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Is the Bay Area America's Chocolate Mecca?

pilinut Mar 10, 2009 12:05 AM

In these dark, depressing times, there is something that should bring a smile to any local Hound's worried face: chocolate. Really good chocolate. Fresh, delicious, locally made chocolate. I should know--my consumption has been inversely proportional to the state of the economy.

Think about it, we now have TWO bean-to-bar chocolate makers, Scharffenberger (whose style I don't care for), and TCHO (their Chocolatey and Nutty are brilliant). Then there are the established artisan chocolatiers, Recchiutti and XOX, whose praises have long been sung on this board. And if you haven't tried them yet, there are my new favorites, Sterling, Jade, Coco Delice and NeoCocoa, whose fresh lime and fresh ginger truffles are still vivid in my tastebuds' memory. Please feel free to remind me of any of the other chocolatiers I've missed.

Anyway, am I the only one who is happily astounded by all the burgeoning chocolate talent around us? Are many other cities on this continent blessed with the same happy phenomenon?

  1. rworange Mar 10, 2009 12:21 AM

    You have to get over to Chocoletier Blue in Berkeley. While there, don't forget to pick up one of the wonderful truffle bars.

    Berkeley also has The Xocolate Bar which I like and Charles chocolates which are ok, sort of.

    Oakland has Vice selling at the Temescal Farmers market (haven't tried) and Barlovento Chocolates at the Grand Lake farmers market (good).

    Also in Oakland is Michael Mischer Chocolates which I like and Cosmic chocolate which I haven't tried yet.

    Bittersweet in SF and Oakland has a few nice house-made truffles.

    Then there are the old school places like Hoopers in Oakland (not as bad as some say) and Liled's in Vallejo which does nice Easter chocolates.

    12 Replies
    1. re: rworange
      Ruth Lafler Jul 26, 2009 10:35 AM

      I had mis-remembered you as a fan of Charles Chocolates. Anyway, when I was out and about with my visiting friend this weekend we were driving by Charles Chocolates and decided to go in. I bought four pieces and I wasn't impressed by any of them. Three of them were some combination of Meyer lemon, and none of them were very good (and the bittersweet chocolate ganache with Meyer lemon was downright bad). The chocolate cone with chocolate ganache and a "scoop" of raspberry pate de fruit was also disappointing: the ganache was excellent, but it didn't marry well with the pate de fruit -- the composition of the elements seemed to be more about the cuteness than the taste (if you want to taste chocolate ganache and pate de fruit done right, try Michael Recchuiti's cassis strata). For $66 a pound you better knock my socks off, and these were an abysmal failure on that count. I think I'm giving up on Charles Chocolates -- if I want to spend that kind of money on chocolate, I'm going to get Recchuiti or Barlovento, or a cardamom marshmallow from Xocolate Bar.

      Oh, and Cosmic? Haven't been impressed by anything of theirs. I bought three of their bars the first time I saw them, tried them, and now they're sitting forlorn and unloved at the bottom of my chocolate drawer.

      1. re: Ruth Lafler
        wolfe Jul 26, 2009 11:48 AM

        You have a chocolate drawer?

        1. re: wolfe
          Ruth Lafler Jul 26, 2009 03:07 PM

          Doesn't everyone?

          1. re: Ruth Lafler
            bbulkow Jul 26, 2009 05:11 PM

            I have a chocolate box. None of the drawers are quite big enough.

        2. re: Ruth Lafler
          Windy Jul 26, 2009 12:07 PM

          The best things Charles makes are the least expensive: chocolate bars and chocolate covered almonds.

          I haven't ever been impressed with their truffles or caramels, although one or two of the pate du fruit was tasty. And I remember liking the pudding texture hot chocolate.

          How are the fancy caramel apples they make for Williams-Sonoma?

          1. re: Windy
            m
            Mick Ruthven Jul 26, 2009 07:25 PM

            I might as well pile on Charles Chocolates. I went to their Emerville store two years ago and thought the fleur de sel was so forgettable (the only thing I tried because of issues with the staff person) that I've forgotten about them completely. It was so inferior to the fleur de sel from Recchiuti as to remove the brand from my thought process.

