Friday, February 02, 2007

Chocolate is the New Coffee

It’s fairly obvious that the San Francisco Bay Area is an epicenter for premium chocolates. Just look at the various fine chocolatiers in town, from Rechiutti to Scharffen Berger to Joseph Schmidt. So it’s no surprise that we’re seeing more and more chocolate-related eateries.

One of my favorites, and partly because it’s within walking distance to my home, is Bittersweet, the chocolate café. The first of two locations was opened on College Avenue in the Rockridge neighborhood by a group of friends who were major chocoholics, buying all types of chocolates whenever they traveled. Their concept was to create a cozy place to gather that would also showcase an assortment of premium chocolates.

As a guy, I don’t get major chocolate cravings. (I think I read a study awhile back that says women crave sugar and men crave sour things.) But I appreciate the overall eclectic feel of the Bittersweet café, with its earth-toned (or is it more chocolate-toned) walls and artwork and miss-match of wooden tables and chairs. And during the recent cold season here, I’ve found a nice, hot cup of cocoa even more enticing and a nice alternative to my tea-drinking. (I don’t drink coffee so that rules out the majority of cafes for me in the Bay Area, and in the world, for that matter.)
I’ve started to appreciate chocolate more as I get exposed to the different flavors and quality. Plus, more studies have shown that eating dark chocolate provides helpful antioxidants to help you stay healthy. (Of course, I think you have to end up eating a whole lot of chocolate every day for any real benefits. But lets all try, shall we?)

At Bittersweet, my favorite is the standard bittersweet chocolate drink because of its rich flavor. I contradict all health benefits that often come from the dark chocolate (milk chocolate isn’t as healthy because of the calories) by adding a spoonful of whipped cream. But it’s so pretty with that streak of white clouds against the dark brown pool.

I sometimes also get the spicy chocolate drink that’s served with cinnamon and hot pepper. It has a nice kick of heat to it and is reflective of how a lot of people in Mexico drink their cocoa.

Along with chocolate drinks, Bittersweet also sells a cute assortment of baked goods, from cupcakes to scones to little fruit gels called pate de fruits. These can all be pricey, so I often buy something for myself only when I feel like I deserve a treat. That’s typically after a week of having to deal with an unnerving boss. They also serve other things like steel-cut oatmeal (I imagine for the morning crowd) and recently started offering cult-favorite Blue Bottle organic coffee. And of course, there’s a full wall of chocolate bars and chocolate-related goods to fulfill any chocolate lovers’ dreams.

My only gripe is that the Rockridge café has outgrown its spot. They only have four tables that are often occupied, and the lines are so long you’d think people were in line to buy a lotto ticket. I guess that’s why they opened a Bittersweet on San Francisco’s Fillmore Street. This newer location has seating in the front and back, and a small area upstairs.

It’ll be great to see Bittersweet expand to more locations. And others are joining the chocolate-sipping bandwagon, namely Moonstruck Chocolate, which opened cafés in San Francisco’s Marina district and in downtown Walnut Creek. It’s nice to have these bastions of chocolate, even for vanilla-lovers like me.

Bittersweet (Rockridge): 5427 College Ave., Oakland, Sun.–Thu., 9 a.m.–7 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 9 a.m.–9 p.m.
Bittersweet (Fillmore): 2123 Fillmore St., San Francisco, Sun.–Thu., 10 a.m.–8p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 10 a.m.–10 p.m.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I used to be quite a fan of Scharffen Berger chocolate, especially since it used to be one of only 5 companies in the US to manufacture chocolate from cocoa beans. Since they sold out to Hershey, I'm afraid our love affair has cooled a bit. There's a new upstart in Seattle called Theo Chocolate which is doing a very nice (but small scale) job of making chocolate and dipped chocolates. Hmmm.... I suddenly have a craving for hot chocolate.