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Friday, Jan. 9, 2009

Sugar-Covered Bliss

Chocolate heaven at Chocolat Bar

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It's the turn of the new year, an occasion when many of us commit (or recommit) to investing more time at the gym and less time at the drive-through. Let's be honest, though: After the first few weeks of going about things the healthy way, naughty eating habits often ease their way back into our lives, bit by sinful bit. Rather than draw out the relapse, why not royally blow this year's resolution right away by taking a trip through the wonderfully indulgent Chocolat Bar at the InterContinental Milwaukee Hotel. After eating your weight in chocolate, capitalize on the lingering buzz to fuel you on your merry way to a healthier lifestyle.

The Chocolat Bar sits in the spacious digs of the hotel lobby's CLEAR Lounge. Visitors and locals alike take refuge in an inviting ambiance of dark wood and subtle colors that serve as a background to the bar's most stunning feature, the massive picture windows that frame the city scenes of Kilbourn Avenue and Water Street. Strategically placed furniture allows for privacy or socializing, whichever the occasion calls for. Whether you're escaping the cold after a few rounds at the Red Arrow Park ice skating rink or craving a candy-coated nightcap to your evening at the theater or ballet, the Chocolat Bar offers a lengthy menu sure to accommodate the most selective sweet tooth.

Executive chef Robert Ash, who collaborates with pastry chef Kurt Fogle, unveiled the smorgasbord of decadence on Valentine's Day last year. The tabletop confectionery is stocked with a multitude of assorted chocolates. Meticulously arranged on glass plates in a mouthwatering display of edible art, firm squares of milk and dark chocolate are emblazoned with unique designs to identify the flavors within. Deep glass bowls overflow with Chruffles, delicate artisan truffles created by the Milwaukee-based company Cholive. The burgeoning business is named for its most popular product, an olive-shaped dark chocolate truffle filled with a silky Vermont whole cream ganache. Skewered Cholives can be found garnishing the hotel's chocolate-flavored martinis, sweet cordials, coffees and cream-based drinks. If you'd like to drink your dessert, the Chocolat Bar offers a nice list of potent spirits, like Rosenblum Desiree dessert wine made with Milwaukee's own Ambrosia Chocolate, in miniature chalices made of chocolate.

"Everything covered in chocolate always tastes better on a stick," the menu boasts, and this even includes bacon. The dip-crazy hands behind the bar take cooked Nueske's bacon, dip it in peanut butter ganache, coat it with dark chocolate and sprinkle it with flakes of sea salt. However, if candied pork just isn't in the cards for you, the Chocolat Bar has plenty of other sweet treats on a stick, with standouts like white chocolate key lime pie and salted caramel.

Chef Ash relies on another Milwaukee-based enterprise, Omanhene Cocoa Bean Co., to bolster the bar. Using Ghanaian cocoa beans, Omanhene created the first single-bean origin chocolate, as well a new category of chocolate called "dark milk chocolate." Chef Ash combines this dark milk chocolate with Omanhene's 80% cocoa-content chocolate to create the bar's bittersweet chocolate fondue dipping sauce. Because the fondue sauce is so subtle, it balances the sweetness of dipping ingredients such as strawberries, Rice Krispies Treats, pound cake and brownies.

The almond praline crunch bar is one of the Chocolat Bar's beautifully crafted plated cakes and petite tarts. It's like a high-class Kit Kat made of crushed wafer cookie layered with a rich hazelnut paste, topped with a velvety chocolate mousse and then sprayed with milk chocolate. If you want a little taste of sweet without overindulging, the praline bon bons, in flavors such as ginger lemon, orange cocoa, mango passion and macadamia, are a perfect fit.

The InterContinental's Chocolat Bar is open Friday and Saturday evenings starting at 7 p.m. One visit to this Milwaukee gem gives you a taste of just how sweet the new year can be.

Located at 139 E. Kilbourn Ave. For more information, visit www.intercontinentalmilwaukee.com or www.thecholive.com