If asked, a majority of Penn students would probably say that life's greatest pleasures are sex and alcohol. While not exactly satisfying the former and only partially satisfying the latter (bring your plastic along for the extravagant wine list), the Ritz Carlton chocolate buffet ($24.95) proves that chocolate should round out the trifecta of guilty pleasures.

Every Thursday night from 8-11 p.m. manager John Christinzio and Chef Thomas Ruiz skillfully whip up this after-dinner feast of complete cocoa-driven indulgence. Now in its sixth season, the Philadelphia Ritz Carlton's chocolate buffet has served as a model for the hotel's other upscale locations across the country.

Undoubtedly, this Thursday night buffet's continued popularity lies in the regular rotation of items. Open only from September through May, Chef Ruiz gives the casual diner the opportunity to devour a countless number of chocolate treats over this nine month span.

The breathtakingly elegant rotunda and the sounds of relaxing jazz harmonies make the Ritz a relaxing finish to the night. Coupled with impeccable service, the perfectly cool ambience only reinforces a stress-free dining experience. The kitchen offers fifteen different selections, but four in particular rise above the rest. The chocolate crŠme brulee - the opener of the night - is perfectly glazed and doesn't have the overly caramelized residue that too often characterizes the dessert. While the tiramisu is not their most creative offering, the Ritz's fits the bill by striking a perfect balance of mascarpone cheese to espresso coffee flavors.

The two most refreshing surprises are the blueberry cheesecake with milk chocolate mousse and the strawberry panna cotta with passion fruit cream and cocoa bits. Unfortunately, some more traditional choices fall flat, particularly the dried out chocolate bread pudding. The centerpiece of the arrangement came in the form of the chocolate fountain. While the assortment of fruit and marshmallows hit the spot, it was highly unusual that strawberries were MIA in this dipping extravaganza.

These minor quibbles detract little from the overall experience, however. The Ritz Carlton's buffet is a celebration of chocolate; it encourages us to be more refined and sophisticated in our tastes while indulging our most delicious of desires.


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