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April 3, 2005

Get a Life 4/1/05

While I was home for a few weeks last summer, I was roped into going on a date with this kid Matt. Despite my lack of interest, he was too nice and shy for a "no." I feel bad punishing boys who try, and I was too dumb to invent a serious (and very jealous) boyfriend. Having successfully thwarted his efforts to pick me up at my parents' house, I waited outside the movie theater for an evening with Matt and Tom Cruise in Collateral. The expected "Who pays?" awkwardness of the ticket purchasing was paired with something I had not anticipated: being carded for a R-rated movie.

I was 21 years old and used to being carded. Typically, though, these occasions did not require me to be 17. Though this little incident didn't seem to fit at first, in retrospect, it set the stage perfectly for what I consider the most "high school" date of my life. After the Hollywood action flick, he asked if I wanted to go out for drinks. I climbed into his mom's SUV—and climbed out in front of my old post-homecoming football game hangout. Thanking Mr. Cruise for filling my last hour-and-a-half with his escapades as a hit man, I slid into a red vinyl booth at a 24-hour diner for shakes and uncomfortable conversation.

Six months and no second date with Matt later, I slid into a brown leather booth at HotChocolate for shakes and animated conversation. On a Thursday escape from schoolwork, my girlfriends and I were excited for the opportunity to talk about awkward boys instead of talking with them.

After I placed my milkshake order, the waitress casually asked to see my ID. The menu mentioned nothing about R-rated nudity or excessive violence, so it took me a second to realize why I was being carded. And then…a-ha! Stout and Caramel Shake. Stout being alcohol.

At a place called HotChocolate, one might think the temptation of the warm drinks outweighs that of the cold ones. Though the five varieties of hot chocolate topped with homemade marshmallows are enticing, the vast list of sweet treats at this new Bucktown spot make selecting just one a challenge. In addition to cookies and drinks, chef and owner Mindy Segal prepares delicate dessert concoctions at $10 per theme. The carrot cake consists of a delicate slice of classic cake topped with blissful cream cheese buttercream frosting and paired with a miniature float of carrot juice, cream soda, and vanilla ice cream. Chocolate lovers generally have three options (although the menu is rotating), including a popular chocolate soufflé tart finished with salted caramel ice cream and pretzels.

Despite the emphasis on chocolate in the sweets (and in the dark wood of the decor), the savory menu offers some real treats too. Appetizers like curried mussels or a pear and blue-cheese tart spare room for a vanilla and orange crème brulee, while the Kobe beef and tuna melt make for heartier options. Whether opting for just desserts or a full meal, HotChocolate's creations are all artistically prepared and reasonably priced.

From the leather-clad lounge area by the front window to the faintly lit bar, HotChocolate is an ideal setting for a date. The space is intimate without being too romantic and hip without being pretentious. Save the place for a date devoid of long silences and interview questions, though, as the music is too loud for the initial interrogation.

Washing down bites of my banana creation with my shake, I had bittersweet conversations with my friends about 22nd birthdays and post-graduation plans.

Although one of the girls had chosen to celebrate her 21st birthday for a second time, interviews for full-time jobs renounce denials that we are in fact getting older. As years pass, being carded will become a novelty. Being asked for ID at the grocery store will be brag-worthy and will serve as proof that the Botox really is worthwhile. Right now, though, being carded for my dessert just makes me sad. There should not be an age requirement for a shake that good.

HotChocolate

Address: 1747 North Damen Avenue

Phone: (773) 489-1787

Directions:

Via CTA: CTA bus #55 Garfield Westbound to the Red Line. Transfer to Red Line toward Howard to North/Clybourn. Transfer to CTA bus #72 North Avenue Westbound to Damen/Milwaukee. Walk north on Damen to 1747 North Damen Avenue.

Via car: 90/94 West. Exit at Division. Turn right onto Damen Avenue.

HotChocolate is on the right after the intersection with North Avenue.