Wednesday, January 23, 2013

2012: The Year in San Francisco Chocolate

Ever noticed that the SF Chronicle has a Beer column, a Cocktail column and a Cheese column – but nothing regularly devoted to chocolate?  Gourmet Walks is here to fill the void with news on the tastiest chocolate happenings in San Francisco in 2012.  We include not just chocolate boutiques but also patisseries who showcase local bean to bar chocolate makers, like Guittard and TCHO, in creative and delectable ways.
New Tree chocolate bars
New Tree – Belgium based New Tree Chocolate chose San Francisco for their first retail shop, which opened in June.  New Tree corporate offices are located not too far away in San Anselmo.  But the company’s commitment to sustainability and health is what makes San Francisco a natural fit.   The café (located right across from Yank Sing’s Stevenson location) sells fresh, organic lunch items and baked goods in addition to the full line of chocolate bars, spreads and snacks.  New Tree is featured on our midweek Chocolate Tours.
1 Ecker Place, 415-524-6416

Touring Dandelion Chocolate
Dandelion Chocolate - With Dandelion’s November opening, TCHO is no longer the only bean-to-bar chocolate maker in town.  Dandelion’s beautiful new factory and café is located on the trendy Valencia strip in the Mission, next to Mission Cheese and Abbott’s Cellar.  Every step of production is on display, with a crew personally trained by founders Todd Masonis and Cameron Ring in making small batches of chocolate using the best possible beans.  Café items include cacao fruit smoothies, iced chocolate and pastries.  Dandelion is featured on our Crosstown Chocolate Tours.
740 Valencia St., 415-349-0942
The Chocolate Lab – Over in the Dogpatch, Michael Recchiuti opened his long-anticipated Chocolate Lab in November.  This gets my vote for the most clever restaurant name of 2012!  Not just a chocolate shop, the Lab is modeled after the Cuisine de Bar in Paris, serving a range of savory tartines along with wine, beer and cocktails.  Recchiuti has also created homey gratins and casseroles that will soon be offered as pre-fix dinners. But the real star is dessert, including sundaes with homemade ice cream, chocolate cakes and custards.  The Chocolate Lab is featured on our Crosstown Chocolate Tours.
801 22nd St (at Tennessee) 415-489-2881

Enjoying hot chocolate on a Crosstown Tour.
Craftsman & Wolves – In June William Werner (previously of Tell Tale Preserve) opened this gorgeous café on Valencia Street, next door to Dandelion Chocolate.  It’s clear this is the vision of a perfectionist, from the artistic cube cakes to the inspirational wall quotes.  The ultra thick Valrhona drinking chocolate served with a homemade violet marshmallow is not to be missed.  Craftsman & Wolves is featured on our Crosstown Chocolate Tours.
746 Valencia St. (at 18th), 415-913-7713

Andrea leading a group at Tout Sweet
Tout Sweet – Top Chef star Yigit Pura opened Tout Sweet on the 3rd floor of Macy’s Union Square in September.  The bright purple, pink and white décor is inspired by Pura’s favorite children’s book, The Little Prince.  For tired shoppers, it’s a peaceful spot to sit down and look out over Union Square with a glass of champagne and a pastry.  Like C&W, Tout Sweet makes a yummy but lighter Valrhona hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows.  My absolute favorite Tout Sweet baked good is the sea salt chocolate chip cookie.  Tout Sweet was featured on our Holiday Lights & Chocolate Tour and will be on our Valentine’s Cupcake & Chocolate Tour.
170 O’Farrell St.. 415-385-1679

New Products & Collaborations
Chocolate makers partnering with local artisan food companies is a trend I’ve noted in San Franciso and beyond.  For example, Missouri based Askinosie has created “CollaBARations” with Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream (Dark chocolate and malted milk) and Zingerman’s (Dark chocolate and crunch sugar crystals with vanilla bean).  Going in the reverse direction, GelatariaNaia uses Recchiuti burnt caramel syrup in their salted caramel gelato.

