Category Archives: Store Reviews
Store Review: Le Macaron French Pastries (Tampa, Florida)
I stumbled upon the “le macaron” store in Tampa’s International Plaza mall on a recent family trip. In addition to various flavors of french macarons, there are also fine chocolates sold here. I don’t remember the exact prices, but each of these sells for roughly $2 dollars a piece. We purchased 6 macaroons and 4 chocolates (shown in the below pictures) for around $22.
I have only tried macarons once or twice in my life, but the ones at “le macaron” were pretty typical. The rose and raspberry flavors really tasted and smelled like the real thing, but it’s hard to say if that taste is made from “natural ingredients” or the real thing. The coffee-flavored macaron really didn’t taste too much like coffee, so I doubt there much, if any, real coffee present.
My biggest issue with macarons in general is that there is always some slightly odd flavor I can’t put my finger on, and that applies to these sweets as well. But if you like macarons I’m sure you’ll enjoy the one’s sold here.
The chocolates were very impressive visually, with everything from patterns in the likeness of leopard spots to shiny metallic balls. There was a variety of fillings, including caramel- and fruit-like. While I have to admit they were all tasty, I know a load of sugar when I taste it. Macarons are relatively rare in the world of sweets but chocolates are a dime a dozen, so they have to hold up to more scrutiny. The pretty designs and (typical) good flavor don’t win over the high price and high sugar content.
As for the ingredients, I wasn’t able to find anywhere the full ingredient list was published for either product. However, the company’s website (which is a franchise, interestingly enough) states all macarons are gluten free with no artificial flavors or preservatives. This puts them in the mid range of ingredient quality, but I wish they published the entire list. I couldn’t find any information about the fine chocolates.
Overall, I feel both product lines are mediocre, but they are tasty enough to try once, and the fine chocolates are novel enough to buy for a friend or family member as a gift. The Internal Plaza is a great shopping center with many stores and restaurants, so if you happen to be traveling in Tampa be sure to check it out, and maybe stop by “le macaron” while you are there.
Store Review: Royce (Japanese Chocolatier)
One thing I have become slightly disappointed lately is the state of the various chocolate producers and their product lineups. While there are a few companies, such as Green & Blacks, which make a variety of creative, tasty chocolate products, there are countless other companies that put up a big marketing show for run-of-the-mill chocolate without any special characteristics (flavor, ingredients, etc.) . I don’t know how some of these companies can stay in business with so many competitors putting out nearly identical products. My guess is that most of it comes down to marketing and connections, and as long as a company can hook a niche market they can survive for some time.
Near the end of a recent business trip, I happened to be browsing through New York’s Bryant Park, searching for food and sweets in the many stores in the park and in the nearby area. I walked by one store and as I peered in through its window some very unique chocolate caught my eye. Not just the stylistic packaging, thin square boxes with monotone coloring, but the chocolates themselves were something I had never seen before. There was a dark-chocolate looking one covered with powdered cocoa, and a green one covered with something that looked like green tea powder. Unfortunately the store was closed at the time (it was sometime after 8pm on a weekday), but I decided I would research this place and come back later. The name “Royce” was easy to remember if I associated it with “Rolls Royce”.
When I got back to my hotel and did a bit of research I discovered Royce was a high quality Japanese chocolate maker, established in Sapporo in 1983. Their Japanese name is pronounced something like “royz”. That explained the green tea chocolate – the Japanese really love their green tea. The company’s website said there was only stores available in the US, and both were in New York. Lucky me! I decided to head there the next day, which was my last opportunity to shop before returning home.
Getting there was a bit tricky since I got off at work at 6pm and they closed at 7. I ended up taking the Metro and having to run through the city until I arrived around 6:30pm with just enough time to browse.
