2006_11_GothamMaisonChoc.jpgNow that the big tree is lit, Rockefeller Center draws tourists like moths to a flame. You may even find yourself under its sway. The tree is pretty impressive after all—more than 65 feet tall and adorned with more than 30,000 lights. But when the crowds swarm and the cold bites, remember relief is not far away. Just duck into La Maison du Chocolat, around the corner on 49th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, for what might be the best cup of hot cocoa in New York. This outpost of the quintessential French temple of chocolate provides a respite to midtown madness. Despite its location (right next to the NBC studios tour entrance), La Maison always maintains an air of calm. Maybe it’s because as soon as you walk in, the scent of pure, unadulterated chocolate envelops you. Every surface in the shop radiates in shades of auburn and brown, and even the clerks bear beatific smiles that seem cocoa induced. This is the Hermes of chocolate (with a bigger branch on Madison Avenue and 78th Street), and prices reflect the value.

The hot chocolate costs $7, which may provoke outrage (especially in those out-of-town relatives who dragged you to Rock Center in the first place). But if you’re a connoisseur it’s worth every sip. After all, you’d pay that much for a glass of fine wine, wouldn’t you? And just like with wine, varietals take precedence here. For the hot cocoa, you choose between two: the rounder Guayaquil or the sharper Caracas. Whipped cream is optional. The brew is not as pudding-like as the cups found at other New York favorites like City Bakery or Jacques Torres. Instead the cocoa here has a consistency closer to the kind grandma used to make—that is, if grandma were starting with a mix of chocolate carefully sourced from the most sought-after estates in the world. With chocolate like this, the aroma is as important as the mouthfeel. The unique flavors will return to your palate for an hour or more, about as long as the high lasts. And, in a nod to European café culture, each cup comes with a little wrapped square of chocolate set on the saucer. (Save it for later.) You can even get the cocoa to go in a paper cup, although it’s hard to savor it outside the confines of this little haven. If the price tag still chafes, then opt instead for a bouchée ($5), which is like the most luxurious candy bar ever. Dark, milk, and white chocolate are combined with nuts and dried fruits to make a number of different “mouthfuls”—rectangles that make for easy nibbling but are more substantial than truffles or bon-bons. Whatever your pleasure, you’re sure to get enough fortification to deal with the fray outside (or the family members closer by).

La Maison du Chocolat, 30 Rockefeller Center, 212-265-9404.