Sunday, July 15, 2007

Crazy Chocolate Crowds

Yesterday I went elbow-to-elbow with chocolate lovers at Fort Mason in San Francisco, and I don't even love chocolate. This is what I do now that I started this blog. It actually was an interesting event, checking out the various chocolate makers and brands and tasting all that free samples. Even though I don't live and die with chocolate (unlike other people at the fair who seemed to go crazy at the mere sight of the dark brown stuff), I do appreciate the subtle flavors, history, and now-known health benefits of chocolate.

The San Francisco Chocolate Salon continues today (July 15). If you're willing to part with the $20 admission (I thought it was worth it; just figure you're paying a $1 for each premium chocolate nibble), then it's worth checking out. Just be warned of the sugar rush and crash that'll occur. Or you can just read the rest of this post to see what was featured: (BTW, the photo above are the colorful truffles of Cosmic Chocolates. Although they were very pretty, they were too sweet for my tastes.)

Here's the entrance to the SF Chocolate Salon. It was actually in one of the smaller rooms at Fort Mason instead of the Festival Pavilion. So that meant even more packed crowds in the tiny room.
See what I mean about the crowds? This was the front room of the chocolate salon after you walk in. You can't even see the chocolate tables!
One of the first tables in the main room as you enter is local favorite Charles Chocolates of Emeryville. They had several of their standbys for tasting (such as my favorite mojito hearts). One of its new features for the fall is this new design for its beautiful chocolate boxes. I think their boxes are so beautiful, and it seems a shame to eat it. But I'm sure whomever you give it to won't have a problem breaking into it.
This is gourmet chocolate from a Belgian maker called NewTree and distributed locally by people in San Anselmo. They have rich chocolate bars that are infused with flavors to represent an emotion like "Blush," "Renew," "Pleasure," and "Rejoice." The above is called "Sexy" and it had this energizing kick of ginger flavor that is supposed to get you all stimulated. It's a good thing I was by myself when I tasted it. ;-)
These are chocolate truffles from a company called TeaRoom. The friends I were with loved the Earl Grey flavor, but when I tried it, it was just OK. They had another interesting one called "Intense Vanilla" but it tasted like a blob of white chocolate. This was not my favorite table.
These are chocolate bars from a Seattle-based maker called Theo Chocolates. It claims to be the first U.S. chocolate makers using Fair Trade-certified and organic cocoa beans. But as I walked around, there were other tables also promoting fair trade and organic. So I don't know who was first. But I do know Theo's chocolates are amazingly rich tasting. They have infused bars (pictured left) called 3400 Phinney (which is their Seattle address) and regular bars of varying degrees of cocoa, pictured right.
This company called Grand Avenue Chocolates have these amazing chocolate sauces. They were tasting the dark chocolate Cabernet sauce that was so pleasant. It didn't have a strong alcohol taste, but you can sense the dark chocolate being enhanced by the wine. It was very seductive. Unfortunately, they were not offering tastes of the white chocolate sauce which was a buttery Chardonnay infused chocolate sauce.
You got to have a chocolate fountain at a chocolate salon. This was actually at the table for Terra Nostra Organic chocolates. I didn't find their chocolates all that exciting, and you actually couldn't eat any of the chocolates from the fountain; it was just for looks. On a side note, the table next to it, Lillie Belle Farms Artisan Chocolates from Oregon had these amazing lavender caramel with fleur de sel. I think the hot thing now is to sprinkle sea salt on everything (from chocolates to ice cream) and I love salt so I'm all for that. But caramel is a bit hard to eat, IMHO, because of the whole sticking to the mouth thing. Still, it was lavender, which I love. (Also at Lille Belle, they had a smokey blue truffle, and it's called that because it has smoked blue cheese in it. My friend Vera was pushing that on all of us to try, but I just thought it was strange, even though it didn't taste too bad. Some things should just not mix.)
These are chocolate truffles from a small company called Decadent Tastes from Monterey. It emphasizes Asian-fusion flavored chocolate under the brand name L'Estasi Dolce. I loved this table! The woman was really sweet (she's looking for a distributor by the way and I was so tempted to become a chocolate distributor just so I could sell this stuff) and I loved the lemongrass-ginger truffle. Their chocolates had subtle, interesting flavors, which is what I liked. I later tried the champagne truffle and it was just as successful. If you're interested in distributing this chocolate, please give them a call. I think they deserve to be at stores. For now, they're available online.
There were demonstrations throughout the day on the main stage. This is chef Jean Marc Gorce of XOX Truffles making truffles for everyone. You should have seen the mad rush to the table as everyone grabbed a sample. Again, crazy chocolate crowds.
There were also liquor being served as a complement to the chocolate tastings. This is a big wine glass that was at the counter for Silkwood Wines from Modesto. I tried their Syrah and I have to say it had a bit of a bite from the tannins. I wouldn't recommend it.
If there was a vote for audience favorite, I would give a gold award to this table of Poco Dolce chocolates (made right here in San Francisco). They were one of my favorites because all their chocolates are finished off with sprinkles of sea salt. (See what I mean about the growing popularity of sea salt?) It creates a nice crunch when you're eating the chocolate, making you think its something like wafers or a brittle, but it's really the salt. I also heard a lecture by the guy behind Bittersweet Cafe and he said salt opens up your tasting glands, so you better appreciate flavors, like chocolate. I say it works!
I voted these guys the best dressed at the salon. Everyone at the counters were dressed in regular casual business attire, but these guys looked fitting for the environment in their chocolate-colored chefs uniforms. I thought they looked really smart. Oh, BTW, they're from Amano chocolates from Utah and they make these rich, full-flavored chocolate from beans that come straight from the grower. The Madagascar bar was very nice. They treat their beans like wine vintages, working with each crop like its own signature vintage.
These are tastings of a chocolate mousse cake by Couture Chocolates of Sacramento. The owner and pastry chef Ginger Elizabeth (cool name huh?) was there presenting her chocolates. This cake was amazing. It was hard to pick up, but you'd normally be eating it with a fork. The mousse was tasty and rich, and it had this great crunchy, light crust like a cookie wafer.
Here are beautiful, fun chocolates from Coco-luxe Confections of San Francisco. I've never heard of them, but they have such cute designs on their chocolates, such as the cookie man above. Unfortunately, the truffles, IMHO, were too sweet and mushy. The cookie man was just a big mush of white chocolate. However, the chocolate-coated peanuts on the right were amazing. They had many layers of flavors, starting with the cocoa powder on top, the peanut crunch, the slight honey flavor, finished off by a chili flavored kick. Wow.
Here's Chuck Siegel of Charles Chocolate making a big batch of iced hot cocoa. I know, sounds weird. He basically made hot cocoa and then refrigerated it, then poured it into crushed iced to make a cold drink out of it. It looked funny to drink but tasted a bit like a fudgesicle, which was my favorite treat growing up.
These beautiful chocolate truffles were under glass at this table by L'Artisan du Chocolat. That. Is. Just. Wrong. (They did offer a few truffles chopped up for tasting, but still. What a tease.)
These are toffees with almonds from Rushburn Toffee of San Francisco. I was so chocolate-out by the time I got to this table, and I'm not a big nut fan, that I was about to pass them by. Then one of the friends I was with said I had to try it, so I took one last bite and it was heavenly. It reminded me of my childhood eating Almond Roca. (Remember those?) This toffee had such a nice light crunch and great taste that it was fantastic. (Thanks Susan for pushing it on me!)
Ending any dessert like chocolate with dessert wine is always a smart choice. To end this post I'm showcasing the Essensia muscato dessert wine from Quady Winery in Madera. The Central Valley is a great source for muscat grapes, so this was an easy winner. It definitely would be a nice pairing with an after-dinner cheese and chocolate course. Yum.

