Chocolate candy bar from Heritage with Nutella, candied corn pops, “crunch” and burnt meringue (Photo by Julianne Tripp)
At the time, it seemed absurd: “Seinfeld’s” George Costanza eating a candy bar on a plate with a knife and fork, perpetuating a trend sweeping New York City and inspiring derisive comments from within Jerry’s crowd. But it’s not absurd today.
In some of Richmond’s most popular restaurants, you’ll find diners digging into colorfully plated candy bars with a knife and fork. Of course, these aren’t cheap pieces of chocolate and overly whipped nougat from a 7-Eleven; these are nostalgia-evoking culinary creations made from high-end ingredients. Heritage chef and co-owner Joe Sparrata arguably began the trend in Richmond during his breakout stint at Pasture, when his signature Kit Kat-like bar hit the menu. Pasture’s been rotating a variety of bars since then — most recently a Goo-Goo Cluster tribute starring Virginia peanuts — and while that one’s now only available occasionally, Pasture’s current pastry chef, Erica Harrison, just introduced her own Kit Kat homage made with house-made hazelnut butter and cookies, and you’ll find it on the dessert menu now.
Sparatta, meanwhile, continues his tradition of adult candy bars. At Heritage, it’s a gourmet, gluten-free version of a Whatchamacallit with candied rice crisps. This bar is unique for the Nutella in its ganache: Imported from Italy, it’s made with hazelnut oil, as opposed to locally available Nutellas that often contain palm or peanut oils. The hazelnut creates a richer, deeper flavor while answering that old question: Why does Nutella taste better in Europe than it does in America?
Over at Metzger Bar & Butchery, pastry chef Olivia Wilson dials the adult candy bar all the way up to 11. From French chocolatier Valrhona comes Dulcey, a caramelized white chocolate in a solid tempered form, Wilson says. She uses the butterscotch-like Dulcey to enrobe slices of blondie and dark-chocolate caramel, then tops it with Maldon salt, candied mint leaves, a smattering of gold leaf and a drizzle of salted orange caramel sauce. It may seem like a riot of disparate flavors, but it arrives wonderfully decadent, harmonious and whimsical.
Sure, we could still poke fun at George for eating a candy bar with a knife and a fork, but the real joke is on the world’s sad, waxy, poor-quality candy; now that candy bars are so much better, we’re all laughing with glee.