Coffee + Chocolate
San Francisco based TCHO Chocolate this year introduced the Mokaccino Bar, a blend of their celebrated Serious Milk chocolate (International Chocolate Award Winner) and Blue Bottle coffee. No longer just a bean-to-bar company, TCHO is also partnering with local companies to make confections in small batches.  One is a sugar free chocolate, blending 99% TCHO with local Marshall’s Farm honey. If you are one of our Chocolate Tour customers, your Chocolate Lover card will give you a nice little discount at their Pier 17 Beta Store.

Feve Artisan Chocolatier – With brand new packaging and an exotic sounding name, the founders of Au Coeur des Chocolat have stepped up their game.  Last week, Feve even won a Good Food Award for their Pistachio Rosemary Caramel.  Although Feve does not have a boutique, the chocolates can be purchased at the Fillmore Bakeshop and a few local grocery shops.  I particularly like that 5% of the proceeds benefit cacao farmers through Kiva.

On the Horizon
There are several new sweets projects I am excited to see open up sometime in 2013.  Once they are off the ground, you’ll be sure to find them on our private tour itineraries.

Charles Chocolate Redux – From Emeryville to Westfield Center and finally the Mission, Chuck Siegel is not giving up on his Willy Wonka dreams.  After a successful Kickstarter campaign this fall, Siegel is pressing forward with a target Spring opening.  Renderings of his new space on Florida Street look impressive, and Heath Ceramics and the Coffee Bar make great foodie neighbors.  I’m hoping to see a return of his classic confections, including Peanut Butter Butterflies and chewy Turtles.
535 Florida St., 415-659-8770

B. PatisserieBelinda Leong’s Pacific Heights patisserie is perhaps a month or so away from opening.  Leong was the pastry chef at Manresa and has done various pop-ups in SF while plotting her brick and mortar debut.  Like most of the new patisseries, she will boost profits by selling savory lunch items as well.  Tip: don’t miss her kouign amann, a croissant-like pastry that is fast on the trendy heels of the Parisian macaron.
2821 California St.

Sixth Course at the SF Chocolate Salon
Sixth CourseSixth Course has stolen the show at the past few Chocolate Salons and if you still haven’t tried them, put it on your to-do list for the weekend.  The usual San Francisco permitting and building delays are pushing back the Sixth’s Course opening of their Mission dessert shop to late summer.  Until then, you may buy their chocolates online, at a few local grocers or, if you’re really lucky, at the end of a dinner at Acquerello.  You can’t go wrong with any flavor combination, but I am partial to the Whiskey Neat with St. George Single Malt and the Smoked Salt caramel.

Michelle Polzine’s 20th Century Café – Since Hayes Valley is a beloved Gourmet Walks tour neighborhood, I am especially looking forward to the launch of this café.  Polzine  (the pastry chef at Range) is looking to Eastern Europe for inspiration.  The café is set to open in the spring and will include blinis, crepes, strudels and rugelach – civilized treats for the post Opera crowd.  I see a gourmet knish on a future Gourmet San Francisco/Hayes Valley tour menu.
198 Gough St.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Wine Country Chocolates

We know where to go in San Francisco for the best artisan chocolate, and we'll take you there on our much-loved Chocolate Tours.  But if you're visiting wine country, what should be on every chocolate lover's itinerary? A few noteworthy spots have opened recently and we would like to share our old and new finds with you.

1) Downtown Napa - Anette's
Anette's is a must for anyone visiting downtown Napa.  With a shop and factory on First Street as well as a boutique in Oxbow Market, Anette's serves a wide array of truffles, award winning brittles, homemade ice cream and chocolate wine sauces.  On our Gourmet Napa Tour, we get the VIP treatment from the friendly staff at the First Street location.

Wine country visitors especially enjoy the Summer Cabernet or the Chardonnay truffle.  The brittles make perfect gifts, and can be toted along in the summer without worrying about melting.  The Chili Lime Tequila Brittle is Anette's newest and most adventurous flavor.  Men on our tours particularly enjoy the Beer Brittle with Spanish Peanuts.  Anette's makes an excellent dessert stop after dining at Oenotri next door, recently ranked as best "New Italian" restaurant in the United States by Food & Wine.

