2nd Annual Chocolate Salon: Report
Well, despite the organizers being a little overwhelmed with the crowds and the space being definitely too small for the event, the quality of the chocolate was very good. Most of the vendors were local and only a few "big" names: Sharfenberger, Charles, Ghiradelli, Guitarrd
My personal favorites:
Coco De'lice: Everything was very good and the people were great
Highlight: Forais: Dark Chocolate ganache with organic sea salt & caramel
Of Note: Lavender/Meade: Traditional Meade wine and organic lavender in milk chocolate ganache
Spicy Rouge: Dark chocolate ganache, Italian red sparkiling wine and cayenne pepper
Can be purchased on-line: www.cocodelice.com or Whole Foods, Pasta Shop, Piedmont Grocery and Bittersweet Cafe (SF)
The Tea Room: Tea-infused chocolates
Highlight: Dark Chocolate with Lapsang Suchong: Smoky and Delicious
Highlight: Earl Grey Truffle
I liked that they had texture and weren't all round and shiny
754 Columbus, SF
6126 La Salle Ave., Oakland
Poco Dolce: Large Bittersweet tiles with sea salt
Highlight: Burnt Caramel covered in Dark Chocolate
And finally, last but certainly not least:
Marti Chocolatt (LA
)Highlight: Chipotle: Well-rounded and beautiful to look at and eat.
Imagine a burnished copper truffle-like gem
Unfortunately, the website is fairly basic and doesn't really list the wonderful flavors that were available at the Salon today. The chef's name is Tonet Tibay and can be reached at: email@example.com. I'll try to follow up and see what the deal is.
Hopefully next year will see the Salon have at least double the square footage with a separate room for events/cafe and a lot more space between one side of the aisles and the other. Long Live Chocolate!
Here is my report:
Chocolate fixes everything. How much BS will I put up with to sample amazing chocolate? The answer, apparently, is quite a bit.
Yesterday three of us visited the Chocolate Salon at Ft. Mason. On hand were about two dozen chocolate makers, most local. Ghiradelli and Guittard were there, but we skipped right past them to try xox Truffles, Charles Chocolates, Chuao, Saratoga, Poco Dolce, New Tree, Xocolate (makers of "chakralates", oh dear), Christopher Elbow, and many, many others. Which brings me to Complaint The First: I have a giant bag of chocolate samples in my fridge (it was too hot yesterday to leave them out) and I don't know where nearly all of them came from. As much as I hate excessive packaging, for an event like this to pay off for the exhibitors, it seems to me that they should have put take-away samples in individual little bags with a sticker or something. I'm sure I will love a lot of what is in that bag, but I am going to have a heck of a time figuring out where to get more in most instances.
XOX was the clear winner for all three of us. The caramel truffle was a magical combination of bitter chocolate and sweet, burnt caramel flavor. Two of us tried the lemon ginger truffle and neither much liked it. I finally know what all the fuss is about and will go out of my way to get to North Beach when they are open in the future. Charles Chocolates had some wonderful samples out as well--the cream-based chocolate orange twigs that are like crack to me, peanut butter butterflies, and a lot more that I put in my bag for later sampling. Christopher Elbow continues to leave me cold. I tried a "bananas foster" truffle--chocolate shell with a liquidy banana center that was way too strongly banana and had almost no chocolate flavor. We all concluded that we do not like tea in our chocolate. There was one vendor who did nothing but tea chocolates (The Tea Room), and all of them that we tried were fiercely tannic, so the insides of our mouths puckered up.
Was it worth it? Absolutely. Will I go back? Probably not. This may have been the most poorly organized event I have ever attended.
I purchased tickets about 3 weeks ago, and since nothing indicated to the contrary, assumed they would be mailed to me. Saturday I realized I hadn't gotten them and emailed, only to be informed all tickets would be at will-call. When we arrived, there was one very long and slow moving line. After a few minutes a woman came out and announced, "There are two lines, will call on the left and to buy tickets on the right." Everyone began to sort themselves and then she said, "Will call on the right and to buy tickets on the left," at which point it was total chaos. Once we were in separate lines, the to-buy line began moving swiftly while will-call slowed to a crawl. When we got near the door we saw why: There was a single person for will-call and two for purchases. Both tables were on the left side, so to pick up tickets you had to cross the line of people purchasing. Then we discovered that the will-call list was organized by first <bleeping> name. Then the woman giving us our tickets tried to short us a ticket and I had to interpret her list for her.
