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Thinking outside the heart-shaped box of chocolates

Just because it's Valentine's Day doesn't mean you have to suffer through mediocre chocolate. Modern chocolatiers are getting creative with their confections.

Koo-Ki Sushi
Sushi roll from Koo-Ki Sushi Corinne Schulze/CNET Networks

If I am to believe the ladies interviewed in the Russell Stover TV commercials that have been airing nonstop for the last week, Valentine's Day just isn't the same without chocolate.

But must we submit ourselves to the bland boxes of milk chocolate fruit creams in the name of tradition? For those ready to graduate past the yellow box of Whitman's, it seems there are new high-quality, specialty chocolatiers popping up everywhere.

One of the more creative options I've seen is Koo-Ki Sushi, which does a pretty amazing job of making chocolate that emulates pieces of sushi.

This maki roll is wrapped with chocolate, with a rice krispie-like substitute for rice. But you can also get chocolate chopsticks, a white chocolate lucky cat, and a tiny, edible sake cup.

Koo-Ki Sushi has a shop in San Jose, Calif., but also takes orders online.

Lake Champlain Chocolates
Lake Champlain Chocolates

Lake Champlain Chocolates makes this adorably grumpy-looking (and tasty-looking) chocolate frog, along with more traditional truffles and Valentine hearts. Lake Champlain Chocolates has three shops in Vermont, but their treats are available online and in specialty shops in most states.

And for the culinary adventurer who favors flavor over form, Christopher Elbow Chocolates makes dozens of chocolates and caramels flavored with out-of-the-ordinary ingredients: from fresh lime or black tea, to chili peppers or a Napa Valley cabernet. One particularly intriguing chocolate, called the Persian, is made of almond marzipan and a ganache flavored with saffron, clove, cardamom, cinnamon, and orange blossom. Christopher Elbow has shops in Kansas City, Mo., and San Francisco, and their chocolates are available from other retailers around the country and online.

Wherever you live, there's bound to be someone getting creative with their chocolate concoctions, ready to free chocolate lovers from the confines of that yellow Whitman's box. To find one near you, check the Chocomap for suggestions.

Koo-Ki Sushi
This chocolate sushi sampler from Koo-Ki Sushi contains look-alikes of some basic nigiri (tako, ebi, ikura, maguro, and tamago), along with a dollop of wasabi, some fresh ginger, and soy sauce--all made of chocolate. Corinne Schulze/CNET Networks