Showing posts with label Chocolate. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chocolate. Show all posts

Pluvio (Ucluelet)

Pluvio is in Ucluelet, an eerily calm town about a 20-minute drive from Tofino, and had we not used GPS to find the restaurant, we might have driven by the quiet street the inn and restaurant was located on. In fact, we were able to park right out front despite securing a prime dinner reservation. A win for Ukee!

With a choice of a five-course chef’s menu and three-course prix fixe, we opted for the select your own three-course option ($88) because sometimes it’s nice to have a bit of choice. The meal started with three crispy one bite wonders: a puffed cracker with a smoked fish (?) creamy topping, a delicate lattice leaf chip and refreshing chive dip, and little nests filled with a delicious meaty filling that had me wondering if anyone would notice if I swiped another one from the open kitchen near us. 

After being talked down by my friends, I focused instead of the wine and conversation and soon the first course arrived. Before getting into the dishes, we noticed that food tends to be overly seasoned in BC. Perhaps it’s due to their proximity to salt water, but we found that 80% of the things served were a little saltier than we’d like. And this was true for Pluvio’s dishes, so if you prefer things a little less seasoned, I’d suggest letting them know while ordering.

The cubes of torched sablefish were wonderfully prepared but overpowered by the strong pickled radish and poached apples that surrounded the black cod. Still, the colours did make for an artistic creation adorned with crispy butterflies and translucent fruit flowers. It’s a dish that is best eaten with the eyes. 

If the sablefish was a dish signifying spring, the polenta would pay homage to the cooler months. A surf and turf moat made from side stripe shrimp and lamb sausage surrounded the creamy luscious polenta. The strips of sausage being removed from the casing, flattened, and grilled almost had a steak-like quality to it and made for an interesting protein. Everything worked well together, especially when combined with the dollop of mint purée. 

Smartly, Pluvio serves their bread after the first course to discourage guests from filling up before the mains. Perhaps they should sandwich the bread before dessert as I still couldn’t contain my excitement and dug into the fresh crusty country bread and corn bread. Why oh why is it so difficult to keep away from the carbs?! 

Luckily, I still had room for the hefty piece of confit halibut swimming in a creamy corn and toasted yeast beurre blanc that provided a light but decadent sauce against the meaty fish. The sauce was also great for dipping the crispy chips, which shielded the skinless poached cherry tomatoes. With the halibut, I added three grilled scallops ($12) because as the menu describes, everything is better with scallops, especially when they are cooked wonderfully. 

Pluvio’s desserts are described as “forest”, “field”, and “sea”.  Neither were spectacular and if I could choose, I would have simply wanted the green spruce sponge cake from the forest served with a side of the cold lemon semifreddo of the field. 

In general, I’d stick with the land desserts as the “sea” was way too citrusy from the sea buckthorn caramel and the hard pieces of sponge too sweet when paired with the chocolate crémeux. In fact, if I could have a do over, I’d stick with the cheese plate as you can’t really go wrong with cheese (except if you’re lactose intolerant, I guess). 

Pluvio presents a “search” for your own chocolate truffle box to end, which may stump a baby but made us feel like geniuses. It was a sweet gesture, but after the filling meal the large truffles were too rich. 

Maybe a search for a fruit jelly would work better? Or they could have hidden another one of those meaty nests that were found in the earlier snacks … for me, that would have been such an amazing surprise to find.  

Overall mark - 7 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Ucluelet, Canada
 Address: 1714 Peninsula Road

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

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PONPON Artisan Polvoron Cookies

I’ve written about this before, but one of the good things that has come out of COVID are the number of new entrepreneurs that have left their jobs to become a boss and push their talents. During the holidays, I love to support local artisans and find joy when I’m able to introduce a friend or family member to a new company. Hence, when Laine & Lola reached out to see if I’d like to see what they had in store for the holidays, I enthusiastically agreed. They have come a long way from selling the confections through William Sonoma in Yorkdale Mall as a pop-up brand in 2018 – they have earned their own permanent location in Vaughan!

