AAA Chocolate Round Up Compartes Chocolates Organic ChocolateIn business for more than 50 years, this little shop has been through three different owners but still uses the recipes the original chocolatier typed out on index cards. Known for chocolate-dipped fruits, Comparte's has introduced several new products since Jonathan Grahm took over as chocolatier last year. His "Love Nuts" are a favorite, and it's easy to see why: Nuts that have been caramelized with Tahitian vanilla bean, dusted with sea salt, dipped in chocolate, then rolled in cocoa powder, they're almost impossible to resist. Everything is made in-house — even the peanut butter — and several of the chocolates also come in sugar-free varieties.

Like their Old World counterparts, Southern California's chocolatiers prefer to work with high-quality dark chocolate. But the flavors they add to their chocolates are distinctly New World. Often, the chocolates are filled with chile-spiced caramel, herb- or tea-infused ganache, or fresh fruits such as raspberries. Like the chocolate itself, the fillings have no preservatives.

The flavors might seem unconventional, but that's part of the fun, says Jonathan Grahm, chocolatier at Comparte's of California, in Brentwood. "Just the other day, I had some dried ginger in the kitchen, so I thought, hey, let's try to make a ginger truffle," Grahm says. He's done the same thing with other seasonal ingredients: mango, pumpkin, even umeboshi, a dried and salted Japanese plum.

Because they make new items every day, artisan chocolatiers don't usually offer prepacked boxes. Instead, they help customers choose chocolates, offering samples along the way.

"It's chocolate as a total experience," Grahm says. "People come in and I get to talk to them about how everything was made. It's great, making chocolate every day. No one can ever be mad at me."