Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hot Chocolate in the Limelight

Tonight's hot chocolate was a luscious bite of decadent, nostalgic indulgence that turned up at 47 W. 20th Street in Manhattan's Flatiron District. Once a throbbing, pulsating and iconic disco-tech beating in the heart of a gothic church, the Limelight has again re-made itself, turning the sacred into yet another iteration of the profane.

Ostensibly blaspheming hallowed ground, the space, once a place of worship, has been transformed into Limelight Marketplace, in bold but lively and irreverent challenge to John 2:16.

A host of vendors line the walls of the multi-levels of the space, peddling their wares of bejeweled baubles, scented soaps, savory nibbles and sugary-sweet desserts. Nary a dove, drag queen or outré night creature of yester-year was to be found on this evening in the place which seemed to be thriving, clearly skewed for a newer, younger clientele of nocturnal monster -- ala  Gaga, Kanye, and Minaj -- with an insatiable penchant for things sweet.

Clean and pristine, the locale's blasphemous sub-text didn't even occurred to me until after I had left, thrilled at my latest chocolate find. It was on the second floor of the building, on the wall opposite a stained glass, rose window. Tucked in the far back corner at a stand-up bar was featured some of the most deeply rich and indulgent sweet treats to be found this side of heaven, or perhaps, in this case, "H – E – double-toothpicks."

Ruby et Violette is probably better known for its dizzying array of cookies, in flavors which I was told count in the hundreds, brownies, and frozen, cookie-dough-spiked creams. But it was the hot chocolate and drinking chocolate, two unnaturally rich, warm beverages that ranked in my book.

I started with a tasting. The hot chocolate was first. Smooth and velvety in texture, it was noteworthy. Then, however, I tried the drinking chocolate. The woman at the counter likened it to a candy bar you can drink. In one sip, though, I knew differently. Within an instant of sipping it, I felt as if I were again in Madrid, in the after-hours cafes where people by the dozens wait in lines to gnosh on "churros and chocolate" in the early morning hours before day break.

Now, standing squarely in Manhattan, at the marbled counter-top, the thick-as-pudding elixir coated my palate, and saturated my taste buds with memory of heady nights spent dancing until dawn, partying through the streets, enjoying the seemingly endless "marcha" of cosmopolitan Europe.

Made giddy with memory as much as the flavor of a rediscovered treasure, I searched the counter space for hot chocolate's perfect compliment – a crispy, light, freshly fried churro. None was to be found. Instead, rich cookies and assaultingly sweet creams were all around.

With that first sip still reverberating through my senses, churros, and only churros would do. I tried to remember when I had last had one. Suddenly, nearly spontaneously, I bust into laughter as a vague vision of French-blue pinstripes gave way to the mental image of the couch in my old home on which I lay awaiting homemade churros, and for my contractions to pass while fully engaged in labor, on the day gave birth to my now 15-year-old daughter. I laughed out loud.

Bearing through contractions still too far apart, I had been told by my ob/gyn to wait a bit longer before heading, with my then husband, to the hospital. Making churros had been the diversion concocted to pass the time.

The recollection of the day leading to my child's birthday was as clear and vivid as the crescendoing flavor of chocolate. It was then when it occurred to me, too, that it must have been in January, about this time of year, so many moons ago, that she, whose birthday is in October, was conceived. The realization was a moment I savored. It was good.

I purchased a serving of the beverage to go, as it was late in the evening. It came in a demitasse-sized paper cup, 3/4 full, appropriate for the drink's potency.

To satiate my visual appetite, I also bought a ½ cup sized, Rainbow Wood Bowl that dressed up the luscious treat. Among the top selling gifts from the holiday season past, according to the shopkeep, the repurposed houseware proved a wonderful vessel, with warm, earthy tones and texture that complimented the same qualities of the drink.

Ultimately, a biscotti stood in for a churro. The Italian dipping cookie did well, robust enough to hold up to the viscosity and flavor of the chocolate. Could it be an otherworldly hint?

I dipped, sipped and wondered, passing through the snowy shouldered streets of New York City, winding my way to and over the George Washington Bridge toward home, my heart warmed with hope, by memories and chocolate.

(c) 2011 Valerie Williams-Sanchez

Footnote: Per the bible text of  John 2:16, and when the passage is read literally, a church that was used as a marketplace, would be considered blasphemous. However, I would put forth that once a structure, previously used for worship, is no longer actively used as "a place where two or more gather to worship the Lord." Such a structure would no longer be considered a church and therefore the activities carried out therein, neither would be blasphemous.
Moreever, the suggestion that a group would endeavor to be so bold, is noteworthy and a very strong marketing device, which as in its hayday as again today, resounds and draws interest,  particularily among those aware if the scritpural passage. This arguement is a theologically distinction. From a communications and language point of view, the use of the words "quite literally" are just that, meant to highlight the textual contradiction, driving the characterization as blasphemous. The contradiction and tension are also what make the Limelight Marketplace so intriguing from a consumer marketing perspective. Last, in practical terms the distinction between the literal -- in this instance could be liked to a de jure reading -- should be juxtaposed with a de facto interpretation, in which practical matters must be taken into consideration when attributing meaning. As such, the phrase ends by simply alluding to the biblical challenge which is ostensibly, the very point of tension that makes the venue and its approach to marketing fresh, new, and of interest.

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