A PONPON is Laine and Lola’s take on the Spanish polvorón cookie that also gained fame in former Spanish colonies like the Philippines. Polvorón descends from the Spanish word polvo meaning dust, which you’d think is a strange for a cookie… until you bite into it. Something that feels and smells like shortbread shatters in your mouth coating it with a blast of buttery sweet crumbs. Yet, it doesn’t simply melt, thanks to the finely ground puffed rice and nuts mixed into the batter, a crunchy texture finishes off the treat.

Their four-piece box format (all $9.99) is great for wrapping up as a casual gift for co-workers or add on as a stocking stuffer. Two flavours will be a part of every box: chocolate and original. The original flavour seems to have gotten sweeter than I remember, or it could be another factor of getting order - I once thought it wasn’t sweet enough but now it’s perfect. Of all the flavours, if you like the butteriness of shortbread this is where you’ll find it. Even the plainer chocolate cookie isn’t as buttery - it’s somehow lighter than the original – that squiggle of melted Lindt chocolate seems to temper the butter.

The other two cookies in the classic assortment are cookies & cream and cappuccino. For those who want a lighter PONPON, the cookies & cream is like the original except lighter on the butter and heavier on the sugar. Both my husband and I agreed the cappuccino is a winner for us – for an otherwise plain looking cookie this really packs a punch. It’s almost like having black coffee with sugar as you’re immediately greeted with an earthy coffee flavour that has a slightly bitter and acid bite to end.

I’m a little surprised that even the chocolate lover’s assortment still contains an original cookie - I would have thought it’d be substituted for something purely chocolate based. Nevertheless, the other two PONPONs that round out the box are a chocolate cookie topped with berries and one created to resemble a smore. Meanwhile, the fiesta assortment is so fun and is great for party favours since the two different PONPONs are adorned with festive rainbow sprinkles and multi-coloured chocolate crisps.

Yet, it really wouldn’t be the holidays without holiday cookies – in this case, cinnamon and peppermint chocolate. Both are delicious: the cinnamon is reminiscent of having a gingerbread person and the peppermint chocolate could be Laine & Lola’s version of an After Eight. Perhaps the holiday cookies were more made recently, but I enjoy their formulation better – there’s less of the puffed rice so there’s only a hint for texture allowing the PONPON to become creamier.

Aside from the PONPONs, Laine & Lola also offers gift baskets. Teaming up with The Pretzel Dough, they created the deluxe chocolate bomb set ($49.99), which includes an assortment of their cookies, uber crispy and surprisingly light chocolate dipped pretzels, a chocolate bar, a candy cane, and a chocolate bomb filled with their polvorón cookie. All this wrapped up in a soup mug that’s convenient for staying cozy in the winter or warming up milk for the chocolate bomb.

Their chocolate bomb ($8.99) goes a step further from the traditional marshmallow and sprinkles to include pieces of their chocolate PONPON as well. Once melted into hot milk, it breaks open and creates an all-in-one cookie with hot chocolate combo. This was my first experience with a chocolate bomb, and it reinforced my first belief of the product – it is great for the Gram but really isn’t the best for drinking.

Once you get the (oat) milk hot and throw the bomb in, the chocolate is so large that by the time it actually breaks apart to release all the hidden marshmallows and cookies, about 30 seconds, it cools down the milk quite substantially. Despite doing a thorough stirring, I was still left with a lot of melted chocolate at the bottom of the cup. The best way to make this – for taste purposes – would be to throw the bomb into the hot milk while it’s still in a pot, keep stirring until everything is melted and then pour into a cup. Give up the Gram and go for taste instead.

Elaine pays homage to her lola (a.k.a. grandmother) in the name of her company. It was Elaine’s lola who introduced her to PONPONs and eventually passed down the recipe to her, which she ended up jazzing up to make so many unique flavours. It’s such a heartwarming story that is a great reminder during the holidays that nothing is more important than spending time with loved ones. Whether it’s baking cookies together or skipping the work and turning to PONPONs instead, we all need less screen time and more IRL experiences.  

