Hot Chocolate: Always Save Room for Dessert

July 29, 2012

For an early birthday dinner, my friend Sharon and I went to a restaurant that's been on the top of my must-try Chicago restaurant list. Hot Chocolate is a Wicker Park eatery owned by pastry chef Mindy Segal. Mindy is well-known as one of the best pastry chefs in the world and was even recipient of the prestigious James Beard award for outstanding pastry this year. Word on the street was Hot Chocolate threw a mean brunch, but I wanted to try dinner and dessert, of course.

Ambiance at Hot Chocolate
On the Saturday evening we dined at Hot Chocolate, the cafe's front windows were completely open, creating a nice breezy atmosphere. The restaurant is constructed of dark woods and leathers, reminiscent of chocolate itself. Sharon and I were seated in a half-booth in the middle of the restaurant and were promptly given a run-down of the evening's specials.

Ambiance at Hot Chocolate
Dinner menu
After glancing over the food and drink menus, we decided to split a large format Belgian beer. This 750 mL bottle of beer was from Portland's Upright Brewing. Our knowledgeable server described how rare it is to find this particular beer on menus in Chicago, prompting us to choose it over the handful of other Belgian-style beers on the menu. This beer was unique in that it was very hoppy compared to most Belgian-style beers.

Upright Brewing Five Belgian-Style Ale
For my entree, I went with the mussels served with a generous creamy, buttery broth and toasted baguette points. I have to admit, this was a premeditated order, since I wanted to choose my drink based upon my entree. The dish was spicier than I anticipated due to the addition of jalapenos in the broth, but I enjoyed the complex flavor combined with the tender mussels. Paired with the hoppyness of the beer it was a delicious choice. The portion size was massive, but that didn't stop me from finishing (nearly) all of the mussels.

Mussels in an Old Milwaukee & Kilgus cream broth, red onion, jalapeno & grilled sourdough baguette
Sharon went with the crab cake sandwich on a bun with fresh giardiniera tartar sauce. She enjoyed the tartar sauce but admitted while delicious, the crab cake had a lot of filler. She also said the homemade cottage chips were a bit too salty to enjoy. I tried a bite of the sandwich and I did find it tasty, although it's probably not something I'd order on a return visit.

New England crab cake sandwich with homemade giardiniera tartar sauce, served with cottage chips
Our server was a bit MIA during our meal, although she did check to see how everything tasted once we were served. I was impressed with her knowledge of the menu, although it seemed the support staff were more attentive and did a better job tending to our table overall.

I mentioned we were celebrating my birthday so our server dropped off a box of homemade cookies. Obviously dessert was one of our main reasons for visiting Hot Chocolate so I was thrilled to try some of their famous pastries.

Box of assorted birthday cookies
Although we were told these were cookies to take home, we immediately dug right in. The box held a chocolate crackle cookie, snickerdoodle and two varieties of rugelach. Rugelach is one of my favorite cookies in the world so I was beyond happy. My favorites were the raspberry rugelach and the chocolate crackle cookie. The richness of the chocolate cookie was similar in taste and texture to a brownie and the rugelach was sweet and flaky.

Chocolate crackle, snickerdoodle and chocolate and raspberry rugelach
Since the cookies were only the "appetizer" to our dessert course, we decided to get an item off the ever-changing dessert menu. Much like the brunch and dinner menus, the dessert menu features local and seasonal ingredients. On our visit, there were three seasonal items including a blueberry pie, chocolate cake and lemon panna cotta. We had our hearts set on one of the dessert menu staples, a gooey chocolate souffle topped with salted caramel ice cream and homemade pretzel points and served in a mini cast iron skillet. They definitely saved the best for last because we absolutely demolished this dessert. From the warm oozing souffle, to the buttery ice cream, it was no wonder Mindy Segal was voted best pastry chef. The pretzels on top were a bit too salty for us but that didn't change our opinion about the dessert. This was chocolate heaven!

Gooey chocolate skillet souffle with salted caramel ice cream and homemade pretzel
Overall, we enjoyed our leisurely Saturday meal of indulgence. From the warm atmosphere, to the rich chocolatey dessert, Hot Chocolate was a great experience. I give the restaurant 4.5 stars for its educated staff, eclectic mix of menu items, and, of course, those sinfully delicious desserts. My next visit to Hot Chocolate will undoubtedly be for weekend brunch, and you better believe I'll be scoping out some more of those delicious pastries!

Truer words have never been written
Hot Chocolate
1747 N. Damen Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 489-1747

Hot Chocolate on Urbanspoon

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