There's a common type of customer at the Chocolate Bar, Decatur's new cafe specializing in desserts. Groups of women, wearing their girls'-night-out best, traipse through the door giggling like kiddies. They look like the type of women who take their dieting seriously. For them, Chocolate Bar is an excuse to be bad.
The place is certainly outfitted for girls' nights out – it's warmly inviting, but in a pleasing, modern fashion, like a corporate coffeehouse turned human. But what the girls will find here is not a menu or display case full of towering layer cakes and candy-bar-flavored cheesecakes. This is no Café Intermezzo. Instead, the sweets at Chocolate Bar border on cerebral, with delicacy and nuance playing a bigger role on the plate than the big portions and fudge-laden aesthetic that characterizes most American desserts. What else would you expect from a couple of Seeger's alums?
That's right, the Chocolate Bar's chefs, Aaron Russell and Nick Rutherford, both worked at Seeger's, Russell as pastry chef and Rutherford as sous chef. Russell also spent time in the kitchen at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, and Rutherford was chef de cuisine at Quinones. Both of them have partnered with owner Karen Britain to create an elegant cafe on Decatur's main drag where dessert is the main event.
Dessert may be the star of the show, but it's not the only cast member. The Chocolate Bar serves a number of savory nibbles, and they are anything but an afterthought. Well-selected cheeses come with freshly made fruit compotes. The charcuterie choices, from sopressata to Black Forest ham, make for happy chomping. A few weeks ago, fresh oysters appeared on the menu topped with a refreshing Bloody Mary granita. They have since disappeared, but I wish they'd return – I love the idea of a cafe that serves every available aphrodisiac. As it stands, the small list of savory items is perfectly pleasing, especially matched with a glass from the short but respectable wine list.
Desserts are advertised on the menu as if they are meant to be eaten in courses – first, second and third. If this sounds like a bit much, it is – I tried. Only the most devoted of sweet tooths would think three separate dessert courses is a good idea. But within these choices are some of the best and most thoughtfully prepared desserts in town.
Interestingly, chocolate doesn't figure as heavily on the menu as it might; fruit seems like more of a muse for Russell and Rutherford. But the two heavy-hitting chocolate desserts are also two of the best. The early favorite for signature dish is the Oreos and milk, a dainty dish that doesn't taste like Oreos but rather is a play on the iconic cookie's shape. Two round chocolate soufflés sandwich white-chocolate ganache and are accompanied by a scoop of milk sorbet. The whole thing is actually very light, a dessert that whispers rather than hollers.
The caramel ganache with chocolate sorbet is absolutely decadent and more suited to the rabid chocoholic. The scoop of silky caramel is blended with chocolate to make for a rich, dreamy dessert.
I found the texture of the chocolate pot de crème a little airy and tasting exactly of my mother's chocolate pudding, never one of my favorite desserts. But where the Seeger's influence really shows here is with the fruit desserts, and Seeger even gets a shout-out on the menu description of the poached Georgia peach. Served at the bottom of a square bowl with geranium soup and aloe vera froth, the peaches become part of a perfumey concoction – the froth makes it look like a bath, and the geranium makes it taste a little like one. The whole thing reminded me a bit too much of fancy toiletries. More satisfying was a row of fat blackberries over ginger cream, and topped with a hard sugar veil. The manic attention to detail works beautifully with this dish.
Chocolate Bar also offers a number of truffles and filled chocolates to take home, displayed in a gleaming case. Try the house-made tequila truffle, or any of the creations made by K Chocolat, a local company specializing in culinary truffles. The pink peppercorn chocolate was a favorite at the tasting held in my living room.
There's also a range of specialty cocktails – signature martinis and "culinary cocktails." If a passion-fruit mojito or a chocolate cosmo sounds appealing to you, then you'll love this stuff – it's very well-done here, but you're either that type of girl or you're not.
There are so many little delights at the chocolate bar that you might find yourself just browsing and sampling for hours. Service is studious and helpful. But do watch out; the bill can climb steeply very quickly. One evening, my companion and I ate some oysters, some marinated artichokes, and a modest cheese plate, and each had a dessert and a cocktail. With tip, our bill came to just less than $100. I went home and had dinner.
But there are few places in town that take as much care with their food from any part of the menu, let alone dessert. It's nice to find someone paying this much attention to the serious business of bringing some sweetness into our lives.
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