French master chocolatier Eric Girerd resided in downtown Jersey City’s shabby Metropolis Towers, maintained a factory far across town in McGinley Square, and earned acclaim for the succulent sea salt caramels sold at his Chelsea boutique, long before his underdeveloped neighborhood gave way to the storefront now housing L’Atelier du Chocolat (321 Marin Boulevard, 201-332-9220), which sits at the base of Grove Pointe. Displeased with the foot traffic passing nearby Trump Jersey City, he contracted with the developers three years ago, pasted up the windows last year with a commanding list of international pastry awards, and last week introduced earlier opening hours and a window-front coffee bar to siphon chocolate-croissant fanatics from the morning rush on the Starbucks around the corner.
In the weeks ahead there’s potential for outdoor seating along Marin Boulevard, and talk of growth inside. “I make cake, I make chocolate, I make, possibly, expansion next door,” Girerd told us (while plying us with samples of truffles from throughout the boutique’s new glass-walled kitchen). Beyond filling cases on both sides of the Hudson, he also supplies truffles to hotels including the Ritz-Carlton Battery Park, New York Palace, and Sofitel properties coast to coast.
Girerd’s flavor profiles find inspiration offshore, with Russian sea salt and Vietnamese mint, but his more experimental flavors only show up for three days at a time, when he samples limited batches for customers every weekend — in just the last three weeks, he’s rolled white-chocolate balls of basil, lemon rum, and Arizona honey.
Girerd’s preferred chocolate is Valrhona, and he offers a lava cake blending 72 percent Venezuelan, 66 percent Malagasy, and 64 percent Ecuadorian; it’s best heated up at home. In fact, he has firm opinions about the proper way to enjoy his products, warning it’s preferable to wait 24 hours before indulging in a truffle or macaron at room temperature.
“Sometimes people make the mistake of putting it in the refrigerator. It kills chocolate with humidity, because the refrigerator is like a sponge and absorbs everything,” he told us, before noting there’s an exception to the rule: “The best thing for a chocolatier is to make people happy, make people smile, so you can’t make them wait.”