Gut Instinct: Hello, Sweetness

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THE PANIC SET in—hummingbird heart and clammy palms—as a rampaging grandma bull-rushed me aside and lunged forward, her thick fingers wrapping around a dark, jagged chunk of her drug of choice: chocolate.

“This must be penance for patronizing pseudo-stripper bars,” I told my girlfriend, my eyes dinner plates of fear. Around me, sugar-crazed tots shrieked like they were reenacting Lord of the Flies.

“Mmmphhhhh,” she replied, swallowing a sliver of chilies-and-cherries cocoa and moaning so passionately that I realize she’s rarely faked it. “I love the Chocolate Show.” I don’t. See, my sweet tooth was yanked at age six, when I was addicted to more Bubble Yum than my allowance afforded. Like countless junkies, I fed my habit through five-fingered discounts.While Mom and I shopped at the grocery store, I’d secretly shove gum into my pockets. At home, behind my bedroom door, I’d pop two, three, four pieces into my greedy mouth and blow bubbles by the dozen.

“Where’d you get that gum?” my mom asked one afternoon.While cleaning my room she discovered my hoard.To a sweets-crazed kid, my punishment was worse than a hundred lashings: no gum chewing. When the ban was rescinded months later, I’d lost the taste for gum, forever affiliated with maternal disappointment. I aligned with my father’s spicy, ethnic camp—Thai curries,Vietnamese mint-beef salads—and avoided sugar as fervently as I now do Greenpeace solicitors.

Because fate is funny, my friend circle naturally contains unrepentant sugar junkies. For weeks, my best friend Andrew largely subsists on chewy Sour Patch Kids and Coke. And my girlfriend is a chocoholic, York Peppermint Patties wrappers often spilling from her purse.

“No judging,” she says through chocolate-smudged lips. She points at our recycling bin, filled with enough empty beers to earn a bottle collector a fine coat. Still, my quest for relationship harmony— or atonement for often lurching home on liquor-weakened legs—leads me to buy my sweetie daintily frosted cupcakes at Joyce Bakeshop (646 Vanderbilt Ave. betw. Park & Prospect Pls.,718-623-7470;B’klyn). Or perhaps a thick chocolate–peanut butter bar at Red Hook sweets depot Baked (359 Van Brunt St. at Wolcott St., 718-243-0999; B’klyn). But a few weekends ago, I brought her into sugar-junkie heaven—the 11th annual Chocolate Show, held at the Hudson River–hugging Pier 94. “Are you only bringing me to write about this?” she asked warily.

“Most likely.” “Bring on the chocolate,” she said, as we entered a 55,000-square-foot cocoa paradise. Vendors crammed the soaring-ceiling space, each hawking their boutique vision of cocoa bliss.

“Would you like to try Ecuadorian chocolate?” queried a tan Republica del Cacao salesgirl. “They’re from region-specific single-origin plantations, so each flavor is slightly different.”

Lord help me. First coffee, now chocolate celebrates terroir? Mentioning that word automatically adds $2 to a candy bar’s price.

“Stop being so cynical,” my girlfriend said. Pains to say it, but she’s right. Skepticism and irony have no quarter at the Chocolate Show. Its main virtues are hedonism and pleasure, with attendees worshipping at the cocoa altar—communion as truffle.

“Josh, come here,” my girlfriend said, pulling me up to the sweetriot stand.They sell cocoabean nibs covered in dark chocolate, each pebble-size piece clocking in at a couple calories.

“For a woman who’s obsessed with chocolate, it’s perfect,” my girlfriend said, lovingly holding a tiny tin. “Dark chocolate is good for you.” “If that’s true, then drinking a six-pack of beer is also good for me,” I countered.

“Antioxidants,” she said, wandering off to the Berkshire Bark stand. We sampled the fruit-and-cayenne Tropical Heat, as well as White Lightning—crystallized ginger, cashews, sea salt and lemon zest ensconced in luscious white chocolate.

“Best of show,” she muttered, nabbing a second piece. But she didn’t go out on top.We nibbled Italian chocolatiers De Bondt’s candiedhabañero bar, rat-a-tat of capsaicins and brittle chocolate. Essex Street Market vendor Roni-Sue’s Chocolates rocked us with but-

ter crunch, a creamy-crunchy blend of chocolate-dipped caramelized butter toffee rolled in toasted walnuts. And then came the 38-calorie almond truffle from Romanicos Chocolate. My girlfriend had one.Then two.Then her cheeks flushed red, her eyes slitted—the international sign of I’m overdosing.

“I feel ill,” she said. She clutched her stomach, veins coursing with 74-percent cocoa. “But happy?” “But happy.” “Did today re-set my strip-club score to zero?” I asked, as we headed toward the exit, hand in hand. “We’d need another Chocolate Show for that to happen,” she said, snagging one last sweet for the road.

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