Monday, July 5, 2010

The Xocolate Bar

If Mexican artist Frida Kahlo owned a chocolate shop, it would probably look something like this. Vermillion walls, gold trim, a crystal chandelier. Chocolate medallions painted with luster dust sit next to hand crafted jewelry in a glass case. Multi-colored "frisky housewife" aprons lie next to long strips of chocolate banana jerky. All of this on Berkeley's Solano Avenue, an adorable 26 block stretch of restaurants and shops in between Albany and downtown Berkeley.

Malena Lopez-Maggi opened The Xocolate Bar with partner Clive Brown in July of 2008, after making chocolates in a San Rafael kitchen since 2006. The Xocolate Bar has been a regular at the San Francisco Chocolate Salons, picking up many awards including "Best in Show." They use organic, local and seasonal ingredients whenever possible, including rangpur lime grown by a neighbor and coffee beans from Ritual Coffee Roasters. They change flavors from week to week, and when I visited at the beginning of summer, rhubarb was just coming out of the kitchen. For vegans, there are many options, which makes sense in a neighborhood where there is even a new vegan fast food spot.

The Xocolate Bar plays with the notion of chocolate as an aphrodisiac, from their Make Out Truffle (with aphrodisiac ingredients) to their molded pieces in the shape of women's breasts and booties. It's a clever niche for them to fill, since the average Union Square chocolate shop is well buttoned up. Women planning a slightly naughty bachelorette party would have a blast picking erotic chocolates from the shop, or working with Malena on custom creations. For example, when SATC2 came out Malena created the "Sex and the Titty" truffle - dark chocolate breasts filled with organic cranberry-lime ganache inspired by Carrie's cosmos. I'd take one of those over the movie any day!

I sampled The Xocolate Bar's incredibly rich sipping chocolate, made simply with bittersweet chocolate and water, $2.75 for one potent 4 ounce shot. I then chose the prettiest of the fresh truffles, from the organic coconut to the Aztec Amor to the passionfruit heart. It's almost a shame to eat them because the truffle molds used by the Xocolate Bar are so unique. My favorite was the salted honey, which came right from the small working kitchen behind the shop's counter. Malena uses Marin Wildflower Honey from Marshall's Honey Farm, and just two other ingredients: sea salt and dark chocolate. Another sweet option is the rangpur lime, not overly tangy since the rangpur lime is actually a mix between a lemon and a mandarin orange. For budding amateur chocolatiers, Malena actually posts most of her recipes on her blog,

Want to learn more about Malena and the Xocolate Bar? Gourmet Walks is planning our second Celebrity Chocolate Tour on Saturday, July 17 at 1pm. Malena will be accompanying the tour and sharing her thoughts on the art of making gourmet chocolate and making it a business. If you're very good, she'll be sharing her own samples too! Click here to purchase tickets for the July 17th Tour.