Soft jazz plays as I step into the Fran’s Chocolates store in downtown Seattle. The staff is dressed in snappy black suits with classy high collars. They’re friendly and happy, as if working in a chocolate shop is all they’ve ever wanted to do. And they’re eager to tell me what’s under the glass.

Chocolates, of course.

I sample confections from salted caramels (with two kinds of salt) to the darkest bittersweet offering they have.

Seattle bittersweet is my thing, so I wanted to give Fran’s a chance to show me their stuff. Seattle is silly with chocolatiers, and Fran’s – founded in 1982 – is one of the early ones. But can they do dark?

And where is Fran?

“You just missed Fran”, says Audrey, who plies me with another truffle to assuage my disappointment. It’s a single malt whiskey, dark, impressively subtle. It doesn’t affect my sobriety at all.

I explain that I review Seattle chocolatiers. She laughs. “Throw a stone in Seattle and it’ll bounce off a chocolate shop and hit a cafe.” This is even more true here in downtown Seattle, where Fran’s is surrounded by a plenitude of chocolate opportunities, from cafés to ice creameries to bakeries. But Fran’s is special, occupying as it does the high end of the range. Their truffles are small and focused, making no apologies for price. This place is about quality, not quantity.

And they’ve got quality. The dark chocolate couverture (the hard stuff that keeps the gooey stuff inside) is a custom blend made for them by Valhrona, who knows their dark. It’s a smooth blend, smoky but not loud, as if to say, “yes, I’m the good stuff, but no need to make a fuss.” Understated.

Fran’s dark chocolate truffle is intense enough to satisfy most palettes, but for those of us who crave extremes, the bittersweet truffle is the path. This confection means to be taken seriously. Appropriately, it’s got a dab of edible gold leaf on top. The inside ganache is an impressive 84% dark. Heavy and thick but also subtle and surprisingly smooth. Someone worked very hard to make this ganache sharply bittersweet while at the same time polite and civilized.

A box of dark truffles that includes this one would make a fine gift for the devoted seeker of the dark who wants something upscale. Think promotion, major birthday, or even a steamy courtship.

And, frankly, the bittersweet truffle would serve nicely as a gateway chocolate for someone you’re trying to convert to the dark side. Intense without being overwhelming. A luxury of dark.

Fran’s chocolates are casually upscale, like the shop itself. From simple, bright gift packaging to the picture on the wall made entirely out of chocolates, everything is elegant while at the same comfortably friendly.

Fran’s provides a smooth, consistent quality confection that is both subtle and rich. There’s nothing here to shock or challenge – this is gentle chocolate.

I watched the staff make one world traveler after another warmly welcome, plying them with chocolates, making it easy to slow down for a moment and consider a delicious, quality perspective on life.

When you’re in town, step in.

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