2) Yountville - Kollar Chocolates

Kollar Chocolates just celebrated its one year anniversary in Yountville's V Marketplace.  While Yountville is home to some of the best restaurants and pastry shops in the world, it was missing a chocolate shop and so Chris and Naomi Kollar stepped in to fill the void.  Wisely, they sell espresso drinks and gelato in addition to handcrafted chocolates, bark and other confections.  The chocolates are beautifully displayed, with colors and gloss in the style of Christopher Elbow.  Since Kollar Chocolates is in production each and every day, chances are you'll see some chocolate being made in the adjacent open kitchen during your visit.

The Fennel Pollen truffle is one of my favorites, a recent winner in the Napa Chocolate Salon.  New for the summer season is the Tour de France Collection, inspired by the bright jerseys of the fit international cyclists.   Spending the afternoon in Yountville?  I recommend picking up a boxed lunch from Addendum, enjoying a picnic with wine at the side entrance of V Wine Cellar, macarons from Bouchon and ending with treats from Kollar Chocolates.

3) Browns Valley Road, Napa - La Forêt
I had an incredible birthday dinner at San Francisco's Benu last fall.  When I learned that the chocolates concluding the meal came from Napa, I made a note to investigate.  The chocolatier is Wendy Sherwood and she worked as pastry chef at the French Laundry along with Corey Lee of Benu.  In May of 2010, she opened a chocolate shop in a little strip mall about 10 minutes out of downtown Napa.  The location didn't make sense to me until I understood her business a little better.

La Forêt does not have the standard array of chocolates available for shoppers to step in and purchase.  Instead Sherwood has established an allocation program that restaurants and chocolate enthusiasts commit to for the year.  This gives her freedom to experiment with unusual ingredients that many commercial chocolatiers would avoid due to their limited shelf life.  While I salivated over the descriptions of the summer allocation (available on her web site), I picked up a few artfully packaged bars to serve after dinner:  Strawberries & Cream (white chocolate) and Fluffanutter (milk chocolate, marshmallow).  Note to brides: Wendy Sherwood makes wonderful wedding cakes as well.

Do you have any other chocolate favorites in wine country?  Please share.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Mother's Day Indulgence: Chocolate & Wine

Breakfast in bed is nice, but I prefer something a little more celebratory and romantic to mark Mother’s Day and all the work we mothers do. If you’re a chocolate lover (and what mother isn’t?), consider my gourmet chocolate and wine pairings. Slip your husband a note on how to prep this party, then tuck the kids in bed and enjoy.

Some education
It’s not so easy to pair wine and chocolate because dark chocolate tends to overpower wine and big red wines can make chocolate taste bitter. The best route to follow is pairing chocolate with a dessert wine that is a bit sweeter than the chocolate. Most moms have a chardonnay handy, but not necessarily a cellar full of dessert wine. But take my word for it and invest in a bottle or two. Save whatever is left for that dinner party you’re always dreaming of throwing!

The Pairings
1. Scharffen Berger sparkling wine with Sixth Course Raspberry Cosmo Truffle 
The bubbles cut the creaminess of white chocolate for an ultra-satisfying pairing. The truffle is white chocolate ganache spiked with Hangar One Raspberry Vodka and a fresh raspberry jam core, brought to you by the award-winning Sixth Course, a new San Francisco artisan chocolatier. Bridget Labus and Gianina Serrano, the pastry chefs behind Sixth Course, will be opening a shop in the Mission district this summer.
 2. Traversa Brachetto d’Acqui with Recchiuti Piedmont Hazelnut Truffle 
More bubbles, but this time they’re pink with an irresistible aroma of strawberries and roses. This makes for a perfect pairing with creamy milk chocolate by beloved SF chocolatier Michael Recchiuti. The Piedmont truffle contains a whole toasted hazelnut and a chocolate gianduja filling. Recchiuti’s truffles are made in the Dogpatch, where he soon will be opening a café to complement his Ferry Building store.
 3. Alcyone Tannat with Recchiuti Sur del Lago 
This tannat is a dynamite, sensual dessert wine made in Uruguay but sold right in downtown Mill Valley. It’s named after the Greek demi-goddess who threw herself into the sea when her lover died. The cocoa finish of this wine is a sublime match with an intense, single origin truffle by Michael Recchiuti. Bittersweet ganache is topped with cacao nibs from the renowned cacao growing region of Venezuela, the Sur Del Lago.
4. Nieport Late Bottled Vintage Ruby Port with Poco Dolce Aztec Chile Tile
Port and chocolate make the classic pairing. This fortified wine is bold enough to stand up to spice infused chocolates, like the locally made Poco Dolce tiles. This bite-sized tile contains cinnamon, ground chiles and roasted pumpkin seeds topped with grey sea salt. Poco Dolce means “a little sweet” in Italian and all of chocolatier Kathy Wiley’s pieces include savory ingredients to balance the sweet.