Thank you, Laine & Lola, for all these delightful confections. I loved sampling the new flavours and sharing them with friends. Laine & Lola are also providing all GastroWorld readers 25% off sitewide. Just use the promo code GASTROWORLD at checkout. Happy holidays!

Disclaimer: The above meal was complimentary. Rest assured, as noted in my mission statement, I will always provide an honest opinion.

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 2316 Major Mackenzie Drive West

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#Contest: Spoil a loved one with Days of Wine & Chocolate in #NOTL this February!

Stumped on what to do to celebrate Valentine's? If your loved one enjoys chocoate and wine, taking them on a day/weekend trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake is the perfect gift. Over weekends in February, twenty wineries across the region are pairing their delicious wine with a chocolate delight. Having looked through the listing, a few stuck out in particular:

  • With the cold weather, what could be toastier than a lovely lobster bisque topped with white chocolate shavings and a glass of Chardonnay Reserve from Rancourt?
  • Strewn seems to be serving an entire meal with their merlot paired with a savoury chocolate trio: mushroom with chocolate sauce, cocoa dusted pork, and potato chip dipped in dark chocolate.
  • I love ribs! Pondview's glazing pork back ribs with a chocolate infused BBQ sauce and serving it with a glass of their Bella Terra Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.
Having attended a similar event in 2017, Sip and Sizzle, it was a great time - eating and drinking the day away at so many wineries.

You can experience a similar tasty day every weekend in February (Friday, Saturdays, and Sundays). Pick up the touring passport for $45 (plus taxes and fees) or a designated driver’s version for $25 (plus taxes and fees) that includes non-alcoholic drinks and you’re entitled to a taste of food and drink at each of the 20 participating wineries, valid all month long.

The Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake want to give a Gastro World reader a chance to experience it themselves. The winner will receive two passes (valued at $90 plus taxes and fees) to use anytime during the event. Please note, transportation and accommodations are not included. Simply enter below.

Entries will be accepted until January 29, 2018 at 12:00 AM. Sometime the following day, I will contact winners through email with further details. Accordingly, please make sure you enter a valid email address in Rafflecopter contest site. Cheers!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

How To Find Them
 Location: Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada

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Langdon Hall (Cambridge)

Many friends have suggested a visit to Langdon Hall for a great meal. It’s the place they go to celebrate an anniversary, propose, or even attend a wedding. Langdon Hall is that special location combining beautiful lush grounds, a historic stately mansion, and excellent dependable cuisine that isn’t easy to come by. The most comparable experience I’ve had is dinner at the French Laundry, which occupies a converted laundry house in Napa Valley.

As I spoke to Executive Chef Jason Bangerter, passion simply exuded from him; his love for the property and desire to push Canadian cuisine to another level was apparent. As common with top restaurants, the menu features local ingredients when possible and relies on the inn’s own gardens for produce and garnishes. Even a drink like the Langdon Collins ($15) is finished off with real lavender flowers, adding a light floral essence and isn’t overpowering like syrup.

There are many ways to dine at Langdon Hall, but if you have the time and resources, their tasting menu ($165) is a top choice. The experience combines so many ingredients and meticulously plated creations, really creating an encounter that exemplifies what makes the restaurant impressive.

Take the first bite, a cube of west coast albacore tuna sitting on top of the fish’s bone (the actual specimen is actually an east coast tuna). The bite is sublime as the tuna melts onto the tongue leaving a light citrusy herb finish, it’s over before you even know it.

Even if you’re not staying the night, arrive earlier to stroll through their gardens; they’re opened to the public (it leads to their spacious outdoor pool) and a visit before dinner service may allow you to pick the chefs' brains as they gather ingredients.

We were lucky to have Chef Bangerter himself show us around the property and sample a delicious crispy radish plucked from the ground and dipped in butter for a fabulous taste of the produce. It was followed by nibbles of various fauna bringing zips of flavours you wouldn’t think could come from a simple leaf – my favourite: the typical small clovers you see in the yard that exudes a citrusy kick.
You’ll find a lot of these herbs scattered on the actual dishes. While dining at Langdon Hall be sure to eat everything, herbs aren’t simply placed onto dishes to make things look good, it adds an extra element to the dish as well.

