Just a peek at a department store will tell you it’s nearing Valentine’s Day: rows of chocolate and sweets in sleek packages, gifts that surpass any conventional heart-shaped box. Valentine’s, and Japanese gifting culture as a whole, can be intimidating in its volume and variety. Scanning the holiday displays, it’s difficult to tell which sweets best suit whom. What about those gourmet chocolates that look like planets? Something more classic? Or maybe something that’s not chocolate at all? While the selection can be dizzying, it also means the perfect present is out there – the opportunity to personalize Valentine’s. Here are some of the best seasonal sweets the city has to offer.
For a huge sampling of gifting possibilities, visit Roppongi Hills up until February 14. Foodies would love the new “Gift Area” on the bottom floor of the North Tower, where your options expand to bitter chocolate baumkuchen (Jiichiro), chocolate castella using rare eggs from Ishikawa Prefecture (Ukeian) and luxurious mousse cake (Patisserie Pavlov). Perhaps you’re shopping for more Japanese tastes; you’ll be surprised at some of the efforts to combine wagashi flavors with Valentine’s traditions. Take the kinako (roasted soybean flour) and white nama chocolate from Kissho Karyo, a pairing reminiscent of pistachio desserts; and the new and innovative fusion cake by Wagashi Yui, filled with anko and coated with different chocolates. Even the ostensibly classic, bite-size chocolate selections are unique and often themed. New Style Ginza Sembikiya, known for their fruit parfaits, has developed a box with four chocolates, each representing a different season with a unique blend of fruits. A different palate: Chocolatier Palet D’or has thought up “Dassai Chocolat,” infused with the famous sake. Choices abound.
If you’re more of an indecisive gifter, Shibuya Scramble Square is offering a good range of the trendiest international sweets, with three points in mind: “enjoying traveling around the world,” “guilt free” and “rewarding sweets adults can enjoy.” In a time when overseas travel is difficult, the aim was to introduce several international chocolatiers. You’ll see an assorted box from Demel; berry and nuts mille feuille from Francais; and various bars from Bangkok-based Kad Kokoa. (Being a bean-to-bar brand, the latter is great for cacao connoisseurs and fans of dark chocolate.) And living up to the “guilt free” credo, there is a selection of 100-percent cacao bars good for the mind and body. No fear: Many of the more indulgent choices are suited to an “adult” taste, either using Japanese ingredients to subdue the sweetness, or infused with fruit juices or alcohol (the “Heart Mochi Monaca,” from Ginza Kanra, or the mellow bonbon box from Shiseido Parlor).
Ruby Chocolate Valentine’s Day at Chocolate Academy Center Tokyo
In addition to the all-too-fitting rose color, ruby chocolate is known for its slightly tangy taste, similar to that of berries. The Chocolate Academy in Tokyo, which provides training, demonstrations and recipe development support for chocolatiers, is offering 14 ruby sweets for takeout and online retail in the Valentine’s season. For chocolate gourmands, consider Yogashi Mountain’s tasting set: You have pieces of ruby with various flavors of chocolate, from rose and peach (to bring out ruby’s acidity) to coffee, chocolate noir and berry (to complement its sweetness). Or try the dried figs soaked in strawberry liqueur and coated in white and ruby chocolate. Other desserts include the framboise and ruby chocolate roll (with raspberry and ruby chocolate dough, and ruby ganache) from Jiyugaoka Roll-ya; and Wittamer’s palet chocolat (with strawberry and white chocolate filling) and macadamia ruby chocolate sable.
Pistachio Green Garden at Tokyo Tulip Rose
Masahito Kanai of Tokyo Tulip Rose developed this now-booming dessert: whipped chocolate petals over pie crust, with a langues de chat cookie base, coming in flavors from berry to caramel nuts and now pistachio bergamot. The nutty, savory dimensions of the pistachio – a luxury flavor for Parisians – are complemented perfectly by the citrus. The ribboned box available for Valentine’s, which also comes with mango and berry flavors, makes this a great gift for the discriminating aesthete or elegant eater. The Tulip Rose Flower Arrangement is just as beautiful, for both the palate and the eyes. There are three of the chocolate-whip cookies, as well as three flatter cookies of various flavors: cassis and vanilla, cardamom and citron, and wild orange. Or perhaps indulge in the Bonbons Chocolat, among which you’ll find even more delicious flavor combinations: timut grapefruit, rose framboise, jasmine apricot and praline hazelnut. These products are available until the middle of February, with shops in Tokyo Station and Nishi-Ikebukuro.
Grande H at Fiorentina Pastry Boutique
Alongside a decadent four-course dinner at The Oak Door, the Grand Hyatt Tokyo’s Fiorentina Pastry Boutique is offering a set of fine chocolates and sweets. New creations include a premium Chantilly chocolate cake, a chocolate terrine and a Grand Hyatt coffret (box) of original “Grande H” chocolates – these delicacies are 70.3 percent cacao, made expressly for the hotel by French chocolatier Cacao Barry, with a nice balance between sour, bitter and sugary flavors. This assortment is available for pick-up and delivery.