Buying Guide
Sixth Course – Rainbow Grocery, 24th St Cheese
Recchiuti – Ferry Building or at
Poco Dolce – Whole Foods, Mollie Stones, Mill Valley Market,

Scharffen Berger Non Vintage Brut Excellence –Vintage Wine & Spirits, $19.99
Traversa Brachetto d’Acqui – Mill Valley Market, $23.99
Alycone Tannat – Vintage Wine & Sprits, $27.99 for 500 mL 2007
Nieport LBV Port – Vintage Wine & Spirits, $21.99

 If you are thirsty for more, get together a group of friends for the Gourmet Walks ULTRA Chocolate Tour in San Francisco. The tour features wine pairings, a chocolate martini and more!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

How to Eat Chocolate Every Day and Stay Thin!

The #1 question we get as a Gourmet Walks Chocolate Tour Guides is “How is it you don't weigh 400 pounds?” This month we’re venturing into women’s magazines territory with our tips on how to enjoy gourmet chocolate daily without gaining weight. No, we don’t pop diet pills or get our stomachs stapled or spend our evenings on the treadmill. But for the most part, we eat chocolate every day and we’re happy with our weight.

1) Eat only the Best Chocolate you Can Afford – This is essential. Fine chocolate tastes better and is generally better for you – no preservatives, no artificial ingredients, less sugar. If you spend $10 or more on a gourmet chocolate bar, you are more likely to savor every bite and make it last rather than demolish it in one sitting. When you indulge in sugary candy bars, they usually don’t satisfy and you find yourself eating more and more.

Adam Smith, slim proprietor of Fog City News, says “With fine chocolate there is so much more flavor and nuance to it than say a bag of M&M’s. I always encourage customers to think about quality over quantity. So folks should resolve to eat less-but-better chocolate in 2012!” It’s Adam’s job to taste chocolate each and every day. And yet, he and his staff members are surprisingly trim.

2) Slow Down – I am a slow eater, and while my husband might say I talk too much, the benefit is I eat less than my dining companions. It honestly makes me cringe when I see someone devour a box of truffles without pausing even to figure out the flavor names.

Nicole is a Gourmet Walks Tour Guide who eats chocolate every day, and also samples the city’s finest baked goods and pastries on a regular basis. She is the closest thing to a cupcake connoisseur I know, and yet can only be described as thin. She says, “I eat slowly and never eat past full.”

John is a Gourmet Walks Tour Guide and part time sales associate at Scharffen Berger. He says, “When it comes to great chocolate - a little goes a long way. I used to wonder why I was compelled to plow through a #1 box of See's nuts and chews, but then I discovered gourmet chocolate. I'm now literally surrounded by chocolate for sometimes hours a day, but I don't need a pound of it to get that blissful feeling of chocolate satisfaction.”

3) Dark Chocolate Bars Most of the Time – When I say I eat chocolate every day, about 90% of that chocolate is in bar form. Gourmet truffles are undeniably delicious, but let’s be real…you just can’t eat that much sweet milk chocolate and fresh cream every day, even if it is organic! I save truffles for special occasions and treat them as desserts, served up on white china after a nice dinner. But fine chocolate bars are a daily indulgence – as long as it’s dark chocolate.

