There’s nothing new at A l’Étoile d’Or, and that’s perfect.
Rarely is “it’s just like it always was” a compliment, but a delighted customer at the shop’s re-opening this week meant it as high praise. The iconoclastic and historic candy shop, which features hard-to-find, old-fashioned sweets from throughout France, had been a fixture in Pigalle for over 40 years when, in February 2014, an accidental nearby explosion destroyed the shop and forced its closure. Sweet lovers mourned the loss of unusual candies like the bars of Bernachon chocolates from Lyon (the only spot in Paris to get them) or blackcurrant jellies from Dijon with a liquid center.
Most of all, they missed the opportunity to interact with the beloved owner, Denise Acabo. In her late 70s when the explosion occurred and destroyed the antique mirrors and woodwork, vintage candy jars and tins, not to mention her entire stock of exotic sweets, Acabo wasn’t sure that she would have the energy to reopen. She says it was the customers who eventually convinced her. “I cried every day! Everyone kept saying Denise! We miss you!”
The pigtailed and plaid-skirted Acabo is a legendary figure who presides over her domain with infectious, crowd-pulling enthusiasm. Her passion for quality and her intense devotion to selling only the best has convinced many artisans who otherwise wouldn’t deliver to Paris or trust a re-seller to provide her with their exceptional sweets. Fans of the shop will be glad to know the table full of Bernachon bars is back, as are the cases of Bonnat chocolate and Henri LeRoux caramels, the wands of bergamot marshmallows from Nancy, old-timey tins of hard candies, the Mazet bonbons, and the center case filled with singular chocolate treats.
Visitors headed to the shop this week should be sure to seek out Le Mandarine de Grenoble, a chocolate-coated candied mandarin. It is such a favorite of Acabo’s that she hand-wrote a passionate letter to the candymaker in Grenoble, from whom she had purchased for over 30 years prior to the explosion, cajoling him to sell to her again. She described how she “salivates” over his creations and begged him to send more of the sweet that she called “an orgasm in my mouth.” He in turn sent her a box, but it’s the last one that she’ll have to sell as he will soon retire. At that news, Madame Acabo sighs mournfully: “I won’t orgasm anymore.”
Many candies here are described in playfully sexual terms and Acabo has even been known to feed dubious customers out of her hand to prove how extraordinary certain flavors can be. She knows the history of each sweet and will gladly extol its virtues. “She loves to please,” a neighbor explains fondly. “Who knows how long she will have this energy, but it’s her life.”
Madame Acabo doesn’t think the front window display is attractive enough yet, but the atmosphere is the same. The only thing missing at opening were the colorful rolls of comic book paper that had previously been used to wrap chocolate bars given as gifts. Time will tell if it will return. “Everything was melted,” Acabo says sadly, gesturing to the mirrors and woodwork and describing the damage, and then, with surprise and glee at how the renovation has turned out, “it hasn’t changed at all.”
It hasn’t changed at all, and neither has Madame Acabo. Go.
All photos by Brian Oh