The second dish of their tasting menu was inspired by their greenhouses. As Chef Bangerter walked through them he was captured by the beauty of the potted plants and decided to add it to his menu. A young vegetable (we were served asparagus and fennel) is potted in “earth”, which isn’t soil but rather quinoa mixed with green goddess sauce that has a sour cream and onion essence. It’s a simple but tasty dish that I could see made into a fulfilling lunch if it came in a larger pot.

More fish is served on the summer menu, a cheeky cod on cod – in this case, a deep fried nugget on salted cod for presentation. The cod was nicely battered but my piece was a bit chewy (while my husband’s spot on), likely due to mine being thicker so hadn’t been cooked as thoroughly. On the side, a beautiful oxeye daisy caper remoulade with a hint of fennel that combines perfectly - it shows that any dish with the right herbs can really be elevated.

The duck foot, on the menu, refers to the vessel rather than the actual appendage. The whimsical dish was filled with hen liver mixed with chocolate to really augment the liver’s sweetness. Pieces of crispy skin added a nice contrast and were great for digging into the silky mixture. To make it really rich, shavings of white truffle lay on top, its earthiness pairing nicely with the creamy liver texture. While this was a luxurious dish, it was still balanced and the four-bite portion just enough to satisfy without becoming overwhelming.

Who would think a dish simply named buttermilk would be so delicious? More aptly described as caviar and cream, I’d suggest eating the dish in the order it’s presented rather than picking and choosing ingredients. As you have each spoonful, a different flavour emits itself: sometimes lemongrass, other times the sweetness of snow crab, a briny touch from caviar, or a subtle fennel punch. Follow the journey for rich and refreshing contrasts; as the ingredients combine with herbs the flavours change again.

A refreshing strawberry gazpacho follows, the fruit’s sweetness combining with the tomato and basil base nicely. A bit of mascarpone is added to the broth for a hint of silkiness. A refreshing interlude.

I was surprised to see lamb tartare arrive for the “marinated lamb”, thinking the whole time it’d be a seared version. My first time having the ingredient raw, it actually works rather nicely as it’s less chewy than beef. Dollops of aioli add a creaminess to the tartare, but it’s the pool of lamb fat vinaigrette that provides a completely different rich tart kick to everything. If only there were a couple more slices of black radish, its crispiness went so nicely with the smooth tartare.

As the next course is presented, we’re advised the goat cheese is made by a local purveyor Langdon Hall has featured for many years. Turns out, this supplier is Monforte, a small artisanal cheese company often only found in farmer’s markets (I’ve purchased things at Mel Lastman’s Square and Evergreen Brickworks) or restaurants. Their subtle goat cheese adds a creamy touch to the rhubarb. The green sliced ingredients are actually immature almonds, which have that deep almond flavour but with a chewiness in lieu of crunch.

For those who have read Gastro World for a while, you know I rarely order roasted chicken at a restaurant. But, wow does Langdon Hall’s poussin impress. The breast is first cooked on the bone and is then removed when serving with a lovely honey and lavender glaze on the skin. The de-boned dark meat is wrapped in a thin prosciutto, making that one medallion so tender and flavourful. A generous slice of seared foie gras accompanies and is thinly sliced allowing the crispy coating to be tasted throughout. Finishing off the plate are just cooked through sweet turnips and peas with their shoots and flowers… great for cutting the fatness of the foie gras.  

The first slightly sweet dish featured a “taste of the garden” with a blackberry strawberry sorbet adorned with various foraged leaves and edible flowers. A salty crumble sits at the bottom mixing with the sweet sorbet, the garnishes are both citrusy and bitter. All together, the dish has a Thai flare with its combination of flavours.

The plating is stunning with a pair of hands screened onto the front and back of the dish, reminding diners of the caring hands require to create the lovely dishes. Indeed, Langdon Hall employs a fleet of gardeners who work with Chef Bangerter to cultivate the ingredients – including tropical specimens you wouldn’t think could survive in the Ontario climate. The Chef’s next challenge for them: possibly having his own cocoa trees on site.