Dark chocolate (not milk) contains antioxidants, and that's where almost all the health benefits lie. Once these studies started coming out, dark chocolate sales (along with red wine) have steadily improved in the U.S. It doesn’t mean that milk chocolate isn’t worth eating. But if you’re interested in health and maintaining your weight, then make milk chocolate a special treat just a few days a week. Soon, your palate will adjust and the average candy bar will taste as sugary as a Pixie Stick.

4) Eat Only the Baked Goods YOU Make – This one I owe to Michael Pollan. In his Food Rules he says if you only eat desserts you make (rather than store-bought cookies and cupcakes) then you’ll eat a lot less of them. ("Eat all the junk you want as long as you cook it yourself.") Plus, you’ll feel good about what you’re eating because you know what’s in it! So indulge your inner domestic goddess and make a chocolate torte or homemade brownies. I know you won’t have enough time to do this very often, so don’t worry about it and enjoy when you do.

Oh, and what happens when that chocolate torte turns out to feed 16 people and your family of 4 only made a dent in it? Give it away. After I’ve had 2 servings of the dessert, I find it another home. Currently that means my au pair and her friends. Everyone leaves happy.

5) When You Have No Choice, Then Make it a Salad Night – Some days I have no choice but to indulge. For instance, I’m judging the San Francisco Chocolate Salon. Or even worse, I’m spending the day at the Fancy Food Show. This means unlimited chocolate, cheese, cookies, brownies and more over a 7-hour period.

After a day of excess, my body tells me exactly what to do. It craves a salad, or sushi, or a tofu quinoa salad followed by a spin class. It’s exactly the opposite from the rich, creamy tastes I’ve soaked up all day. Does this qualify as binge eating? Maybe, but I’m pretty sure it will keep you from gaining that chocolate weight and make you feel better the next day. These are my tricks.

6) Not Just For Dessert – My favorite time to eat dark chocolate is mid-afternoon, just as my energy is starting to lag. When it represents food and not dessert, I’m not expecting something sweet and I’m open to the wide realm of flavor profiles. I don’t overeat and I’m happy with just a few fine squares.

Honestly, eating a 70% plus chocolate bar for dessert can be a bit of a disappointment. It’s not going to taste sweet and so you’ll crave something else sweet and then you’ll end up overeating once more. Sounds like a viscious cycle that will end in a Snackwell overdose.

7) Think European – It’s challenging enough to lead Chocolate Tours, but how about being married to a chocolatier? Can you imagine the temptation? Take one look at Jacky Recchiuti (who runs Recchiuti Confections with husband Michael) and you’ll know she doesn’t lounge around popping bon bons in front of cooking shows all day.

Jackie Burrell, of The San Jose Mercury News, recently spoke to the Recchiutis about their very French lifestyle. “They shop every couple of days, European style, for what’s fresh and seasonal. They walk everywhere. And they revel in all the flavors and experiences the Bay Area has to offer.”

I’ve never been in better shape than when I’ve lived in cities where walking is the best way to get around. That’s why I centered my business on gourmet walking tours, rather than tours by bus or limo. We want our guests to see everything and to get the chance to walk off all that chocolate. As for my tour guides, they all agree that without the walking aspect of tour guiding, all those chocolate samples would linger on the hips far too long.

Have a tip on how to eat chocolate every day and stay thin?
Please share.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Don't Miss The Sixth Course

Judging a Chocolate Salon is no easy task. Yes, it's lots of "free chocolate," but not all of it is good and after an hour you'll long for salad and a spin class. But what keeps me coming back is discovering new chocolatiers who have something special to offer a competitive Bay Area chocolate scene. At Taste TV's Fall Chocolate Salon on November 13, I had the pleasure of tasting some decadent truffles from Bridget Labus and Gianina Serrano of Sixth Course. Coming soon, to the Mission district!

Bridget and Gianina have solid experience in Pastry at fine hotels and restaurants in San Francisco. Bridget has been Executive Pastry Chef at several 5 star luxury hotels, including the Four Seasons and the St. Regis. Gianina has had similar experience, focusing on Pastry at high volume fine dining restaurants (with the addition of courses in cheesemaking). It's no surprise, then, to find Sixth Course on the truffle cart at the always elegant Acquerello. But soon Sixth Course will be making the leap from luxe to edgy, as they are in the process of building out a boutique at 15th & Capp in the Mission. Not confined to truffles, the spot will sell petits fours, entremets, semifreddos, tea and coffee. (Stumped on "entremet"? see here.) Since San Francisco has seen more chocolate shop closings than openings in the past year, I am excited about the new space. Before long, our Chocolate Tours will be heading from Hayes Valley into the Mission and beyond.

