By Ellen Ryan
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, January 27, 2011; 12:27 PM
Decked out in a white apron, a hairnet and gloves, I'm choosing the ingredients for my sweetie's very own five-ounce candy bar. Chocolate? Check. Vanilla chips? You bet. Add some graham cracker crumbs, cookie bits, crisp rice (my favorite), rainbow jimmies. . . . Mmm. . . . Wait, is this treat for him or for me?
It's easy to get carried away at Chocolate-Covered February in Hershey, Pa. "The sweetest place on earth," where 107 streetlights are shaped like Kisses and downtown smells like chocolate, goes over the top next month to attract winter tourists. To Hershey, after all, there's nothing that doesn't go with chocolate: You can eat it, drink it, cook with it, soak in it, paint it on your skin; compare, contrast and combine it; even wear it as jewelry and watch it march down the street in its own honor.
But let's back up to eating it. The kick-off to Chocolate-Covered February is the first Saturday's Chocolate Dinner Extraordinaire in the Hotel Hershey's mural-and-glass Circular Dining Room. (Company founder Milton Hershey didn't want solo diners to be tucked into a corner or behind a pillar, so his main restaurant has neither.) The 31/2-hour affair - $75 a person plus tax and tip, $120 with wine pairing - includes the month's ingredient in everything from seared jumbo scallop and dark-chocolate-braised short ribs to winter greens with roasted pear, caramelized shallot, goat-cheese strudel and chocolate-balsamic vinaigrette.
It's called "Chocolate-Covered February," not "Dieters' Delight." And I haven't even mentioned the desserts.
You don't have to arrive the first weekend to share in the bounty, just as you don't have to keep to the hotel. Many events are held at Hershey Lodge, a more pedestrian building than the famed 1933 Mediterranean-style hotel, but more affordable.
The two-year-old Hershey Story museum offers fun interactive exhibits and a gleaming, by-reservation Chocolate Lab demonstration kitchen with February-only specials. And if your (or your kids') tastes run younger, don't miss Chocolate World's free simulated-factory tour blaring with music, lights and larger-than-life company mascots, which also star in weekend parades.
I planned my last visit like a cocoa-seeking missile. Bypassing the beer-, wine- and spirits-chocolate pairings, martini mixology classes, cooking demos and surprisingly scientific comparison tastings, I headed first for the Create Your Own Candy Bar section of Chocolate World and even designed the wrapper.
Then it was off to the spa. February's Chocolate Spa Sampler was tempting - $197 for three hours of manicure or cocoa scrub, a Whipped Cocoa Bath, a 50-minute massage and lunch. I recommend the $45 bath; there's nothing like sinking into a giant mug of hot water scented with cocoa and foaming milk powder. This time I opted to sip tea while enjoying a nontoxic manicure and cocoa-sugar scrub for $55. My silky forearms smelled so yummy that I sniffed my wrists the rest of the day.
After an all-you-can-eat lunch in my bathrobe at the tranquil, newly expanded Oasis spa restaurant came a scheduled truffle-making class ($10) at the white-and-chrome Chocolate Lab. Demonstrator Ann McFadden kept it lively with slides and trivia questions while showing off how our four truffles should turn out. The three of us at my table laughed about getting gloppy and rolling eggs rather than spheres. McFadden observed with a pleasant poker face, then handed everyone recipes and a colorful box with four paper doilies. At least the packaging was perfect.
Before dinner at the new, local-everything Harvest restaurant - "Nothing's ever frozen here but the ice cream," our server boasted - curiosity drove me to the Le Vian Chocolate Diamonds Trunk Show in the hotel's shopping corridor. The diamonds are from Australia, they're rare and they're . . . brownish. Surprise.
But here's the biggest surprise about February in Hershey: You don't have to love chocolate to enjoy it.
No one will make you eat anything at ZooAmerica, where you can watch a different species get fed fake you-know-what each Saturday at 1 p.m.; on Sundays, see "animal artists" paint at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
While one of you sees the Hershey Bears, a Washington Capitals affiliate, at one of their six weekend home games, the other can indulge in a Rose Garden Foot Treatment or Mojito Sugar Scrub at the spa. Then you can meet up later at Hershey Theatre to see, for example, the Hershey Symphony Orchestra on Feb. 11 or the Christopher Reeve romance "Somewhere in Time" on the 13th - a great way to experience the jaw-droppingly opulent theater.
You can also ice skate, swim or, should temperatures warm, play golf, tennis, hoops or bocce.
When it comes to chocolate, my sweetie can take it or leave it. So it's a good thing that there's more than enough to engage us both at this popular resort, even in February.
And all those Kisses sitting around? More for me.
Ryan is a freelance writer in Washington.