          2. re: Ruth Lafler
            rworange Jul 26, 2009 09:02 PM

            Nope.Totally hooked on Chocoletier Blue now with the same passion I once had for XOX. Not that I don't like XOX a lot ... and it is a different style ... but my chocolate calories, dollars and devotion are currently given to CB

            On another topic ... if you are ever in the Charles Chocolate area, Cafe Aquarius down the street is very good.

            1. re: hnstreasure
              rworange Jul 27, 2009 10:26 AM

              I like Theo's bars as well, tho it has been a while since I've tried them.

              This has been a difficult year since I've watched a lot of excellent businesses go under. The only thing winding up on some national list means they have excellent marketing skills. They may or may not have a superior product. A good many of the places now clused ... would not be ... had they had the right media connections.

            2. re: rworange
              p
              Prabhakar Ragde Jul 26, 2009 12:05 PM

              We were walking on Telegraph waiting for Barlata to open, and went as far as Hooper's, so the kids went in and got a bag of Hooper's Bloopers. Their report: "okay, but with a weird aftertaste". They keep eating them, though.

              1. re: Prabhakar Ragde
                drmimi Jul 27, 2009 06:54 AM

                Anyone try Xocolate in the East Bay- her pics of her items look scrumptious

                1. re: drmimi
                  Robert Lauriston Jul 27, 2009 09:02 AM

                  Some reports:

                  -----
                  The Xocolate Bar
                  1709 Solano Ave, Berkeley, CA 94707

                  1. re: drmimi
                    rworange Jul 27, 2009 10:30 AM

                    drmimi, how is your North Bay chocolate search going? I was wondering if you tried Sonoma Chocolates in Sepastopol. The ones I tried weren't too successful. I also keep meaning to get back to Patisserie Angelica a block away to try the truffles they make. I think i have screwed up enough courage to order peanuts envy.

              2. m
                ML8000 Mar 10, 2009 08:39 AM

                Historically you have a point as well given Guittard and Ghirardelli. Neither are artisan but both have been around forever and aren't bad. Hershey might say otherwise but tastebuds wise, meh.

                6 Replies
                1. re: ML8000
                  Xiao Yang Mar 10, 2009 06:44 PM

                  E. Guttard may be not "artisanal" but is considered a master of the mid-range (65% or so) chocolate and favored for couverture by the likes of Recchiuti.

                  1. re: Xiao Yang
                    Windy Mar 10, 2009 07:04 PM

                    and See's.

                  2. re: ML8000
                    Xiao Yang Mar 10, 2009 10:15 PM

                    For the the record, seventypercent.com had E. Guittard's L'Harmonie as one of the world's 10 best bars, in the company of such heavies as Domori, Amadei and Cluizel in their last rankings (the website, unfortunately went inactive at the end of 2008. http://is.gd/mPnX

                    1. re: Xiao Yang
                      k
                      katya Jul 27, 2009 05:55 PM

                      Also, E. Guittard makes the Millbrae BART/Caltrain station smell heavenly. They're located about 5 blocks away. When I lived in Millbrae for months I wondered why the station often smelled of brownies. Sometimes I could even smell the chocolate 3/4 of a mile away.

                    2. re: ML8000
                      pilinut Mar 11, 2009 01:51 AM

                      How could I forget Guittard? I always seem to end up eating their E. Guittard 72 % couverture wafers straight, instead of putting them into cookies as originally intended.

                      1. re: pilinut
                        choctastic Mar 11, 2009 08:41 AM

                        those wafers are badass. Dangerously badass

                    3. rworange Mar 10, 2009 08:42 AM

                      I just read The San Francisco International Chocolate Salon will be held agian on March 21st. No Chocoletier Blue so far, but The Xocolate Bar will be there.
                      http://www.sfchocolatesalon.com/

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: rworange
                        b
                        BigWoodenSpoon Mar 10, 2009 01:30 PM

                        Yeah, the Salon will be in the Herbst Pavillion in Fort Mason this time, so hopefully there will be enough room. It seems like there will be more Event Staff and direction this year, but for best results I suggest y'all try to be in line no later than 9:45 am. BTW,. Mari Chocolates from L.A. makes a killer smokey Chipotle (hopefully they'll bring it) and don't forget to try offerings from Coco Delice and Saratoga Chocolates. Great folks and lovely treats as well.
                        FYI, $20 in advance, $25 at the door. See y'all there!