Once inside there was one very small room where everyone stopped to fall upon the samples. A slightly larger room was behind it, but about a third of that room was taken up by a bank of chairs facing a stage where a hair-styling demo was taking place (I wish that was a joke). It was not possible to exhibit good or even passable manners and get near a table. Pushing was more or less required if you hoped to get to the chocolate.
Most annoying of all, since the crowds were so thick and insistent there was no possibility of talking to the vendors about their products. It was just grab a sample and move on to the next. I cannot imagine that the vendors were happy with the day, either.
My proposal rather than more square footage, which would drive up the price, is timed tickets, possibly charging a slight premium for early tickets and offering a slight discount for tickets later in the day.
We were probably within a few meters of each other in that everlasting will-call queue yesterday--within centimeters once inside that sardine can. (I, too, could hardly believe my eyes when I saw that hair-styling demo: for a moment, I feared that they were going to pass around chocolate-coated hair samples that I would be unable to decline.)
As inept as the organizers were, there were quite a few remarkable chocolatiers present. Pity that the crowd was so thick, it was sometimes almost impossible to tell whose chocolates you were sampling. You really had to like the chocolate to brave the pushing, shoving hordes long enough to work your way to a chocolatier and strike up a conversation. Surprisingly, all the chocolatiers I spoke with were remarkably friendly and enthusiastic, despite the maddening crush and the pressure to keep churning out those samples.
To me, the best artisanal chocolates, echoing BigWoodenSpoon and Pistou, were Marti, Coco Delice, and XOX.
Marti--top of my list--was positiively mind-blowing from the snap of the thin chocolate shell to the silken intensity of the ganache. I normally dislike fruit in my chocolate, but the banana and the durian were the real thing and perfectly balanced against the bittersweet chocolate. The family that ran the Marti table were also very obliging when I asked them to make up a couple of boxes of their tropical flavors: barako coffee (a hard-to-handle Philippine robusta), mango, durian, banana, buko(coconut)-pandan, and (I couldn't resist) goat cheese. This is chocolate I will be dreaming of for some time to come.
Like BWS, I fell hard for Coco Delice's Forais. Salted caramel and chocolate go well together, but Coco Delice takes it to another level. And, yes, their rustic chocolate truffles, and chocolate-covered caramelized nuts would not last long in my house, either.
XOX is always very good. I'd have been more excited about them, had I not been eating those truffles since they first appeared in North Beach ages ago. Their cognac truffle is a classic, and this old standby is more than a match for those fancy pieces with their air-sprayed artwork and multiple-capsicum fillings.
Would I go next year? Like Pistou, probably not, if it's organized by the same space cadets. I'm glad that I discovered a couple of good sources, but having discovered them, my $20 and my Sunday morning will be better spent buying any of the too-numerous chocolates I already know, than standing in line for 40 minutes in order to spend the next 2 hours jousting with strangers for little bits of food.
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I was in that Buying Tickets line at about 11 am. People were coming out of the venue nearly fainting... one couple said, "I'd rethink this if I were you... it's WAAAAAAAAAAY too crowded in there."
I decided to take their advice. Fortunately, there was a Tamale Festival taking place elsewhere in Fort Mason, so I hung around for 30 minutes figuring on doing a different type of tasting. Unfortunately, tickest for the Tamale Fest were $40 per person (!!!), so I blew that off, too.
But these reports will help me figure out what to buy elsewhere!
We came a bit later (around 2pm) and we not only had to wait in the will-call line forever, we had to wait in a line that went all the way back into a narrow hallway where the bathroom was (not to mention this line sort of blocked the way to the documentary screening room) just to get into the salon. I agree that the organization was extremely bad, although the vendors were quite friendly and informative. The will-call list was organized by first name, AND they didn't check ID, so basically, I could just go in there and say a common first name and try to get tickets that way, very ridiculous. However, the chocolates were heavenly.