For a new company, Sixth Course has a wide array of tempting flavors in three categories: Caramels, Wine & Spirits, Chef's Choice. They are sold in boxes of six, in simple brown packaging made from recycled materials. Most are round and generously sized. Booze and chocolate lovers, this is the brand for you. They work with premier local distilleries (like St. George) to create some delectable flavors, including the Whiskey, Neat and Raspberry Cosmopolitan. There are 6 different caramels on the menu, and we sampled both the Chai Tea and the Ceylon Cinnamon. The most unusual was Honey Fennel Pollen, a balanced blend of seasonal Bay Area flavors. The classic Hazelnut Praline was also delicious, flavored with just a touch of Frangelico.

The other Salon judges must have agreed with Gourmet Walks, because Sixth Course ended up taking home 2 Gold Medals (including Best in Salon), 4 Silver, and 3 Bronze. I caught up with Bridget after the salon to get a better sense of their inspiration:

1. What chocolatiers have inspired your work? (Bay Area or beyond)
Ewald Notter, Stephane Leroux, Andrew Shotts (Garrison Confections), Paul A. Young (London), Ramon Morato (Spain), Jean-Pierre Wybauw (Callebaut).....the list goes on and on....

2. Where do you find some of your favorite desserts in SF? What restaurants and pastry chefs?
Depending on the mood, a soft serve ice cream cone at Bi Rite ( can't be beat !) or plated dessert at Redd in Yountville ( always a pleasure to see and taste). Our go-to cake shop is Miette in SF ( love the look of their classic cakes, and the taste and textures are always right on the money!). Bouchon macaroons are also one of our favorites.

3. What are your favorite dessert cookbooks?
Chez Panisse Desserts. love love love fruit in a dessert!

4. What is the significance of your company's name?
The sixth course is typically the dessert course and our logo is the place setting. This idea came from one of our Grandmother's cookbooks from the 30's.

5. What is the biggest challenge to starting an artisan food business in SF?
Getting your name out there. Exercising patience and realizing that everything takes 5X as long as you think it will. Navigating the bureaucracy of the permitting system for our build out.

Have you tried Sixth Course? For now, look for them online and at Avedanos, Rainbow Grocery and the 24th St Cheese Company. Let us know what you think!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Gourmet Walks at Christopher Elbow

Just as the weather is getting sunny and warm-ish in San Francisco, shops and restaurants are telling us it's fall. For my local Starbucks, that means the return of the outrageously sweet Pumpkin Spice Latte. At Whole Foods, Gravenstein apples and pumpkins replace the gourmet S'Mores displays. Most Bay Area chocolate shops do not switch up their flavors very often, with the exception of our Hayes Valley favorite, Christopher Elbow. On Thursday 9/16, Kansas City based chocolatier Chris Elbow unveiled his fall chocolate lineup, along with an exciting new ice cream line and a Chocolate Ale.

Christopher Elbow was a pastry chef for many years before specializing in chocolate, and this shows in his approach to flavor development. Elbow explained that he looks for taste combinations he enjoys in food and then attempts to replicate them with chocolate, using a proprietary Valhrona blend for his couverture. As for bizarre flavors, he said "If I try something and don't want another, it's a good sign the combination doesn't work." (Yeah, just take a look in my Chocolate Drawer, where bacon/mushroom/olive bars languish for months.) Gourmet Walks tour guides found the Pumpkin Spice, Brown Butter & Molasses and Banana Curry perfectly balanced and, as always, perfectly lovely. The Banana Curry was my personal favorite, based on his popular Bananas Foster but made a little more exotic with a touch of curry. The Brown Butter & Molasses was rich, sweet and creamy - just the thing for a foggy SF evening, perhaps with a tawny port.