                      2. Robert Lauriston Mar 10, 2009 08:53 AM

                        Hershey is closing Scharffen Berger. Also Joseph Schmidt.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Robert Lauriston
                          BernalKC Mar 10, 2009 10:51 AM

                          The news was a bummer. But it is interesting to see their places taken by fresh new shops. Nice that the local chocolate ecology seems as healthy as ever -- maybe in no small part thanks to those who came before...

                        2. Chuckles the Clone Mar 10, 2009 10:37 AM

                          Also, Alegio in the back of that food court on Shattuck in
                          Berkeley (are they still there?)

                          And Christopher Elbow on Hayes (though technically I guess
                          it's a tendril of a Kansas City business?). The dark chocolate
                          with pop rocks bar is really fun.

                          1. s
                            SteveG Mar 10, 2009 01:12 PM

                            In terms of bean to bar producers, the bay area is going through a dry spell and there are many more bean to bar producers elsewhere. Theo is in Seattle, Patric is in Missouri, Amano is in Utah, etc.

                            Guittard is a local bean to bar producer, Ghirardelli is owned by Lindt but seems to do bean to bar production down in San Leandro, which still qualifies as local.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: SteveG
                              Ruth Lafler Mar 10, 2009 01:38 PM

                              You forgot TCHO as bean-to-bar.

                              A couple more local chocolatiers: Woodhouse in Napa; Richard Donelly is in Santa Cruz, which although it isn't technically Bay Area, is still relatively local. I had some chocolates from another micro-producer in the East Bay the other day -- Socola: http://www.socolachocolates.com/index...

                              This list is skewed to modern-style chocolates. There are still some local "sweet shops" that make more traditional American-style confections, like Anet's in Napa, that don't get a lot of press because they aren't trendy.

                              The Bay Area has always had a strong presence in the American chocolate world for a couple of reasons: the climate (mild, not too humid) is perfect for chocolate production, and it's also a major port area, which is important since the ingredients are all imported. Second, of course, is the fact that the Bay Area has been "foodie" since before there was a word for it, and has always been a good place for introducing new food products and supporting entrepreneurs.

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                rworange Mar 10, 2009 09:54 PM

                                Mentioning Anette's reminds me of Vintage Sweet Shop which is sort of like Anette's but I prefer.
                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/578436

                                Then thinking of Vintage reminded me of Main Street Sweets in Martinez which is simlar and makes a swell chocolate bark.
                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/541767

                                Not trendy at all, but good. I find myself thinking of a chocolte Easter bunny crawl soon.

                            2. choctastic Mar 10, 2009 05:54 PM

                              Yeah, I'll give it to you guys (says the die-hard Angeleno), if we're limiting it to the States.

                              1. c
                                chocolatetartguy Mar 10, 2009 06:50 PM

                                Wouldn't that be America's Chocolate Mocha?

                                1. f
                                  foodie327 Aug 4, 2009 06:35 PM

                                  Your mention of the fresh lime and fresh ginger truffles compelled me to try NeoCocoa. I ordered the half pound assorted truffles. Every flavor I tried was delicious. What a find. Thanks for the post.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: foodie327
                                    pilinut Aug 4, 2009 10:18 PM

                                    You are most welcome! And thank YOU for your feedback--It's really nice to know that other people enjoy the same thing, and that a talented confectioner is getting better known.

                                    1. re: foodie327
                                      Ruth Lafler Aug 19, 2009 01:45 PM

                                      Based on this thread I picked up a box of NeoCocoa with five flavors: Almond Butter with smoked sea salt; crushed bittersweet nib; freshly zested lime; toasted coconut; and warm ginger root. I was mildly disappointed. I thought the best was the toasted coconut, which was delicious, followed by the crushed nib. The almond butter didn't really register at all. The disappointments were the ginger and the lime -- they reminded me again that I really prefer ginger or lime *with* chocolate, not ginger or lime *flavored* chocolate. That said, I thought they were elegant and perfectly made -- technically right up there with the best of the best.

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