Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Chocolatier Blue in Berkeley

Where can you find the most perfect pistachios? the most flavorful figs? Chocolatier Chris Blue knows and he is willing to pay a premium to bring them to his new chocolate shop on University Ave in Berkeley. The tiny boutique offers 12 varieties of filled chocolates, drinking chocolate and a few Amedei bars. Chris has yet to hire any employees, making each of his chocolates by hand every day in the open kitchen.

Chris settled on Berkeley after working as a chocolatier at Charlie Trotter's in Chicago and then Norman Love in Fort Myers, Florida. He believes no other town could match Berkeley's appreciation for fine, fresh food - preferable even over San Francisco. I wish Chris could have secured space closer to the Gourmet Ghetto or even 6th Street. When I left, still nibbling happily on his palet d'or, a woman yelled at me for not being an activist and, truth be told, I did feel a little frivolous on that dingy part of the street. But hey, even activists can enjoy a $1.50 truffle now and then.

Chris is proud of his chocolates, and most of that pride seems to stem from the prime ingredients he hand selects. Apparently he is the only chocolatier in the US able to use Amedei chocolate couverture - quite a coup. He makes an effort to ship in fresh, organic cream and butter from Nebraska, pistachios from Sicily, passionfruit from New Zealand and hazelnuts from Oregon. He laments the fact that the pistachios he uses are $80/pound, but is not willing to compromise with less. I only hope Berkeley denizens can appreciate the difference. I know they'll applaud him for using biodegradable and recycled packaging, even if it looks a little on the amateur side. And the occasional free sample is always a pleasure!

And finally, how did they taste? Aside from the palet d'or, these chocolates are not for purists or those who enjoy just a subtle bit of something extra in their chocolate. The flavors are intense! The lime felt like I was eating a double key lime pie, with only a touch of chocolate. Some of the fillings are too goopy for my taste, like the caramel and the passion fruit. My favorite was the macademia because of its more subtle flavor and pearly white color. I also liked the raspberry because it was not too sweet. Almost all of his chocolates are glossy and iridescent, reflecting the light under the tall glass domes that line his counter.

I'll return to Chocolatier Blue to try one of his drinking chocolates. Chris does not use a powder, so that's a good start. A cup costs $3.50 and comes in espresso, cinnamon and chili, dark and peppermint. I must confess that I had a tummy ache the day I visited him and needed to put a limit on my indulgences. Yes, even the leader of chocolate tours can have too much chocolate!