After dinner in Palo Alto, one has two options for nightlife: beer or frozen yogurt. When it’s too early for beer, or when it’s just time for something sweet, the Palo Alto dessert scene seems to be a barren landscape offering only froyo and the occasional cupcake. But tucked behind floor-to-ceiling windows, chef cases of the sweetest treats await those willing to search.
When I’m craving a hit of the strong stuff – rich, dark chocolate – I like to treat myself to a truffle at Monique’s Chocolates. Monique’s, located on Bryant Street, is truly one of Palo Alto’s hidden gems. And though it opened in 2010, not many students know it exists.
Proprietor Mark West makes the truffles in house with chocolate from all over the globe. Monique’s also has a build-your-own hot chocolate menu; customers can choose the chocolate (in percentage ranging from milk to dark), the liquid (milks, water, etc.) and the spices. Another specialty is the s’more, a bar made of all of the traditional s’mores ingredients but served flambéed.
At Monique’s, the specialty truffles change seasonally; my current favorite is the chai truffle, spiced with chai and topped with crystallized ginger. In a similar stroke of creative genius a few years ago, West developed a back-to-school truffle with peanut butter and jelly. For Halloween this year, one of the truffles is studded with peppercorns, and another contains bits of spicy red pepper.
To satisfy any other sugar cravings, one can delight in Chantal Guillon, a small sweet spot specializing in macarons made with all-natural ingredients, which just opened downtown. Although purists might cringe, my favorite flavors were the pumpkin and the red velvet. The pumpkin macaron filled with a creamy puree wasn’t too heavy on the spices. The red velvet, which some consider the nouveau riche of macaron flavors, was surprisingly sweet, more like classic cupcake frosting rather than ordinary macaron filling.
The best part about the spread of options is that rather than tasting like imitations, the flavors taste exactly as they should. The only downside is that Chantal Guillon closes pretty early, at 8:00 p.m. on Friday and 9:00 p.m. on Saturday, making it less than ideal for post-party snacking.
While both Monique’s and Chantal Guillon do well with the classics – perfectly composed truffles at the former and crumbly pistachio macarons at the latter – both shops triumph with their seasonal specials. I recommend that you try both spots, especially before an upcoming holiday. That way, you can try one of the seasonal specials and buy all of your holiday gifts.