Second Helpings

Chocolate Heaven: Along with power, sex and notoriety, nothing feeds more imaginations than chocolate. For some complex physiological reasons, eating chocolate generates an incredible sense of satisfaction and well-being.

I speak from experience, because I just came back from one of the most mesmerizing shops in the Valley: Pee-Wee's Imports.

Run by a tiny, grandmotherly, ball-of-energy Swiss dynamo named Liselotte "PeeWee" Smika, this shrine to chocolate offers more than 600 products, from every chocolate-producing country on Earth. The place is stacked with the finest milk and dark chocolates in every form: cups, creams, blocks, shavings.

Pee-Wee has captured practically every upscale resort and restaurant in town. Among her clients are the restaurants at the Scottsdale Princess, the Phoenician, the three Hilton Pointes, and the Hyatt, as well as gourmet restaurateurs like Christopher, Vincent and RoxSand.

Now for the bad news. If you want to sample these chocolates, you'll have to visit one of her clients. That's because Pee-Wee is a wholesaler who can't sell retail to the general public. Unless you have a resale license, you're out of luck.

It obviously pays to be on her Christmas list. She told me she sends her lawyer an 11pound block of her finest chocolate every December. Once he puts it out on a table, he has no trouble attracting open-house guests.

I asked Pee-Wee who makes the best chocolate. For milk chocolate, she says the Swiss; the finest dark chocolates come from Belgium.

She'll get no argument from me. I brought home a box of Belgian chocolate hedgehogs, fed one to each of my kids and asked what they thought. After one bite, they looked like they had entered another world. Incapable ofspeech, they just kept murmuring "Mmmmm" and "Wow." Terrific chocolate will do that to you. No wonder they don't seem too excited about leftover Halloween Tootsie Rolls this year.

You'd imagine that when the five o'clock whistle blows, Pee-Wee and her staff relax by stuffing themselves into a chocolate coma. On the contrary, they act more like the eunuchs supervising the sultan's harem. They know they're supposed to be excited, but they can't figure out why. One of PeeWee's workers told me he can't stand the smell of chocolate. As for Pee-Wee herself, she says, "I never cared for sweets."

If you're armed with the proper credentials, you can visit the shop at 7601 East Gray in Scottsdale, at Scottsdale Airpark. But you'll need to clear it first with Pee-Wee by phone. Call 998-5086.

Ave Maria: After my review of Maria's When in Naples ran a few weeks ago, I got a call from the perturbed proprietor.

It was a strongly positive review. But I had noticed that the restaurant seemed to skimp on the quality of the Parmesan cheese served with the carpaccio appetizer. It wasn't reggiano Parmigiano, but an inferior variety.

Maria wanted me to know that this was anaberration. According to her, a problem with the supplier had thrown her off balance for a few weeks, apparently just at the time I made my visits. She assured me the restaurant is back to serving the good stuff.--Howard Seftel


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