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Harvest savings and local flavor

Urban Eats gathers 39 of the area's most esteemed restaurants to provide a 3-course dinner (appetizer, entrée and dessert) for only $30. Visit them Oct. 1-29, Sunday-Thursday nights.
See a map of participating restaurants | Enter to win dinner for two

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Paris, the city of chocolate delights

Parisian chocolate shops lure tourists with a taste for the sweet life.

Contra Costa (California) Times

In Paris, chocolate is art.

La Maison Du Chocolat frames its truffles in gold leaf. Jean-Charles Rochoux uses chocolate to carve whimsical animals. And waiters at Angelina don't serve their rich, dark hot chocolate — they present it, along with a bowl of whipped cream.

Parisians don't consume chocolate — they celebrate it — and no two places that sell it are the same.

"Each shop has its own style," says Jennifer Wilbois, guide for viator.com. "You have to find what you like."

My husband, Mark, a devout chocoholic, and I were on our first trip to Paris and decided to take a walking tour of the city's chocolate and pastry shops.

We started at La Maison Du Chocolat, 19 rue de Sevres. Finding it was easy. Standing outside its enticing window was not. A plate of chocolate éclairs beckoned us inside.

La Maison started as one man's passion for chocolate. In 1955, Robert Linxe opened a high-end confectionary boutique, a daring move at the time. Chocolate was considered a holiday treat, bought only at Christmas and Easter. However, Linxe's success proved that two days a year was clearly not enough.

His first shop metamorphosed into La Maison du Chocolate in 1977, and in 1990, he came up with the "incomparable éclair." Linxe's éclair is smaller and narrower than the ones found in the United States. Mark and I split one. It was outstanding — light airy pastry enhanced by rich dark chocolate icing and a creamy chocolate center that went down easily.

La Maison and the other shops we visited that day are all located in the Latin Quarter of Paris. This area surrounds the Sorbonne University, and gets its name from the Latin language, commonly spoken during the Middle Ages.

If you're visiting the Luxembourg Gardens, where the locals play ongoing chess games, or you're a "DaVinci Code" fanatic tracing the Rose Line in the nearby Church of Saint-Sulpice, sweet treats are never far away.

A la Reine Astrid, 24 rue Cherche Midi, offers a good selection of chocolates at affordable prices. In business since 1935, this chain has a style familiar to most Americans. The atmosphere is casual, the sales people are friendly and the gaily-wrapped chocolates are meant to be eaten, not necessarily worshipped. For serious chocolate connoisseurs who are willing to pay the price, try Pierre Marcolini, 89 rue Seine. The shop's window resembles a jewelry store. A few boxes of chocolate are on display, and each is mounted on a black pedestal against a black background, as though priceless gems are being sold instead of candy. The clerks carry out the jewelry theme by wearing formal black dresses and upswept hairdos.

Pierre Marcolini's truffles are small, but pack an intense flavor. My sample of dark chocolate and sweet mango blasted my taste buds. Mark's dark chocolate against dark chocolate combination had a delightful peppery kick.

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But even if you're not a chocoholic — even if you're not hungry — the shop of Jean-Charles Rochoux, 16 rue d'Assas, is worth a visit. Rochoux uses chocolate to create creatures. Dark chocolate frogs, milk chocolate cherubs and leering alligators are thrown together on his shelves. It's a sight that dazzles the eye as well as stimulates the taste buds.

But if chocolate really is your first love and you want to take a taste of Paris back with you, go to Angelina. The restaurant, located on the Right Bank near the Louvre museum, serves an extremely rich, decadent hot chocolate that swamps your mouth with flavor without being overly sweet. Patrons enjoy it two different ways — either pouring the chocolate in the cup and piling on whipped cream or loading the cup with whipped cream and drizzling in the chocolate.

We found a third way. Angelina's also sells its hot chocolate. We brought a bag home, and recently, we made some for ourselves. One sip, and the memories of a great vacation came pouring back.

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