Cocoa Parlor – Orange County’s Best Chocolate Shop

Disclosure: I was invited to sample menu items at Cocoa Parlor in order to write my review. No other compensation was received. All opinions are 100% my own.

Cocoa Parlor is Orange County’s best kept secret. It is a small, organic, chocolate shop located in Laguna Niguel, CA. We ran into it several months ago, almost by accident, and I have been holding on to this post since then. It is quite charming. Wooden shelves filled with rows of handmade chocolate bars line the walls, a black and white tile counter displays over 30 different kinds of truffles, stacks of silver tins holding bits of chocolate samples adorn the table, and brown paper bags with homemade granola greet you near the door.

Cocoa Parlor is Orange County's best kept secret. It is a small, organic, chocolate shop where you can find artisanal organic chocolate bars.

Cocoa Parlor is Orange County's best kept secret. It is a small, organic, chocolate shop where you can find artisanal organic chocolate bars.

The owner/chocolatier is Karen Webster. Karen is a former pastry chef with a real passion for chocolate. She worked for several years in Europe, but decided to embark on her own chocolate endeavors. She started out in a small rental kitchen, with basically just a small table. It took her 2 years to source the ingredients for her chocolate bars. Two years! (She uses single origin chocolate from small organic farmers in Peru and the Dominican Republic. The chocolate is fermented, then sent to Europe to be conched, and after sent to her in blocks.) Once she perfected her chocolate bar recipe, she quickly out grew that space. Now she creates amazing artisanal, organic, high quality chocolate bars, and truffles with seasonal ingredients in her own shop. She even does the artwork on her chocolate labels!

Cocoa Parlor is Orange County's best kept secret. It is a small, organic, chocolate shop where you can find artisanal organic chocolate bars.

To my enjoyment I discovered that Cocoa Parlor has many vegan options. When I asked Karen about this she said she didn’t specifically set out to make vegan chocolate, real chocolate is naturally vegan, she is just constantly looking for the best taste and flavor combinations regardless if they are vegan or not. In my opinion, that’s the best kind of vegan! Cocoa Parlor has something for everyone vegan or not vegan. Her chocolates are not only single origin and organic, they are also non-gmo, gluten-free, contain no soy-lecithin, and are made with fairly traded cacao beans. You can find Karen’s chocolate bars locally in Laguna Niguel, but also in Hawaii, northern California, and Japan. You can also buy her bars online through her website.

My Favorite Cocoa Parlor Chocolates

There are many great flavor combinations at Cocoa Parlor, but these are some of my favorites:

Chocolate Bars
Surfer Girl: Coconut Pineapple Dark Chocolate Bar
Popped Quinoa: Popped Quinoa Peruvian Single Origin Dark Chocolate Bar
Simple Pleasure: Hazelnuts, Himalayan Pink Salt Dark Chocolate Bar
Quinoa Granola Bar drizzled with chocolate

Truffles
Brazilian Date night

Crunchy Peanut Butter

Black Seed Curry

Cocoa Parlor is Orange County's best kept secret. It is a small, organic, chocolate shop where you can find artisanal organic chocolate bars.

This quality of chocolate is hard to find and it is definitely worth trying. I hope you like them as much as I did. You won’t be disappointed!

Cocoa Parlor

31161 Niguel Rd. Suite A Laguna Niguel, CA 92672
Monday-Saturday 10am – 6pm / Closed Sunday
949-877-9549

Stax Cookie Bar

Disclosure: I was invited to sample menu items at Stax Cookie Bar in order to write my review. No other compensation was received. All opinions are 100% my own.

stax-cookie-bar

stax-cookie-bar

Being vegan in OC is not very difficult. There are many wonderful vegan or vegan friendly restaurants. However, as a family we struggle to find a place where we can eat together. My husband is not vegan, and is not always up for going to a vegan restaurant. We especially struggle with ice cream and cookies. That’s why I was thrilled when I was contacted by Stax Cookie Bar. 

stax-cookie-bar

stax-cookie-bar

Stax Cookie Bar

Stax Cookie Bar is located in Irvine, in the heart of University Town Center. They have a variety of desserts, and as their name states, a lot of cookies. There are about 12-16 different cookies to choose from! Two of these options are vegan and gluten-free. Of course, the children were excited about eating cookies and ice cream, but I was looking forward the most to their ice cream cookie sandwich.

