Ex Voto Chocolates and Confections
2646 E. Main St., Ventura
805-667-9228 or www.exvotochocolates.com
When Trufflehound’s closed in 2015, Ventura found itself sadly bereft of a homegrown artisanal confectioner. So it was with great anticipation that Ex Voto opened its midtown shop (next to Ventura Meat Company) in summer 2017. One look at the display case, with racks of bonbons in a rainbow of colors, all beautifully decorated with artful, abstract designs, and the public knew: Ventura was getting its groove — and its chocolate — back.
Ex Voto is the enterprise of the mother-daughter team of Jennifer Smith and Sophia Smith-Grunder. The latter is the wizard whose culinary magic provides Ex Voto with its tempting creations. Smith-Grunder is both chocolatier and artist, making her confections by hand and carefully painting each piece to turn it into an edible work of art.
Fans know that every season brings something different, as fresh ingredients — fruit juice and purée, cream infused with herbs and spices, nut butters made from scratch — are employed to fully explore the landscape of flavor. Apple cider, hot chocolate, champagne, pears and even Thai chili have all had their place on the Ex Voto lineup. Right now, with summer fruits in season, it’s no surprise that Ex Voto’s current offerings lean heavily toward ingredients that one might find at the local farmers market.
I ordered a five-chocolate sampler with Key lime, passion fruit, lemon, blueberry lavender and bananas Foster bonbons. Beautiful they were, painted in colors that matched their flavors, with sweeps of gold to add a touch of glamour. Hard chocolate shells encased luscious fillings that packed a lot of punch. The Key lime was like a chocolate-covered slice of pie, and the passion fruit in particular had that fresh-from-the-orchard taste. Kudos to the bananas Foster, which balanced the rum, caramel and banana flavors perfectly. All were extremely rich, of course, and deeply satisfying . . . as a quality piece of chocolate should be.
Chocolates would be enough to earn Ex Voto praise, but the shop’s other claim to fame is its handmade ice cream. Around a dozen (or so) flavors are usually available, and Smith-Grunder gets creative here. Honey buttered toast (a top-seller), honey lavender and roasted strawberry are among the more unusual offerings.
Scoops come as singles, doubles and the aptly named “smidge”; toppings and sundaes are also available. For a truly fun and delicious experience, I recommend the ice cream flight: four generous scoops of your choice, placed on a handsome wood paddle. Mine, shared with a 9-year-old, turned out to be a lot of ice cream . . . but at $10, it was a total bargain. Loved the Tahitian Vanilla, which could convert even die-hard chocolate fans, and the banana honeycomb, whose genuine banana flavor stood out. The honey lavender has a loyal following, but it is something of an acquired taste: the lavender essence is quite strong, and I felt like I was eating perfume. The malted milk chocolate was delicate and a little dull compared to its more robust counterparts.
When you’re craving something sweet, Ex Voto has it all: creamy gourmet ice cream, the prettiest chocolates you ever saw and even a decent coffee menu (untried by me) with cold brew and iced options. Perfect for these hot summer days, but delicious any time of year. And probably the only place in town where you can eat a work of art.