As the Ontario bee population rebounds, their sweet nectar is making its way back to desserts. Langdon Hall’s honey box (that’s what she said), features a salty cube of honey comb with a light and fluffy honey foam on top. A sprinkling of honey pollen completes the dessert adding a slight floral essence.  

To end, a gorgeous milk chocolate hazelnut bomb. As it’s first presented, the half sphere looks like it could be a fruity dessert; get through all the flowers and into the dome and you’ll find a chocolate mousse surprise, which goes great with the crunchy hazelnuts.

All the chocolate used in the tasting menu is harvested from a Dominican Republic plantation that Langdon Hall works with. In fact, Chef Bangerter informed us he just returned from a trip there to participate in harvesting and roasting the cocoa. While he was there, he even whipped up a dinner for everyone with local ingredients he could find on site: the main a delicious sounding fish wrapped in banana leaves that one can only hope will make its way onto the Ontario menu.

Aside from the citrusy kalamansi jelly, the last bite of the tasting menu featured the cocoa in all its glory: a chocolate truffle with powder and nibs on top. As the rich flavours flood the mouth, you’re not greeted by the typical sweet melting pool of ganache, rather the truffle is chewy and soft so it can be held longingly on the tongue and you taste chocolate without sweetness…  a rich but not heavy ending.

During such a long meal (it lasts about three hours), a trip to their toilet is inevitable. Although it’s a bit of a journey, make sure to go downstairs to see all the old photos of the property and the Wilks family (the original owners of Langdon Hall). Of course, their home wasn’t quite as stately as the current format (a new separated event area and spa has just been constructed); nonetheless, you see pictures of the beautiful gardens that are still a prominent feature of the current location.

For being in such a quaint countryside and the inn having a relaxed cottage feel, it would be nice if they got rid of the antiquated no denim and sports jacket dress code. Of course, I understand they don’t want diners visiting in cut-off shorts, but there’s a friendlier way to create a nice dining environment that’s also welcoming. For example, at Eleven Madison Park, they stress that there’s no dress code but warn diners that people tend to dress up for the occasion. Gentlemen dine in denim, but it’s still smartly paired with a collared shirt and/or jacket. I was hardly offended to see jeans.

Aside from the dress code, I can see why Langdon Hall garners all the praise including its long standing position in Canada’s Best Restaurants list (they’re #15 in 2017).  The combination of meticulously prepared dishes and haunting beautiful surroundings is hard to replicate. The inn is only an hour away from Toronto; in a short drive you’ll be able to indulge and just get away from it all.

Overall mark - 9 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Cambridge, Canada
 Address: 1 Langdon Drive

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

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Love Me Sweet (Thornhill)

 How does it compare to Uncle Tetsu’s? It’s unfair – after all, Love Me Sweet is its own bakery – but, that’s the first thing on anyone’s mind.

In terms of taste, the original flavour ($11) is similar but more cake-like, when freshly out of the oven, at Love Me Sweet. While Tetsu’s reminded me of a smooth airy gelatin, Love’s seemed like a creamy angel food cake. Although I still find it better the next day, after an evening in the fridge, becoming denser, creamier, and full bodied.

If you’ve never had Japanese cheesecake before, definitely order the original flavour to get a better taste of the light buttery dessert. However, for a second or third cake/visit, you should try Love’s chocolate and coffee flavours. Even as you open the box, the cocoa and coffee aromas let you know something special is coming.

Having sampled all three at a party, most guests seemed to prefer the sweet milk chocolate ($11) version, which has enough cocoa for interest without being heavy. Chocolate cheesecake is a familiar flavour, with a dollop of whipped cream on top would be even better.

Personally, my favourite is the coffee ($11), letting off an intense smell and flavour of the drink. Indeed, its richness masks the cheese, yet its creaminess reminds you this isn’t a crumb cake and offers a unique spin on the dessert.