Great reports everyone... I also liked one of Guittard's prototype chocolates, too bad I forgot the name, it was a 70% blend I think. It was hot and crowded and very hard to get through, so we left after less than 1 hour. Like Pistou and pilinut, I would not go again next year if they're keeping the same format, perhaps we should have gotten a hint about their organization from their all-over-the-place website?
Erm...long post warning.
Thanks to finding out about this event on Chowhound, I was able to attend this year's 2nd Annual Chocolate Salon, held on a perfectly gorgeous spring day at Fort Mason.
My non-CH friend and I decided to get there around 9:30 am, a half an hour before they opened, thanks to a couple of hints from previous attendees who posted here. It's a good thing we did, as the line started forming a little bit after we showed up (we ended up being the 5th and 6th people in line) and even before 10, started winding its way down the sidewalk and around the side of the building. This event definitely suffered from what seemed to be a lack of organization/realization of just how popular they were going to be, as Pistou pretty accurately described in his/her post.
Some favourite things:
Charles of Charles Chocolates and daughter (I assume) coming outside and very cheerfully handing out chocolate-covered nuts to the waiting crowd (who had to wait in line at least 10 minutes after the supposed 10 am opening time, because peeps inside weren't ready yet. Bahhumbug) It really set a pleasant tone for my visit, and somehow I think helped put me in a better mood to deal with the crowds. The chocolate nut was great as well. (:
The flavoured marshmallows from Gateau et Ganache, www.gateauetganache.com especially the passion fruit. Light, fluffy, delicate and freshly fruity. Their passion fruit truffle, "Le Passion" was very nice as well...juicy filling, the fruityness and the chocolate melding together perfectly. Made me smile.
From Jade Chocolates, www.jadechocolates.com , based in San Francisco, I enjoyed their Genmai bar. A 33% cocoa milk chocolate bar with roasted brown rice, roasted green tea and jasmine tea. It was like a nestle crunch bar on crack. (Well, except much much better than a nestle crunch, no offense to nc lovers.) Ended up purchasing one and I'm very picky about my milk chocolate these days. The packaging is beautiful as well...the bar is wrapped in light green rice paper/rag paper and a raffia ribbon, with a cute logo sticker.
Marti Chocolatt, out of Los Angeles, www.martichocolatt.com had some of the more unusual flavours of the day, I think, with buko pandan, durian, and mango caramel. I didn't get to try any of those, unfortunately, as the crowd was starting to, well, crowd, and I got stuck in a corner and felt a bit claustraphobic/panicky and needed to move. I DID get to try their white chocolate-covered goat cheese truffle (in pics), which probably sounds awful to some, but it was great! I don't think it would work with milk or dark chocolate, but something about the white chocolate melded just right with the goat cheese (which was mild and creamy and not overly salty)...the whole thing bordered on savory, but with just enough sweetness to keep it from fully going there.
The TeaRoom, www.thetearoom.biz ,with everything tea (and all USDA certified Organic, tea as well as chocolate), had a white chocolate-covered matcha green tea powder truffle that I found delicious. I wasn't so impressed with their other offerings. Didn't find them as tannic as Pistou did though. The matcha truffle had deep green tea flavours that were intense without being overwhelming or bitter, and the white chocolate coating balanced so well with the green tea...bringing a smoothness and a creamyness to the truffle that offset the hard edge that green tea flavours can sometimes have. I have to admit, I'm getting a bit tired of everyone jumping on the "tea and chocolate" combo bandwagon, but this particular truffle, and the Genmai bar from Jade, gave me hope that there are still delicious options out there.
I tested my dark chocolate limits with Guittard's (who wasn't actually selling any of their offerings at the salon, *grumble*), 91% cocoa bar. It was so dark and deep, yet without bitterness. It was a pleasant surprise. When I need my "pure chocolate fix", I'm going to grab myself one of these babies and nibble away. Definitely a "small bites at a time" experience though. Very intense.
