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When it's cold, it's haute

In midwinter, Paris struts its chocolate stuff -- in settings as cozy and delightful as the luxuriously authentic fare.

February 11, 2007|Elliott Hester | Special to The Times

Paris — WHEN winter set its chilly grip on Paris, I started scouring the rues and boulevards for my one true love: chocolate. Hot chocolate, to be exact. In France, the warm, rich, winter drink is known as chocolat chaud.

Unlike the United States, where warm milk is mixed with sweetened cocoa powder to create a "chocolate-flavored" drink, the main ingredient in chocolat chaud is real chocolate.

The thick, dark chocolate, imported from Africa or South America, boasts a cacao content of 70% or more. It is melted, blended with steamed milk or cream and served in porcelain teacups with a glass of cold water on the side. (The chocolate is so rich, you need occasional palate-cleansing sips.)

In Paris, Angelina is the place for chocolat chaud. On Rue de Rivoli across from the Tuileries Gardens, this antique tea room is all frescoed walls and gilded mirrors.

The most popular menu item is Chocolat a l'Ancienne dit "Africain" (traditional chocolate the African way). Made with pure chocolate from the Ivory Coast, it's as thick as hot fudge but delightfully bitter.

In 1802, Dalloyau began serving pastries and chocolate to adoring Parisians. Since then, the patisserie has expanded to seven Paris locations that sell a combined 55 tons of chocolate each year.

Dalloyau's amber-lighted tea room, on the second floor of the Rue du Faubourg St.-Honore boutique, is often filled with French women wearing full-length furs. They sip chocolat chaud made with rich Colombian chocolate.

Cafe de Flore, in trendy St.-Germain des Pres, gets my vote for best delivery. The Chocolat Special Flore is mixed with a bit of caramel. This semisweet blend comes in a silver pitcher served on a silver platter. A decorative potholder with which to lift the searing-hot pitcher is tucked inside the coffee cup.

Steps away at Les Deux Magots -- where Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir reigned over a postwar intellectual crowd -- the Chocolat des Deux Magots a l'Ancienne is to die for. The devilishly rich serving is the equivalent of two cups.

A few blocks east, in a rustic tea room on a hidden cobblestone lane, L'Heure Gourmande serves bitter Chocolat a l'Ancienne that's among the best I've tasted. The ingredients remain a mystery because my waitress and her manager have sworn an oath of secrecy.

Le Flore en l'Ile is my favorite hot-chocolate haunt. Poised on the western tip of Ile Saint-Louis, the dining room provides awe-inspiring views of Notre Dame Cathedral. The Chocolat Chaud a l'Ancienne is not blended, as tradition would have it. Instead, melted chocolate (78% cacao) is served in a short silver pitcher and steamed milk in a tall silver pitcher. Voila! I can blend to my taste buds' desire.

Les Cakes de Bertrand is in the old Bourdaloue chocolate factory, down the hill from the basilica of Sacre-Coeur in Montmartre. This cozy tea room accommodates only 30 guests. But the Chocolat Maison l'Ancienne, like so much of the chocolat chaud in Paris, sends me to heaven with every chocolaty sip.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

City of Light and dark chocolat

To call the numbers below from the U.S., dial 011 (the international dialing code), 33 (country code), 1 (city code for Paris) and the local number.

1. Les Cakes de Bertrand, 7 Rue Bourdaloue 75009; 40-16-16-28; www.lescakesdebertrand.com. Open noon- 5 p.m. Mondays, noon-7 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturdays, noon-6 p.m. Sundays. Hot chocolate $7.80.

2. Angelina, 226 Rue de Rivoli 75001; 42-60-82-00. Open 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Hot chocolate $8.50.

3. Dalloyau, 101 Faubourg du St.-Honore 75008 (six additional Paris locations); 42-99-90-00; dalloyau.splio.fr. Open 9 a.m.-7:30 p.m. daily. Hot chocolate $7.80.

4. Le Flore en l'Ile, 42 Quai d'Orleans, l'Ile Saint-Louis 75004; 43-29-88-27. Open 8 a.m.-2 a.m. daily. Hot chocolate $7.25.

5. L'Heure Gourmande, 22 Passage Dauphine 75006; 46-34-00-40. Open 11:30 a.m.- 7 p.m. daily. Hot chocolate $8.85.

6. Les Deux Magots, 6 Place St.-Germain des Pres 75006; 45-48-55-25; www.lesdeuxmagots.fr. Open 7:30 a.m.-1 a.m. daily. Hot chocolate $8.10.

7. Cafe de Flore, 172 Boulevard St.-Germain 75006; 45-48-55-26. Open 7:30 a.m.-1:30 a.m. daily. Hot chocolate $9.10.

-- ELLIOTT HESTER

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