stax-cookie-bar10

stax-cookie-bar

I was not disappointed. That day their vegan/gluten-free cookies were double chocolate almond and coconut chocolate chip. They only had one vegan ice cream, which was soy vanilla. So I ordered a vegan ice cream cookie sandwich using their two vegan cookies. The kids ordered cookies and a macaroon ice cream sandwich, and my husband had his own cookie sandwich.

stax-cookie-bar

stax-cookie-bar

The cookie sandwiches were huge, almost too large. I was grateful for the vegan ice cream option, but the ice cream itself was not memorable. The cookies however were very good. They are all made in house, and it shows. My favorite was the coconut chocolate chip, and my husband’s was the snickerdoodle. The service was very friendly and accommodating. If you are planning to visit with kids, just be aware that the location is very small and they do not have a high chair. Stax Cookie Bar is a very good option if you are looking for a vegan & gluten-free friendly dessert spot.

stax-cookie-bar

 

Stax Cookie Bar 

4187 Campus Drive M174
Irvine, California 92612

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Dinner at the French Laundry

So I mentioned before this trip to Napa is our first real vacation in 3 yrs, due mostly to the birth of our son and the ‘living on one income’ thing. It was also about that time when we stopped going to fine dining restaurants. We still manage to go out to plenty of restaurants, but the Michelin starred ones are way out of our budget. So when the opportunity and the funds became available for this trip, you can only imagine how thrilled we were to finally be having dinner at the French Laundry.Dinner at the French Laundry where the service was exceptional and so was the food. Course after course, nine of them, the food was perfect.

 

Dinner at the French Laundry where the service was exceptional and so was the food. Course after course, nine of them, the food was perfect.

Just like our recent visit to Chez Panisse, this was not at all what I expected, in a good way of course. I was taken by surprise by the actual dining room. It really is an old house turned into a restaurant. The service was exceptional as well as the food. Course after course, nine to be exact, the food was perfect.

Dinner at the French Laundry where the service was exceptional and so was the food. Course after course, nine of them, the food was perfect.

When we eat out we usually measure how good a restaurant is with one question: can we make it at home? Trust me when I tell you I couldn’t have made this at home. There was only one problem, the bill, all $1,200.00 of it. Was it worth it? Yes. Was it the best meal of my life? It was one of the best, but maybe it’s because I’m out of practice eating in the fine dining world, but it felt a bit stuffy, almost too formal. I usually enjoy the dance of a multi-course meal, the way the service flows, the wine being poured, etc. But somehow this time it felt too ceremonious, like I was in the church of Thomas Keller and I should consider myself lucky to be there. Let me be clear, this is not a criticism of the food or the service, just my impression of the ambiance.

Dinner at the French Laundry where the service was exceptional and so was the food. Course after course, nine of them, the food was perfect.

[My husband just brought up a good point, we’ve never dined at a 3 star Michelin restaurant before, so maybe I would have to eat at another restaurant of that caliber to be able to make a proper comparison of the service.]

Dinner at the French Laundry where the service was exceptional and so was the food. Course after course, nine of them, the food was perfect.

There’s a dreaded rumor out there that fine dining is on its last legs, that its death is imminent. The never ending recession has changed the face of elegant dining in America. Fine dining restaurants aren’t as popular as they used to be. Tapas bars, gastro-pubs, bistros, pop-ups and food trucks have taken over the dining scene by serving high quality food at a decent price. Also, with the emergence of “foodies”, a select number of people are preparing really good meals in their own homes. Meals that not too long ago they would’ve eaten at restaurants. Furthermore, ingredients that were once available only to restaurants are now available to home cooks, which only makes the preparation of high end meals at home easier and easier. Even so, fine dining shouldn’t die. It is part of the cooking craft, of its history, and future. Maybe fine dining just has to change, and adapt to the current situation and growing knowledge of those once considered amateur diners.

Dinner at the French Laundry where the service was exceptional and so was the food. Course after course, nine of them, the food was perfect.

All in all, it was a wonderful and much needed date night with my husband, but I can’t help thinking that maybe we should have used the money to buy a new computer before this one finally dies. I think I would’ve been just as happy.

Dinner at the French Laundry where the service was exceptional and so was the food. Course after course, nine of them, the food was perfect.