The United States is succumbing to the dark side ... of chocolate. Just take a trip through the checkout lane for a frontline lesson in propaganda. There's no shortage of models pretending to gnaw on black, glossy squares, and headlines gush that it's OK to eat chocolate again--as long as its dark. The confectioners are listening, too. No longer content with dark chocolate's standard makeup of 50 to 70 percent cocoa solids, American chocolate manufactures have become downright sadistic in tweaking their cocoa content, as much as 87 percent or higher in some bars. It's enough to make the most devoted sweet tooths begin to feel bitter.
Meanwhile, the rest of the chocolate-producing world continues to wallow quite blissfully in the 30 to 45 percent cocoa solids range--ideal conditions for milk chocolate. The United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland are holding steady ground. But 16 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, one Eastern European nation-state is emerging as a leader in the modern milk chocolate revolution. Confection companies in Belarus are combining Soviet-era precision with old-world style. The result? A surprisingly sophisticated new breed of milk chocolate, found in bars like these at Red Square (710 Lomas NE, 255-4303). Step into the light again, comrades.
1. Alyonka--The Spartak confectionery factory has been a Belarus tradition since 1924. Chocolate Alyonka (a popular girl's name) strikes a balance between mellow milk chocolate, nutty coffee and burnt sugar flavors. $.80 for a 50-gram bar.
2. Slavyansky--Floral milk chocolate with a slightly bitter dark chocolate snap (from an unorthodox 47 percent cocoa solids). Cocoa liquor, heavy cream and cocoa butter give this bar a velvety texture. Look for the green paisley wrapper for a hazelnut variety. $1.30 for a 100-gram bar.
3. Sozvezdie Skazok--This ingenious wrapper is designed to look like an old Soviet Union 10-ruble note. Frankly, this peanut-filled bar tastes like earwax, but the packaging is adorable. $1.40 for a 100-gram bar.
4. Taliya--Smooth milk chocolate with pineapple (!) high notes and a slightly boozy finish. Cheeky and glamorous. $1.30 for an 80-gram bar.
5. Krasnay Shapochka--This 34 percent cocoa chocolate takes its name from the Russian "Red Riding Hood" fable. It has a delicate, Swiss-style milkiness with a pleasant sugar jolt--a bar for your adopted inner child. $0.80 for a 50-gram bar.