Chocolate dreams: Hexx’s bold flavors, bold plans
What could be better than eating at a chic American bistro? What about eating gourmet chocolate? What if you could combine the two? Well, you can, at Hexx Kitchen & Bar at Paris Las Vegas.
The restaurant here offers tasty meals all day, and night, so you can find everything from fruit mimosas to filet mignon on the menu. Brunching? Try a Vegalicious Bloody Mary or the aptly named Colossal Bloody Mary, which combines basil-infused vodka with Alaskan king crab leg, peppers, pickled vegetables, bacon and more(!).
But you can also get desserts here (and you should) such as espresso torte, Aztec cake, chocolate pudding, cacao nib panna cotta and the gorgeous mille crepe cake, all delicious and all made with different varieties of chocolate created right under the same roof as the dessert itself.
Hexx’s chocolate factory resides next door to the restaurant in the retail shop. Visitors can tour the chocolate kitchen at Hexx Chocolate & Confexxions (just make a reservation on hexxchocolate.com first), order an ice cream or hot chocolate or a made-to-order goodie and taste five craft chocolates for free.
“The idea was for it to get a little more immersive, so you’re seeing the chocolate being produced and you are getting the story of what we do here. And, then, there’s the opportunity to get some desserts that are made with that chocolate,” said Hexx executive chef and chocolate maker Matthew Piekarski.
Those five varieties of dark chocolate are all completely produced in the chocolate kitchen, from bean to bar as it were. See, the double X in Hexx’s name isn’t artifice, it’s a direct reference to the chocolate-making process here, where beans from five countries (Tanzania, Ecuador, Madagascar, Venezuela and Peru, all either 20 degrees north or south of the equator) are evaluated, roasted, milled and heated with palm sugar before being molded into enormous bars to age up to a month.
On your tour, you see where the kitchen hand-sorts the beans—Hexx rejects about 20 percent of each 120-pound bag—the broken, cracked, flat, over-fermented and flat—to keep quality high.
“What we’re looking for are nice, brown, plump beans; they’re going to roast consistently and evenly, and make better chocolate.”
In the chocolate-making process, a variety of custom-sourced and designed equipment is used, including a modified coffee roaster to perfectly roast the cacao to grinding equipment from India originally designed for lentils.
“(In the roaster), we control drum speed, fan speed, temperature of the flame. Coffee’s roasted really high and fast; we roast really low and slow. We build the roast profiles for each bean,” said Piekarski.
“Commercial chocolate is over-roasted, and then they add different ingredients to make it a uniform flavor. We want to do the exact opposite. We control the roasting and the grinding so we accentuate the natural flavors. … The flavor naturally occurs from the different varietals.”
After aging in the Hexx kitchen, the chocolate’s broken down, melted and molded into smaller bars, then sealed and wrapped in individual packages for sale in the retail portion of the shop. The factory makes chocolate for other markets, too, and can produce a huge amount, up to 31 tons a year. That’s 900 bars an hour, up to three times a day.
Back in the retail area, you’ll find two counters, one for tasting the chocolate and enjoying fresh dessert, the other for enjoying coffees and a variety of artisan ice cream from High Road, several types of which use Hexx’s chocolate in the making. You’ll find plenty of chocolate to purchase, in several sizes.
At the counter looking into the chocolate kitchen, you can order desserts, from fresh-made cookies to more impressive desserts featuring the chocolate, and watch most being created in front of you.
You can sample the chocolates—try to distinguish the notes of citrus, floral, fruit and other flavors. The closest to traditional dark chocolate, said Piekarski, is Tanzanian.
“As a craft chocolate producer—we have to educate the clientele that comes in. Everyone that comes here, I try to give a tasting to. ’Cause I don’t want you to pay … for a chocolate bar if you haven’t tasted it. So the objective is to like one of the five—we try to get you to be a little more open-minded about chocolate, ’cause this is what chocolate should be.”
Piekarski’s appreciation for chocolate stems not from the commercial makers, but from other craft makers, of which there are few.
“This is something that’s unique not only to the city but the country. There’s very little craft chocolate,” he said. “It’s a very interesting demographic. There are some known chefs who are starting to do this. It’s a growing concept… if we can get the product out there and people start to believe in it and enjoy eating our chocolate, I can … help build that market. The industry is very small and tight knit; everyone is about the education and trying to teach everyone. It’s been an interesting process.”
“This movement is what coffee was 20 years ago,” he said.
Paris, restaurant open 24 hours daily. 702.331.5100; chocolate kitchen tour times vary, free, must make tour reservations one hour in advance on hexxchocolate.com. 702.331.5551