While comparing Love Me Sweet with its famed downtown counterpart, the best part of the uptown establishment is the ability to “reserve” cakes. Simply go online or call to place your order and they’ll ensure they make enough cakes for you. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll all be ready when you arrive (I had to wait five minutes while the coffee one was finishing off in the oven), but at least you’re not waiting in line (there was no line at Love’s) just to be disappointed.  

How To Find Them
 Location: Thornhill, Canada
 Address: 7181 Yonge Street (at Shops on Yonge)

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CONTEST: Win two passes to the Toronto Luxury Chocolate Show!

Chocolate, the sweet (and now often savoury) treat that evokes emotions in its eaters. Some say it's better than sex, others tout the health benefits of having a square of dark chocolate daily, while Forest Gump compares it to life itself.

Regardless of your thoughts, if you're interested in the ingredient, you should visit the Toronto Luxury Chocolate Show. Gathering various high end chocolatiers into one marketplace, guests are invited to head over to vendors to ask questions and sample their crafts. There will also be live demonstrations, throughout the day, showcasing ideas on how to jazz up chocolate for the upcoming holiday season - oh I can only imagine how lovely the Rotunda room of the Roy Thomson Hall will smell!

Every year there's a bit more added to the show. Similar to past exhibitions, you can try creating the treat at one of their free chocolate making classes or take on the champs in their chocolate eating competition. If you're like me and love to eat, I can't wait to test out the dishes our city's chefs will be whipping up with the ingredient. Perhaps, I'll even sign up for one of their wine pairing sessions for an extra decadent boost.

However, this year they're offering even more things for chocolate lovers:
  • Partake in chocolate painting classes - kept family friendly of course.
  • Create and customize  your own quarter pound chocolate bar - just imagine how happy the recipient of this gift would be!
  • Support SickKids by building a chocolate bridge.
If you're feeling lucky, head over the the Wonderful Wonka Wheel where you'll get a chance to find one of the Golden Tickets, which grants you a trip to a secret chocolate factory. If only it were like the movie and I could float across a chocolate river and meet an Oompa Loompa.

The best thing is no one leaves empty handed. Included with every admission is a gift bag filled with chocolate products that's valued at the price of the ticket or more. Additionally, each general admission ticket already includes five sample tickets so you always have a chance to try something that isn't complimentary.

If you want to join in for the day of fun, you can head to their website to purchase tickets. Be sure to use the discount code AWCS16 to get a $5 discount off the admission price.

How To Find Them
 Date and Time: November 16 from 11am - 6pm
 Address: Roy Thomson Hall - 60 Simcoe Street


Just because The Toronto Luxury Chocolate Show wants someone to be able join in all the fun with me, they have given me a pair of general admission tickets to giveaway to Gastro World readers! 

Entries will be accepted until November 4, 2016 at 12:00 AM. Sometime the following day, I will contact the winner through email with instructions on claiming the prize. Accordingly, please make sure you enter a valid email address in Rafflecopter below. Good luck!

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Simply Snacking: Toronto Popcorn Company's Tuxedo Popcorn

Toronto Popcorn Company

Popcorn is the go-to food at for movies and a beloved snack, but let’s face it, it wasn’t exciting and sexy. However, after seeing a popcorn station set up at a friend’s bridal shower and guests reacting to it, there was certainly excitement in the room … oh the will power I exhibited from not devouring handfuls of every single flavour.

Toronto Popcorn Company is making it delightful to snack on popcorn again with flavours segregated into savoury, sweet, premium (includes toppings) and even gluten free options. After trying a bunch of them at my friend’s party, the one that has me going back for more is the Tuxedo: caramel popcorn drizzled with milk, white and dark chocolate...  yum!

I know, it sounds like a lot of sugary ingredients piled on top of each other, but the Toronto Popcorn Company shows restraint. The caramel popcorn base has a butterscotch taste and is sweet but the various chocolates aren’t so everything balances out.

Kernels of delight drizzled with chocolate? I don’t know about you, but I think it’s hot. 

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How To Find Them 

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