This week's pre-Valentine's Day Food Fight pits a cute little mom-and-son candy shop against a sophisticated European chocolatier. This well-matched bout won't be over until the combatants are oozing cherry cordial.
See's Famous Old Time Candies was founded in 1921 on Western Avenue in Los Angeles by Charles See using the recipes of his mother, Mary. The See's website states that the company makes its more than 100 varieties of candies from the “choicest and finest grade raw ingredients from all over the world.” Today See's is headquartered in San Francisco, and there are more than 200 shops in the West. Since 1972, it has been owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway. Some of their most popular flavors are Bordeaux, Scotchmallow (layered caramel and marshmallow) and chocolate buttercream.
Godiva Chocolatier was founded 80 years ago in Brussels, Belgium, by master chocolatier Joseph Draps. The company produces elegant, hand-crafted chocolates known for their smoothness, shell-molded designs and gold ballotin box packaging. Today there are more than 450 Godiva shops in more than 80 countries worldwide, including 275 in North America. The first Godiva shop opened in the U.S. in 1972. Many of Godiva's chocolates contain hazelnut praline, a European favorite. (Which is great if you love hazelnut, not so fabulous if you don't.)
See's offers more than 30 options for Valentine's Day, including its Traditional Red Heart with assorted chocolates ($21.60 for one pound); a Valentine Kitten Box containing sugar sticks, milk chocolate hearts and gourmet lollypops for $6.40; a tuxedo heart box for the boys ($26.40); peanut butter, raspberry cream and Bordeaux hearts ($4.90 each); and a five-pack of white chocolate strawberry truffles for $5.70. Its priciest offering is the 2-pound, 12-oz. “Elegant Heart” containing more than 70 pieces of chocolate for $74.50. It's covered in red velvet and trimmed with red satin cord and a jeweled heart.
Godiva has more than 40 Valentine's Day choices. The most basic is the 15-piece red satin heart box trimmed with a red satin rose for $40. The most elaborate is the Expressions of Love gift set, which comes with “Valentino the Bear” wearing a festive red jacket and beret and toting a bag of foil-wrapped milk and dark chocolate hearts, accompanied by a 29-piece red satin heart ($100). There is also the Sweet Hearts Tower, a stack of three pink, heart-shaped boxes filled with 35 chocolates, tied with a red satin bow for $50, a chocolate fondue kit ($42), milk chocolate “message” hearts that say “LOVE” or “HUG” (3.5 oz., $8 each), and six cherry cordials for $10.
First off, Godiva is prettier, both the packaging and the chocolates themselves. See's Traditional Red Heart, made of heart-patterned cardboard, looks a bit cheap. Godiva's red satin heart box is pleasingly plush. Godiva's chocolates come in artful shapes, like seashells, raindrops and lion heads. See's chocolates come in bonbon shape. (If you're a native Californian and you've been paying attention, you can deduce the filling by the pattern of the chocolate finish on top.)
Godiva's shell construction is much harder than See's soft chocolate coating. Godiva's candy shell snaps, which offers a nice contrast to the extremely smooth filling. Filling flavors include double chocolate raspberry, French vanilla and cappuccino.
See's chocolates are soft all the way through. The filling is a bit fluffier than Godiva's, whose denseness can seem almost gummy. The fillings — coconut cream, orange buttercream, mocha — are familiar and tasty to an American palate. See's tends to be sweeter than Godiva, but is not overly sweet.
Godiva's heart-shaped candy selection comes in a big hunk of exceptionally smooth solid milk chocolate with corny writing on it. See's heart-shaped candies, for almost half the price, contain raspberry cream, peanut butter and Bordeaux. You can also get 12 Scotchmallow hearts for $18. There is no doubt that See's wins the price fight, and we have to give a nod to the hearts containing filling. That hunk of Godiva milk chocolate, while delicious, gets monotonous after a while, especially after you have chewed off the “H” so that it reads “UG.”
This food fight almost comes down to a gourmand vs. gourmet battle, high-quality but unsophisticated American chocolates vs. their elegant, frou-frou European cousins. It is Harry Potter vs. David Copperfield, puppy love vs. Anna and Vronsky, kittens vs. pet ocelots, teddy bears vs. tennis bracelets, a great burger vs. a fantastic steak, a craft beer vs. a glass of Moet & Chandon.
So who wins? This is a tough one, but being Californians and Americans, we are going to tip our red beret to See's. Perhaps it is because a See's caramel sucker was one of our first pacifiers, but there is just something about See's that creates such a happy, contented feeling. See's chocolates are sweet and simple, not intense and dramatic like Godiva. Plus you can eat more of them at a sitting.
Follow Samantha Bonar @samanthabonar.