Many of the above chocolates (and many more at the salon I didn't feature) can be found locally at Bittersweet Cafe or Whole Foods.


Anonymous said...

Great recap....I went today and I had many of the same conclusions that you did: Great deal for $20 but boy did I feel woozy a few hours later. Not sure if it was the sugar or the caffeine. In any case, my favorite was the Poco Dolce chocolates, especially the one with dark chocolate and sea salt. Adding sea salt seemed to be a common theme, and one I can't complain about. I only wish I was able to taste the iced hot cocoa and the blue cheese truffle but I didn't see either offered. Loved the dessert wines from Quady Winery. -- David

SarahSilver said...

I was there today. The chocoalate fountain was accessable with spoons :) delicious. Yes there was a major chocolate sugar rush followed by a salt craving for me.. cool event, but so crowded!

NotSoccer Mom said...

wow, this sounds fabulous! love your comments and summary.

Mrs. L said...

I wanted to go to this but didn't know about it until to late. Thanks for the great recap. I've seen some of those chocolate bars listed at Cost Plus World Market. We've actually bought several of the "New Tree" bars.
And the new design looks great!

xine. said...

this looks like a dream! I just started reading your blog about a month or so and I love it! I am traveling to san fran in a couple of weeks and I hope I can stop by some of the places you've pointed out. keep up the great work!

Wilhelm said...

Thanks for the post. We didn't have time to come over to the west coast, but your images give a very good impression of the selections.

Wilhelm said...

Thanks for the post. We didn't have time to come over to the west coast, but your images give a very good impression of the selections. (second post is posted with my actual blogger account, sorry for the confusion)

Rosy said...

Wow.....It sounds delicious thanks for the post.

s.j.simon said...

lol. did you know that chocolate was banned in switzerland for many years. read this