Where Is Wen?

Wen Chocolates
1541 Platte Street, Denver
303-477-5765 (store)
www.wenchocolates.com
Bus directions: the 10, 44, 28, and 32 go by on 15th

Note: Wen Chocolates closed its Platte retail location on February 14, 2010. Please see the website for more information.

I’ve had extraordinary chocolate in my time—Vosges from Chicago, Belvedere from this area, Chuao in San Diego, Neuhaus—but I think Wen Chocolates has them all beat. Of the three, I think Wen is most like Vosges in the composition of the truffles, though Vosges, of course, is a much larger company creating large batches of truffles to be shipped around the world. But some of chef William Poole’s creations are more creative and exotic than any I’ve had from Vosges.

My favorite was the “Violette,” described as “an infusion of black violet tea, brushed with violet pearl dust, and topped with candied violets.” I could clearly taste the tea (which I can’t say about all so-called tea truffles), but the flavor was delicate. I was sad that Wen was out of “Prazen Sladkor,” covered in edible gold dust. Maybe next time.Top right, Prazen Sladkor; bottom left, Marcipan; bottom center, Triglav (coconut); center left, pear hazelnut; top left, Basil Hayden

(I remember reading about some restaurant in LA that Tom Cruise supposedly frequented—and there was some kind of “Gold Dust” dish on that menu. At the time, I got real busy scorning all those rich people who eat gold. What if it had cyanide in it from the leaching process? I sneered. And now … well … I guess chocolate makes it all different.)

Wen Chocolates has been in its location, near 15th and Platte, for a year now. The neighborhood isn’t new, of course, but it seems much more shiny and spiffy than it did years ago, when I used to stop in for coffee at Paris on the Platte, only a couple of doors down. There’s a Vitamin Cottage across the street, a spice store next door, and REI a block or two away. New condos rise next to the grocery store, and the Platte River flows shallowly on the other side of them. The neighborhood gives off a self-contained air; I think I could live there for years without leaving the block.

The only bad thing is that Wen Chocolates is a little hard to see from across the street. I was looking at the numbers, knowing it must be over there somewhere, but the signage is cryptic. And when I walked into that tiny store, I was immediately struck by how big it seems because the back window opens onto the spice store.

The whole place gives off a fairy tale vibe. Renovated by Poole, Wen Chocolates has brick walls and a beautiful gray ceiling. There’s room for a few people to stand and look over the displays and, on the right wall, a display of cards with pictures of the truffles. As in a sushi restaurant, you order your truffles on a slip of paper and hand the order to the person behind the counter, who wraps them up for you.

The website states that Wen offers “small-batch artisan chocolate with no added sweeteners, preservatives, or stabilizers” and that “no machinery is involved.” (I did notice some dyes in the ingredients list in one of the beggar’s coins, however.) While I was perusing the other candies (and asking about the pate de fruit, which my husband loves), the clerk assured me that Poole makes everything by hand (in a kitchen in Wheat Ridge).

There were cube-shaped cakes in one display case, which can be ordered with 3 days’ notice, and chocolate art pieces, called “tiles,” with raised designs on them. Poole also makes his own marshmallows, which melted obligingly into a cup of hot chocolate supplied by Paris on the Platte. (I tried eating one to “cleanse my palate” between chocolates, but I don’t recommend it, unless you really love the taste of marshmallows by themselves. I’m such a dork.)

Wen Chocolates was recommended by two other chocolatiers in the area, Patty Moore at Le Chocolatier and Roberta of Roberta’s Chocolates (see last week’s posts). Their recommendation was right on—and I applaud them for not being afraid of the competition!

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Wen’s has a new look these days. The shelves with pictures of truffles are gone (“We got through the first year with those pictures,” the clerk told me the last time I visited), replaced by a nice glass case. Wen Chocolates interior Denver May 2009

I don’t visit Wen often enough to get to know the staff, especially now that I’m on a diet. But Saturday, May 26, was my splurge day, so I went to the tiny store (maybe 100 square feet) and started ordering truffles. As always, I got some freebies, one of which pleasantly surprised me: the Rozmary truffle, my favorite of the day. It looks plain but has a distinct, delicate flavor of rosemary. Prazen Sladkor is simply the best caramel I’ve ever had, and the pear hazelnut is awfully pretty (see picture above). I couldn’t taste the pear at all; next time I order it, I’ll eat it first.

The full review of the Downtown Denver Arts Festival, from which this update is excerpted, can be found here.