the venture is Eddy Van Belle, chairman of the Board Puratos Group, the company behind much of the chocolate sourcing for Torres’ products.
Located at 350 Hudson St. in Lower Manhattan, the museum occupies a space that once held Torres’ chocolate factory, which has since moved to Brooklyn. The empty space became an opportunity for the partners to dive into the history and culture of chocolate. “New York needs this,” Torres told Wine Spectator of the museum. “I can see the attention people bring: The kids love to play and learn the history, parents love the educational side of it. Chocolate is a great subject.”
Visitors to the museum, open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., can view historical artifacts that explain the history and use of cacao and chocolate, such as a replica of a piece of mortar in the shape of a cacao bean from 3,500 B.C., thought to be the oldest proof of chocolate creation in the world, according to Torres. A children's area features a sand pit and traditional cocoa bean drying rack, and museumgoers can taste an unsweetened cocoa drink enjoyed by the ancient Mayans. In the demonstration kitchen, Torres himself can sometimes be found showing visitors how to make chocolate treats—and attendees get to eat the freshly made chocolate straight from the mold. Later this month, a classroom will open for make-your-own-chocolate classes, and guided tours of the museum are slated to begin.
The Van Belle family owns four other Choco-Story museums in Europe and Central America, and the museums’ artifacts are from the Van Belles' private collection.
Tickets to the museum begin at $10 for kids ages 4 to 12. Additional prices are available on the museum’s website.—S.F.
Fans of drinking and dining alfresco at downtown Chicago's Riverwalk don't have to wait until summertime to do so, thanks to Best of Award of Excellence winner City Winery Chicago. Starting March 17, three private "River Domes" will allow small groups to enjoy views of the Chicago River and downtown skyline while staying out of the March winds and April showers. Each 90-minute reservation includes a 500ml carafe of house-made wine per person, plus a cheese and charcuterie board. Additional City Winery selections (plus bottles of Veuve Clicquot and Moët & Chandon) will be available for purchase. Outfitted with heaters, lounge furniture and Bluetooth speakers, the domes are priced at $150 per person for two to three guests, $125 per person for four to five guests, and $100 per person for six to eight guests. But there's not much time before the bubbles burst; the domes are only available until April 30, when City Winery Chicago's Riverwalk location reinstates full (domeless) service for the warm season on May 1.—L.W.
The family behind Fess Parker Winery is opening a new restaurant at the Wine Country Inn in Los Olivos, Calif. Led by chef and partner John Cox, former executive chef at Grand Award winner Sierra Mar, the Bear and Star will feature "refined ranch" cuisine, with many of the ingredients—including quail, rabbit and chicken, with Wagyu beef and organic produce to come—supplied by the 714-acre Parker family estate just a few miles away in Foxen Canyon.
Slated to open in April, the Bear and Star is owners’ Eli Parker and Ashley Parker-Snider's tribute to their late father, Fess: The bear represents his adopted state of California and the star honors his Texan roots. Given the family's deep involvement in the California wine industry, the restaurant's wine program, according to general manager Andrew Scherer, will balance local pride with a diverse selection. "Foremost, we are here to promote and support our local wine industry," Scherer told Wine Spectator in an e-mail. "Something that I have been striving to do for this launch is bring in wines you won't see everywhere—or in some cases, anywhere—else." Keeping with the Bear and Star's sustainability efforts, Fess Parker Winery will use the grape pomace left over from wine fermentation to enrich the feed for the ranch animals that will supply the restaurant.
Divided into four sections, the restaurant will boast a 50-seat dining room, a bar and lounge area, a "Chef's Room" for classes and small dining groups, and a "Wine Room" for local winemakers and private functions. Bringing the "everything is bigger in Texas" mantra to Santa Barbara wine country, Cox designed a nearly 30-foot custom smoker, which he drove from Ennis, Texas, to the Parker ranch. Alongside Cox, chef Jeremy Tummel, who recently left his executive chef position at Best of Award of Excellence winner Stillwater Bar & Grill will oversee the menu.—L.W.
Charlie Palmer’s Pigs & Pinot event returns to Sonoma this weekend for its 12th annual celebration. Hosted at the Hotel Healdsburg and its Best of Award of Excellence–winning Dry Creek Kitchen from March 17–18, the festivities include several seminars, dinners and tastings. Highlights include the March Madness–style Ultimate Pinot Smackdown, where Master Sommeliers Fred Dame, Keith Goldston, Drew Hendrick and Michael Jordan will bring four Pinot Noirs from four regions of the world to face off in a tasting, and the Tournament of the Pig, where guest chefs David Burke of Best of Award of Excellence winner David Burke Kitchen, Nancy Silverton of Best of Award of Excellence winner Osteria Mozza, Bryan Volgattio of the newly opened Voltaggio Brothers Steak House at the MGM National Harbor, and chef and author Elizabeth Falkner will split into two teams and each create two dishes from a whole pig for a panel of judges. Rounding out the weekend are two Saturday evening dinners: a “Swine & Wine” dinner at Spoonbar in Healdsburg and a five-course gala dinner at Dry Creek Kitchen. Though tickets for the weekend are sold out, it’s worth putting your name down on the waiting list just in case.—S.H.
The California-based restaurant group behind Best of Award of Excellence winner Toscana in Los Angeles has two new additions. Samantha Johnston, previously a sommelier at Best of Award of Excellence winner Alexander's Steakhouse, is now directing the wine programs for Toscana, Bar Toscana and Nerano, while Bingo Wathen (son of Bill Wathen, owner of Foxen Winery) has taken over at S.Y. Kitchen. Emily Johnston (no relation to Samantha), who previously oversaw all four Toscana wine programs for the restaurant group, is now general manager at Santa Barbara wine bar Les Marchands.—L.W.
World-renowned musical power couple Emilio and Gloria Estefan unveiled their most recent creative project with the opening of Estefan Kitchen earlier this month in Miami’s Design District. Chef Odell Torres’ menu pays homage to the couple’s Cuban-American heritage with fine-dining fare such as lechón flatbread and asado, paella, prawns criollo and guava barbecue pork ribs. With over 100 selections, the wine list emphasizes winegrowing regions in countries such as Spain, Argentina and Chile, but also includes reds and whites from other regions in Europe, as well as the United States. Guests can also enjoy live music and dance performances.—V.S.