Chocolate is inherently romantic, but it ascends to even more beguiling heights when purchased at a shop established solely for the purposes of creating and purveying that incomparable confection.
Long Island is home to a number of fine chocolate shops - some nearly 30 years old, one less than a year old - where no matter the proprietors' secret recipes, the finished products all convey the sweetest of sentiments. Here are six places to start:
CHOCOLATE LADY , 49 Audrey Ave., Oyster Bay, 516-922-2002, chocolateladyboutique.com
Long Island's newest chocolatier is Lee Perrotta, Oyster Bay's Chocolate Lady. Perrotta opened her tiny 425-square-foot store in October, although the former marketing executive had been making chocolate - and teaching chocolate classes - for years. Perrotta makes a number of exquisite confections. For Valentine's Day, she recommends her dramatic chocolate-blood-orange cordials ($30 a pound) and "rose" creams made with rose water from organic roses ($40 a pound). She hand-dips organic strawberries and raspberries and also makes a terrific hot chocolate ($2.50 for a 6-ounce cup), which you can sip in the store or buy a beautifully packaged mix to prepare at home ($14.99 to make more than a quart). Perrotta's goal is "to have something for everyone," and so, in addition to high-end chocolates, her store is filled to the rafters with 10-cent kisses, chocolate crayons and Pop Rocks, Nestlé Crunch-scented lip balm as well as her own elaborate chocolate sculptures.
AZURE CHOCOLAT , 90C Washington Dr., Centerport, 631-425-1885, azurechocolat.com
Heather Foley's jewel-like shop specializes in contemporary flavor combinations and ravishing presentations. She'll fill velvet heart boxes with handmade truffles, among them champagne-and-roses roses (which she tints pink with her own hibiscus-flower dye), vanilla butter, cabernet sauvignon and walnut-lavender honey. She is also making her own take on the classic "nipples of Venus" (ground chestnuts blended with whiskey and dark chocolate, coated in white chocolate and tipped with dark chocolate). Truffles - and nipples - cost $1.75 each; less the more you buy. Take home a container of homemade fondue ($18 for 8 ounces) made with chocolate ganache and hints of rose water, salt and maple syrup.
BON BONS CHOCOLATIER , 319 Main St., Huntington, 631-549-1059, bonbonschocolatier.com
Mary Alice Meinersman took over Huntington's Bon Bons in 1984. Ten years later, she and her daughter, Susanna Fasolino, opened this spacious and smartly appointed shop a few blocks from the original. The selection is large and classic. For Valentine's Day, Meinersman said, "marzipan hearts [$4 apiece], marshmallow hearts [$3] and, of course, truffles are always popular." (Truffles and all dipped chocolates are $30 a pound.) Bon Bons does luxurious, handmade variations on mass-produced treats: Baci, made with a hazelnut butter from Oregon, and Joyfuls, with dark chocolate and coconut. Other standouts include dark-chocolate-lemon Citron noirs and Figaro - milk and dark truffles. Bon Bons has a glassed-in "fork-dipping area," where most mornings you can watch chocolatiers in action.
THE SAYVILLE CHOCOLATIER , 6 Main St., Sayville, 631-589-6713, thesayvillechocolatier.com
Mary Ellen Verbarg opened this Sayville institution 29 years ago. Her husband, Ron, rescued the mahogany-and-glass cabinets from nearby - and long-gone - Beer's ice cream parlor and supplemented them with his own elegant woodwork. Verbarg's signature Valentine's Day treats are strawberries hand dipped in either milk chocolate or dark chocolate. (In the dead of winter, she gets very tasty berries from warmer climes; in the summer, she will dip local strawberries and, in the fall, make caramel apples from local Jonagolds.) Also popular: macadamia paws and almond-butter crunch. (All the preceding items are $19.99 a pound.) The store carries jumbo dark-chocolate malted milk balls ($6 a pound), chocolate-chipotle-covered almonds ($12 a pound) and a confection that Verbarg read was a favorite of President Barack Obama, milk chocolate-sea salt caramels ($10 a pound).
SCHWARTZ CANDIES , 169 Voice Rd., Carle Place, 516-294-2831, schwartzcandies.com
Al Schwartz opened his Manhattan chocolate shop in 1939. Forty years later, his daughter Rhoda and her husband, Ira Boskoff, opened a branch in Albertson. The Manhattan store closed in 1981, and the Long Island location moved to New Hyde Park and then, in 2005, to Carle Place. Schwartz was making artisanal marshmallows decades before they became trendy, and you could hardly do better for Valentine's Day than buying a big heart filled with caramel-bottom chocolate-covered marshmallows (10 pieces for $20). Or chocolate-covered heart-shaped shortbreads (10 pieces for $27), made with the peerless (and not-too-sweet) shortbread baked by McDuffies Bakery in Clarence, N.Y. A terrific old-fashioned candy is the chocolate-covered molasses sponge (about $30 a pound), a perfect union of the crisp and bitter with the rich and sweet.
LAZAR'S CHOCOLATE , 72 Middle Neck Rd., Great Neck, 516-829-5785; 340 Wheatley Plaza, Greenvale, 516-484-1987, lazarschocolate.com
Richard Lazar opened his Great Neck shop in 1975, continuing the chocolate-making tradition started by his father, David, a contemporary of the Barricini family, and Stephen Klein, who founded Bartons. Lazar characterized his wares as "old-fashioned European-style chocolates" and singled out his caramel nut patties ($26 a pound) - pecan, walnut, almond and cashew - for special mention. For Valentine's Day, he is working with a few new molds and will produce a four-piece chocolate heart puzzle as well as a broken heart with a key (which he concedes is a little off topic). He also secured a vintage, never-used mold from Bartons that produces "a really beautiful heart decorated with raised roses and the words 'love is sweet.'"
These shops make their own chocolate daily, too:
CHOCOLICIOUS , 194 Forest Ave., Locust Valley, 516-671-6835, chocolicious.com
EMILE'S CANDIES , 229 Merrick Rd., Oceanside 516-766-4402
HICKSVILLE SWEET SHOP , 75 Broadway, Hicksville, 516-931-0130
HENRY'S CONFECTIONERY , 8 Glen St., Glen Cove, 516-671-3222
THE CHOCOLATE GODDESS , 111 Main St., Cold Spring Harbor, 631-692-9646, thechocolategoddess.com
RALPH ROTTEN'S NUT POUND , 189 Portion Rd., Lake Ronkonkoma, 631-467-3159, thecandyshop.com