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A sweet-tooth tour of Las Vegas that will tickle your taste buds.
Photo: Ethel's Chocolate Lounge (above), Chocolate Swan (below)
You can follow your heart or be led around by the nose, but no part of the anatomy provides such a strong navigational signal as the sweet tooth. Fortunately, visitors to the Las Vegas Strip have plenty of opportunities to indulge that insatiable incisor, and perhaps do some holiday shopping at the same time.
When it comes to temptations, Jean-Philippe Pâtisserie in Bellagio shows no mercy. The world’s largest chocolate fountain sits in the doorway, like an enormous Wonka-esque shill, luring passersby. Plus, the place opens at 7 a.m. so you can visit for a breakfast that will put cocoa cereal to shame. Sure, you’ll tell yourself it’s just to grab a delicious ham and cheese croissant, but even you’re not fooled. You’ll chase the croissant with a sweet crepe stuffed with Nutella and whipped cream, maybe a scoop of tiramisu gelato, then order a slice of white chocolate cheesecake and a box of rose macaroons to go. Now that’s the Breakfast of (Chocolate) Champions.
World Pastry Competition champion Jean-Philippe Maury is the guiding force behind this European-style shop that serves sandwiches and salads, in addition to exquisite desserts. Everything is made fresh in the kitchen below the store. Café tables arranged around a circular bar provide an undisturbed view of every handcrafted morsel.
Bacon and chocolate? How can something that sounds so wrong taste so right? “It sounds weird, but you bite into creamy chocolate, and suddenly there’s a crunch of salty, smoky bacon that’s just incredible,” says customer Jenny Gavin of Tucson as she peruses the offerings at Vosges Haut-Chocolat in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace.
Gavin also purchases a box of signature truffles, the collection that started it all for owner and founder Katrina Markoff when she paired her divine chocolate with such exotic ingredients as wasabi, ginger, candied violet flowers, Hungarian paprika, and fennel. The result is a roller coaster ride for your taste buds.
While the salon has a distinctively upscale feel, the gracious staff is quick to offer free samples of the yummy and sometimes surprising selections. Open your mind and your mouth will quickly follow.
Walking into the Chocolate Swan at Mandalay Bay transports you into a different era. Classic creations—each defined by lavish craftsmanship—fill the display case of this family-owned business. Delicacies such as Death by Chocolate, carrot cake, English toffee, hand-rolled truffles, chocolate éclairs the size of yule logs, and silky smooth frozen custard tempt customers.
Mary and Robert Basta operated the Chocolate Swan in Elm Grove, Wisconsin for two decades before being wooed by Mandalay Bay. They make everything from scratch using only the finest ingredients. According to Robert, it’s the only way they know. “It’s not about the sugar or the sweetness, it’s the intensity of flavors that makes our products stand out,” he says. “So you don’t have to go overboard. Even a few bites can be extremely satisfying.”
Note to guys: forget flowers and candlelight dinners. To truly impress that special someone, take her to Ethel’s Chocolate Lounge in Fashion Show Mall for fondue. Relax on plush sofas, sip frothy cocoa drinks, and stare into each other’s eyes while the staff attends to your every chocolate craving. Congratulations. For less than you’d spend on popcorn and a movie, you just secured a reputation as a genuine romantic icon.
Each artisan piece of chocolate is handmade at nearby Ethel M Chocolate Factory. The savory confections are grouped by families, such as the American Pop Collection, featuring childhood favorites like apple pie, cinna-swirl, and peanut butter and jelly. Ethel’s also produces a line of holiday treats that include cranberry, gingerbread, and egg nog. And when it comes to stocking stuffers, nothing beats Ethel’s sinfully addictive pecan brittle.
Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas
While Las Vegans seldom experience a white Christmas, chocolate Christmases are guaranteed and just a short drive away. For the 15th consecutive year, Ethel M Chocolate Factory and Botanical Cactus Gardens raises the ante on festivity. Ethel M swaddles its three acres of desert plants in a half-million twinkling lights, brings in carolers, creates a collection of seasonal favorites, and passes out free samples.
It’s all part of “Chocolate Wonderland,” and it’s free to the public. The event takes place from November 19 to January 1 from 5 to 10 p.m. daily. On Fridays and Saturdays, Santa Claus will be on hand. Ethel M Chocolate Factory and Botanical Cactus Gardens is a 13-mile drive from Las Vegas. ethelschocolate.com, 800-471-0352, 800-680-0150
Official World Record set by Jean-Philippe Pâtisserie
Displaying a spectacular series of melted chocolate cascades, Jean-Philippe Pâtisserie’s glass-enclosed, floor-to-ceiling chocolate fountain at Bellagio is officially the largest chocolate fountain in the world as certified by Guinness World Records. Designed by executive pastry chef Jean-Philippe Maury in conjunction with Norwood and Antonia Oliver Design Associates, Inc., the fountain took a year and a half in planning and design. The fountain’s official record-breaking height is 26 feet, 3 and 3/16 inches; the masterpiece circulates nearly two tons of melted dark, milk and white chocolate at a rate of 120 quarts per minute.
“I am very proud of being recognized by Guinness World Records,” Maury says. “I’ve been creating sculptures out of chocolate for years, but exploring the properties of melted chocolate has been fascinating. Each of the three types of chocolate behave very differently, and we had to be aware of this in the design. It’s been a wonderful challenge!”
The visual impact of the fountain is compelling: six spouts in the ceiling initiate the lyrical descent of rich dark, velvety milk and glistening white chocolate streams through a maze of 25 suspended glass vessels. Cast in 1/2-inch thick, rough-hewn aqua glass and held in position by anchoring cables, each vessel was built to precise size, shape, and design by Montreal artist Michel Mailhot. Some oblong, some rounded, each irregular, the vessels hover mobile-like to capture and coax the paths of free-falling liquid chocolate. (Above photo by Rick Mortensen)
3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas
3500 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas
3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas
Ethel’s Chocolate Lounge
3200 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas
DID YOU KNOW…
All four of the chocolate shops mentioned in the story ship their products, in case you can’t see these sugary creations in person. Refer to contact information above to make orders.
Nevada has a sweet selection of chocolate-themed stores and restaurants. Here a few more:
The Chocolate Bar
475 S Arlington Ave, Reno
13979 S. Virginia St., Ste. 505, Reno
100 Northstar Dr., Truckee (CA) — opens in Feb.
Chocolate Nugget Candy Factory
56 State Route 341, Mound House
611 U.S. 395 N., Washoe Valley
1900 Idaho St., Ste. 101, Elko
Genoa Candy & Coffee Company
2292 Main St., Genoa
Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory
5100 Mae Anne Ave., Ste. 101, Reno
Sierra Nevada Chocolate Company
1286 S. Virginia St., Reno
Sweets Handmade Candies
4991 S. Virginia St. # C, Reno
4441 Escondido St., #2201, Las Vegas
Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop & Soda Fountain
3475 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas
Nibbles And Nuts
P.O. Box 29502, Las Vegas
Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory
20 Via Bel Canto, #100, Henderson
7400 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Space 24,
1955 S. Casino Dr., Ste. 338, Laughlin
WORTH A VISIT
Fantasies in Chocolate
Reno’s Grand Sierra Resort
Chocolate & Wine Festival