Cocoa nuts?

Chocolate, one of the oldest and most popular love potions, doesn't have to be a heart-shaped ho-hum experience. Check out these spots for some diverse alternatives:

Better than instant
The winters in Chicago can drive you to drink--hot chocolate, that is. The lounge at NoMi is featuring hot chocolate creations such as the "truffles trois," a sampler trio of Dom Perignon, Jasmine tea and Grand Marnier truffles (by Teuscher Chocolates) served in sleek liqueur glasses. Waiters pour steamy hot milk tableside so the chocolate melts. Offered through March 31 ($9).

Double your pleasure
Multitask by sating your chocolate and vino cravings simultaneously. Roselle's Lynfred Winery dips its wines in chocolate for a peel-and-drink experience. Chefs carefully dunk, dry and repeat seven times so the entire bottle is coated with a blend of dark and milk chocolate, then finished with a drizzle of white. They'll dip any wine (cost of wine, plus $20 for the chocolate, pre-order by Feb. 1). Select wines are ready to grab-n-go; try the Vin de City Red (a Cabernet blend)--you'll uncover a skyline label ($30).

Flight to chocolate
Mindy Segal, the pastry goddess behind Hot Chocolate, serves up savory offerings, but she's best known for her sweet treats and hot chocolate (duh!). Pick from flavors like the "black and tan" with one-third hot fudge and two-thirds "medium" hot chocolate ($9 for flight of four). She's also launching new chocolate collections the week of Valentine's Day; with tempting with names like "sin," "erotic" and "obsession"; expect foursomes of a theme ($15 per person). If you're planning a housebound romantic rendezvous, she's offering a special carryout menu (24-hour advance notice; call for details).

Release your inner Picasso
Rev up your love life at Early to Bed with edible chocolate body paints and frostings. The Belgian chocolate body paint is premium chocolate--you have to warm it up before painting ($12). Other options include a chocolate tattoo kit, complete with body frosting and stencils for the design challenged ($15).

Practice makes perfect
So you've read the Kama Sutra, now eat it. Andersonville's Bon Bon features an array of hand-made chocolates with exotic ingredients such as ginger and ancho chile, but we like the Kama Sutra chocolate tablets with depictions from the steamy book. Owner Elizabeth Zuverink hand-paints dark chocolate into the molds, finishes them with pewter and gold-hued gloss, then packs them in custom-fitted gift box ($20).

Bubbling chocolate
The South Loop's Canady le Chocolatier offers a try-before-you-buy perk--during peak hours there's a complimentary chocolate fountain with fresh fruit for dipping. Look for truffle choices such as Cognac, mint and raspberry and assorted hand-made chocolates (both $33 per pound). Upgrade with a custom-made pressed flower-embellished box ($8-$35).

Skip the shipping
Coco Rouge, which caters to high-end restaurants (like Seasons Restaurant/Four Season Hotel, and does the bulk of their biz via phone sales, also offers their primo truffles at select spots like The Artisan Cellar. Choices include the "leatherwood," wild Tasmanian honey caramel and semi-sweet chocolate garnished with Hawaiian pink and black salts and bee pollen. Artisan carries the truffle gift boxes in 4-16 pieces ($11-$36). On the horizon: Coco Rouge is opening a sleek new Wicker Park storefront in April with expanded chocolate choices.

Decadent duos
Newcomer Sarah's Pastries & Candies offers multiple chocolate choices like the "truffles for two": an adjoined duo (in flavors like white chocolate, $3.25 each). Or, opt for heart-shaped turtles ($1 each), truffle "kisses" with ganache filling ($20 lb.), or a "couple cupcake" (they pipe your initials onto the house-made 'cakes in chocolate, $2.99 each).

Terri Mooney is a metromix special contributor.

Updated Jan. 10, 2006.

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