Since we know the magic Christopher Elbow creates with truffles, the most exciting part of the night was sampling his new Glacé Artisan Ice Cream. Elbow worked hard on his ice cream concept this summer, opening up two different shops in downtown Kansas City and a new production facility. His Glacé ice cream shops are separate from Christopher Elbow Chocolates, with distinct branding, and regularly feature about 22 different flavors. Just as with his chocolate, the ingredients are high quality, fresh, local and organic. On the menu for Thursday night was a Fresh Mint Chip, Goat Cheese & Honey, Rosemary Caramel, Venezuelan Spiced Chocolate and a Pineapple Cilantro Sorbet. My favorite was the Goat Cheese & Honey, followed by the Sorbet - a flavor inspired by a taco!

When will Glacé be available to San Francisco ice cream lovers? (A spoiled bunch we are, despite summer fog and wind that make pots of tea more appealing.) The Hayes Valley shop plans to start selling pints beginning in October or November. Eventually, Elbow hopes to add scoops as well as a Sundae Menu. Thinking hot fudge and maraschino cherries? Oh no, gourmet toppings more in line with Fraiche and some of the city's other high end yogurt shops, I'm guessing.

The last treat we sampled at Christopher Elbow was his new Chocolate Ale. Elbow collaborated with hometown brewery Boulevard to make just 1600 cases of this special beer. The beer is initially infused with nibs, and then cacao beans are added for more flavor in the fermentation tank. The Chocolate Ale was a huge hit in Kansas City, selling out quickly all over town. And it's not as strange as it sounds. Mainstream beer makers (like Sam Adams) are now adding chocolate to their stouts and Recchiuti's chocolate and beer pairing box is one of his most popular. We enjoyed the Ale, but as Chocolate Tour guides, we were already thinking about getting our hands on more Banana Curry truffles.

Have you tried the new Christopher Elbow fall flavors? Let us know what you think!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dandelion Chocolate

There is a new bean-to-bar chocolate maker in town, and this one has a name we can all pronounce. It's Dandelion Chocolate, the inspiration of two Stanford pals who sold their tech company, Plaxo, and reinvented themselves as chocolate makers. About 1 1/2 years ago, Todd Masonis and Cameron Ring started tinkering around with different types of cacao beans in their San Jose garage. (I love the image of a Silicon Valley garage, once crammed with computers and nerdy programmers, remodeled for antique winnowing machines and melangeurs.) Now they are plotting a factory/retail shop/cafe in the Mission at 740 Valencia, just a stone's throw from Bi-Rite and Tartine.

Unlike the other big names in the local bean-to-bar chocolate scene, Dandelion is a micro-batch chocolate maker. (As in, roasting 1 kilo of beans at a time - something like making 3 batches of chocolate chip cookies for your child's bake sale.) The single origin bars we tried (70% Madagascar and 70% Venezuela) made it clear this is for true dark chocolate lovers. The flavors are intense and the texture is not as smooth and creamy as popular European bars like Valhrona and Cluizel. At the moment, Dandelion uses only nibs and sugar in their chocolate. No soy lecithin, cocoa butter or vanilla. But sweet tooths, don't despair. Plans are in place for building a cocoa butter press and enhancing the line to include semisweet bars and even milk chocolate.

Dandelion is working on a new look, including logo and packaging. In the meantime, the lovely bar wrappers are reminiscent of Mast Brothers - recycled cotton from India's garment industry. They also plan to start a sourcing initiative, but for now their beans come by way of a broker. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on one of Dandelion's bars, you'll find they are incredibly fresh and that's a key advantage to sticking with micro-batch chocolate makers. (The bar we sampled on our Chocolate Tour was made just 24 hours prior!)

Oh, and here's how... Make it a point to visit the next New Taste Marketplace in Potrero Hill, scheduled for July 16. This monthly community market works on a sliding scale entrance fee, giving you access to some of the best up-and-coming food artisans in SF. While chatting with Dandelion, check out SodaCraft for seasonal yeast fermented soda, NeoCocoa for her new peppermint truffles and Nute's Cupcakes for cupcakes with an Asian flair.

Have you tried Dandelion? Please do, and let us know what you think!