Amano Artisan Chocolate, out of Utah, www.amanochocolate.com , had three different single-origin bars that were beautiful in their simplicity. I was happy that I was able to tell the difference between the three different bars (i've been really trying over the past year to educate my "chocolate palate"), and I ended up purchasing the 70% Cuyagua bar, with beans from Cuyagua Valley in Venezuela. I wanted to buy all three selections, but I was on a very tight budget, and the Cuyagua was my favourite. It had a lot of depth and complexity. Ingredients: Cocoa beans, pure cane sugar, cocoa butter, whole Tahitian vanilla pods. Amano's chocolates were among the few I found that did not contain any soya lecithin, which is an ingredient I think some people object to (though I'm not sure why).
Of the two vendors i saw who had mostly toffee, I enjoyed Rushburn's best. www.rushburn.com It had a deeper, more complex flavour...more of the burnt caramel tone that I enjoy in toffee.
Trader Joes gets two thumbs up from me for handing out free bottles of water to the very thirsty crowd with the exhausted palates. (And giving away free TJ's logo grocery bags, but they had sadly run out by the time I arrived at their booth, around 2pmish)
The chocolate film, "In Search of the Heart of Chocolate: A filmmaker, a chocolate shop, assorted chocoholics, and lots and lots of chocolate (may contain nuts)" by Sarah Feinbloom, was adorable. I enjoyed it even though we ended up watching it directly on her laptop, instead of being projected onto a screen (there was an issue with a missing cord and having to go find one nearby, etc.). Someone suggested that we would be fine watching it on the laptop, and everyone in the room generally agreed so we did. There were some great interviews with Jack Epstein of Chocolate Covered (in Noe Valley I think? Or was it Hayes...)
Pistou pretty much summed up my feelings on the "Things I Disliked" front. I felt a bit frustrated that I wasn't able to try as many samples as I would have liked because I wasn't willing to fight or push my way through (literally!) the crowds to get to the table. I would also add that I thought the selection of presentations was pretty weak, (chocolate body painting demo and hairstyles? I mean, COME ON people...)and I would have loved to see more people speaking about the history of chocolate (and how chocolate/the cocoa bean has changed history!), maybe some chocolate makers discussing their philosophy/how they came to love chocolate and make chocolate for a living/etc, or some sort of chocolate maker roundtable, cooking with chocolate demonstrations/discussions, etc. Oh, and did I mention the crowds/how badly laid out with regards to crowd control-flow of people the event was? *sigh* Hope they get it together for next year because I would like to go again, and if they don't change the venue, I'm seriously considering not attending.
Tips for next year's attendees:
-Bring your own water...lots of it. My poor taste buds were on chocolate-overload by the time I hit the 6th table, and i think I would have ended up with a huge migraine from all the sugar if I hadn't remembered my giant nalgene bottle.
-Bring some sort of tupperware/baggies/bowl/box for the samples, and maybe some post it notes and a sharpie so you can write down what it is you are putting into your container for consumption later.
-Buy your ticket ahead of time, and get to the venue at least a half an hour before they are set to open.
-Bring a mega-dose of patience and a sense of humour.
-Please remember deodorant/antiperspirant, and don't douse yourself in so much perfume that they will be able to smell you on Alcatraz. :-P
It's fun reading everyone's reports! Count me in on how disappointed I am with the organizers. What's weird is I don't remember it being so disorganized last year. I guess maybe now they're so popular that it's creating more traffic issues. You'd think they would be more prepared. But TasteTV keeps coming back with "it's only our second year and we didn't think it would be so popular." Um, you're giving out chocolates?? Wouldn't you think you'd get a crowd?
Anywho, I do have to say I got there around 11 a.m. before the long lines started to stretch out and when I got inside it was stifling. But after about an hour, I noticed the room started to loosen up with people going to check out the movies and the front people holding off people from coming in. So that did help.
As for the chocolates, I agree that Coco Delice was great and I did get a chance to talk with the chef and he was very pleasant and friendly. I also really liked Jade Chocolates, who was in the front mini room. I do like chocolates with tea and I liked her genmaicha chocolate. She's only been making her chocolates since January!
I didn't like the Marti Chocolates as much as some others. I thought the ganache was a bit too sweet.
Here's my full (and longer) report with photos if interested: http://singleguychef.blogspot.com/200...