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When You Long for Chocolate, and a Set of Clean Sheets Too

September 15, 1988|PATRICK MOTT | Patrick Mott is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

How much do you love chocolate?

Would you report your grandmother to the IRS for a hot fudge sundae? Give up cote d'agneau provencale and a magnum of Perrier Jouet for a couple of Mr. Goodbars? Are items like Alps, numbered bank accounts, skiing and neutrality unknown to you when your thoughts turn to Switzerland?

Do you love chocolate enough to forswear nearly every other form of food for two days, and calories be damned?

If so, the people at the Seal Beach Inn have your number, and are ready to exploit it shamelessly. As part of its handful of weekend getaway packages, this European-style bed-and-breakfast inn offers what its owner, Marjorie Bettenhausen, calls a "Chocolate Love-Inn"--a veritable orgy of chocolatiana spread (almost literally) over two days' stay.

It is an idea filled with sin, and it works like this:

On arrival, the couple (this is not an undertaking for one person) is greeted with a basket of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and chocolate candies. They can either eat them immediately or go to their room to hunt for more, the staff having secreted more chocolate items in nooks and crannies around the place.

After, oh, maybe two hours or so without any new chocolate item to ingest, the couple may stroll down to the pool area, where a couple of chocolate sodas are waiting. That evening, more chocolate confections are served with coffee or tea.

When comes the dawn, an inn staffer shows up at the couple's door with a basket of freshly baked chocolate yeast cake and hot chocolate, plus a couple of copies of Chocolatier Magazine for a bit of research. After breakfast come chocolate ice cream cones from a local shop.

A second night's "recovery purge" of Alka-Seltzer and soda water is offered on request, Bettenhausen said.

A room, breakfast and enough chocolate to turn the Himalayas into a giant banana split go for $95 per person per night, based on double occupancy.

If you're allergic to chocolate, but you still love to hide out for a day or so, and you wouldn't mind doing it surrounded by flowers, plants, elegant furnishings, soft music and the atmosphere of a European inn only a block from the beach, then tell the folks at the Seal Beach Inn to hold the chocolate. It isn't mandatory. In fact, Bettenhausen said, guests from around the world have managed nicely during the 11 years the inn has been open with far fewer calories.

The inn, she said, is actually 60 years old, and used to be a tourist hotel during the 1920s when Seal Beach was known principally as a seaside resort town. Bettenhausen bought it in 1977 when "it had become a disreputable place," she said. She and her husband had the grounds planted with a riot of bright flowers and plants and restored the structure in the manner "not of a tourist home in Europe, but more in the tradition of European country manor houses. We've tried to create a piece of Europe in Southern California."

The 23 rooms, all named for flowers, are furnished with European antiques, etched windows, handcrafted doors, railings and ironwork. There is a small pool area, and tea is served in the inn's library, which is furnished with antique lace curtains, Oriental rugs, a Victorian tin ceiling and brass chandeliers.

Breakfast is included in the price of the rooms, and other meals can be prepared if arrangements are made in advance, Bettenhausen said.

The inn is a simple idea, taken to sometimes pleasingly grandiose proportions. And the chocolate package, Bettenhausen said, is an extension of that philosophy.

"I consider the inn a kind of art form," she said. "It's like sculpting with a building. Although, with the chocolate, most people end up taking a lot of it home with them."

THE SEAL BEACH INN AT A GLANCE

Where: 212 5th St., Seal Beach.

Open: Year-round.

Room rates: $88 to $135 per person per night, based on double occupancy.

Special packages: Chocolate Love-Inn (features different sorts of chocolate confections), $95 per person per night. Beach Blanket Barbecue (catered beach barbecue), $92.50 per person per night. Gondola Getaway (gondola cruise through Naples canals in Long Beach, with hors d'oeuvres) $82.50 per person per night. Bridal/anniversary packages (include gondola ride, dinner tickets, gratuity, food basket, tax and either three nights in a cottage room or two nights in a "royal villa" room) are $500 per couple. All packages include breakfast and are based on double occupancy.

Information: (213) 493-2416.

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