My friend Barbara is convinced that Paradise on Earth is a 1930s-style house, painted purple, in the out-of-the-way farming town of Milton-Freewater, Oregon.
If you haven’t heard of Milton-Freewater, don’t feel bad. Even the locals refer to it as “Muddy Frogwater.” The local chamber of commerce encourages businesses to erect brightly colored, chainsaw-sculpted frogs in front of their establishments. That’s hardly the stuff of Paradise.
But M-F, as we’ll call it, is the home of Petits Noirs, a chocolate shop to rival that owned by Juliette Binoche in the movie Chocolat. You remember it: It was the place that river pirate “Roux” (Johnny Depp) found so exquisite.
We wandered into Petits Noirs yesterday after a couple of days of wine tasting in the Walla Walla Valley. Barb wanted just a wee taste of chocolate. A full half-hour passed before I could extract her from the confectionery.
“But it has chocolate shoes!” she exclaimed. “Two of my favorite things! Chocolates and shoes!”
We were greeted in the front room — the only room — by James Boulanger, who owns the shop with his partner, Lan Wong. Boulanger said he grew up in the Walla Walla area, but he went to New York to pursue his passion for artisan baking with some of the city’s leading bakeries.
In New York, he met Wong, who had left a career in advertising to launch her own chocolate company, Les Amusettes. A search for a quiet home and a love of fine wines led them back to the Pacific Northwest.
Boulanger encouraged us to sample his unique chocolates: black-truffle chocolate, chili pepper-strawberry chocolate, Pendleton Whiskey hazelnut chocolate. He told us that his sweet-corn white chocolates are a good match for riesling, but suggested the black-truffle chocolate is best with port wine and the cardamom chocolate with a spicy syrah.
“Flavors such as lavender, anise and clove are a natural accompaniment to wine,” Boulanger said, as he handed us a map showing us which Walla Walla vineyards make wines to pair with his chocolates.
He and Wong are happy to custom-produce chocolates, such as the milk-chocolate high-heel that Barb discovered the moment she walked in the door. And they have a wide variety of other gift items, including European cocoa cannisters.
Petits Noirs is located at 622 S. Main St. (State Highway 11), Milton-Freewater OR. The phone is 541-938-7118, and the shop is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday to Sunday, or by appointment.