The store is set inside a building with others, such that a double entrance is required to get inside. The actual square footage of the place was very small, but with a sparse design they somehow managed to make it feel much bigger. There was a large shelf against one wall with various products on display, and a long square table in the middle. Everything was very modern, very bright, and very clean. Essentially, very Japanese. If you check out this link, you can see their other store to get a feel for the design used. (Interesting linguistic note: one word for ‘beautiful’ in Japanese is ‘kirei’ which also means ‘clean’)
Upon closer inspection, the middle table contained both products I had seen in the window, “Nama Chocolate Bitter” and “Nama Chocolate Maccha”. Both were only $18 which I considered cheap for these rare and unique products. I felt even better about this price after I heard from one of the saleswomen that they do not sell their products online. (Note: I did find at least two of their products sold on Amazon, but they were by third parties and had very high markups of over 200%. Here is one.)
After taking in the beauty of the store for some time, I become concerned when I realized the middle table was actually refrigerated, and when I asked one of the saleswomen she said the products will last 7 hours outside a refrigerator, and 11 hours inside a special bag which they provide free of charge. Unfortunately my hotel didn’t have a refrigerator, so these wouldn’t do for a souvenir to bring home to the family. It would be a waste of money to buy and eat only a few myself before throwing it away, so I decided on skipping these altogether. I was given a small sample of the bitter one which had an amazing flavor, something like light fudge with cocoa powder. A second sample which I couldn’t refuse was one of their marshmallow products. It was surprisingly tough but had a taste like nothing I’ve had before.
In retrospect I feel a bit stupid, because although the products displayed in the window were not in a refrigerator, the product name “nama” means “raw” in Japanese, so I could have of guessed refrigeration was required.
I ended up purchasing two other products which didn’t require refrigeration. I haven’t tried these yet but planning on tasting and reviewing soon.
A very unique chocolatier only available in New York – highly recommended for anyone who considers themselves a consumer of high quality, high class chocolates.
Note: They are working on opening a third store, and one of the other stores was closed for construction, so be sure to check their website before heading over.
Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Store
During my family’s recent trip to Tennessee, I had an opportunity to pass through Chattanooga and spotted a Ben & Jerry’s store there. I had never seen a stand alone Ben & Jerry’s store like this before, and as the Sweets Reporter I felt compelled to step in and try some tasty sweets.
The menu had a large selection of ice cream flavors (over 25), a few yogurt flavors, sorbet, sundays, shakes, and even smoothies. I quickly decided on having “Coffee, Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz!” flavor, which I had been wanting to try ever since spotting it on their website a few weeks back. My wife and kid shared a “Berry Nice” smoothy.
The coffee ice cream was somewhat of a disappointment. From the title I was expecting more coffee, or at least more caffeine, but found neither. This flavor is supposed to be “coffee ice cream with espresso bean fudge chunks”, but the coffee flavor wasn’t particularly prominent (coffee was 7th ingredient on the label) and the chunks, of which there were far too many, tasted like everyday chocolate chips. It didn’t exactly taste bad but didn’t live up to my expectations either, especially considering it has such a great title. I would recommend Talenti’s Coffee Chocolate Chip (which I reviewed here) for an overall better flavor and better balance of chocolate chips.
The Berry Nice smoothy, another product with a well thought out name, was very tasty with blueberries, pomegranate, strawberries and banana mixed with sorbet. The biggest drawback was the many seeds which were cumbersome to chew, though they indicated there was a good proportion of real fruit. Having said that, I’d like to see the actual ingredient list to see if there was more sorbet than fruits.
I regret not writing down the prices (nor taking pictures since I didn’t have my camera at the time – need to buy a smaller camera), but from what I remember the ice cream was around $3.50 for a small size and the smoothy was a bit over $5 for the smaller size. Of the two I consider the smoothy, which is made from fresh fruits, a much better deal, especially since you can get the same ice cream for much cheaper by buying pints at a grocery store. The only exception is when the flavor you want to try isn’t sold near you (which happened in my case with the coffee ice cream). Still, its a great place to grab some sweet goodness with a group of friends, and the large menu assures everyone will be satisfied.
The service was very friendly and considerate as well, tolerating several children running around the place without a complaint or even a negative expression. Also when they were out of cups for the small smoothy they gave us a large sized cup and filled it up to the top, without any extra charge.