San Francisco Chocolate in an iPhone Context: A Post-Valentine's Day, Post-Easter Preview
If you're on your way to the razzle-dazzle International Association of Culinary Professionals Conference in the Bay Area this weekend, you should download my new app: San Francisco Chocolate in Context. You should, but it doesn't exist yet.
My tireless editor on this project, a prescient person who recently jumped out of the soon-to-be crumbled-up pages of guidebooks and into a partnership with awesomely relevant Sutro Media, suggested that I could finish this project in two weeks. That's when I was in Amsterdam, on hiatus from Portugal, still detoxing from China, just a few months out from my lovely summer in London, and just about to begin that oh-so-difficult "reentry" process at home here in New York. (This is the kind of itinerant narrative that would always appear in drafts of stories I submitted to my nonfiction writing workshops in Pittsburgh and to which I would inevitably receive the response that the narrative wasn't believable. And, to that, all I want to say right now is "Pittsburgh, there's an entire world out there just waiting for you to expand your imagination!"). I digress. But that's exactly the point--I'm a digressive person. Two weeks to finish my guide to the globe's ultimate chocolate city? More like six months.
We're nearly there now. If my palm-sized anecdotes--about the latest antics at the Tcho factory next door to the new Exploratorium museum on the Embarcadero (the California chocolate people are smart, smart with the venture capital money) and the utopian Guittard compound in Burlingame where even the BART station smells like chocolate--weren't ready for Valentine's Day and Easter this year, they'll be around (with regular, instant updates) for the same holidays next year and for the oddly rainy and chilly upcoming Bay Area summer months, perfectly suited to artisan hot chocolate.
In the meantime, if you could download the app today, you might see something like this:
The tastes are catholic, the selection is limited, and the aesthetic is upscale cosmopolitan. Opened in 2006 and repurposed in 2012 as a satellite boutique for Sao Tome-based Italian tree-to-bar chocolate maker Claudio Corallo (the rustic subject of a chapter in Mort Rosenblum's Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light), Alegio has since become an East Bay outlet for several global chocolate brands that don't show up too frequently on the west coast of the US, including the sculpted creations of Catalan chocolatier Enric Rovira. Located in Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto, a few doors down from Chez Panisse, the shop hosts a regular influx of foodie tourist walk-ins as well as dedicated members of their chocolate of the month club.
Casa de Chocolates
Latin Love of the East Bay
Owners Arcelia Gallardo and Amelia Gonzalez have taken a microbusiness that grew inside La Cocina's incubator kitchen turned it into a powerhouse that's won quick attention from locals, the press, and the Latin American business community. The base chocolate for the Casa confections comes from Bay Area mainstay Guittard, though the beans were sourced in Central and South American countries. And the bon bons are infused either with precolumbian ingredients like pumpkin and chile or today's identifiably Latin flavors like Mexican cajeta and Guatemalan coffee.
Get in Line
The proliferating ice cream and gelato institutions (like Xanath and Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous) in northern California need their own app. But the Bi-Rite businesses are grandfathered in. The creamery, across the street from the original grocery store, always features a couple of chocolate flavors made with local ingredients, along with chocolate pudding, chocolate brownies, and sinful combinations of the above in sundae form. If you're coming on a weekend or a holiday, it will be a long wait--bring a book. The Divasadero branch of the grocery store, open since March of 2013, has more shelf space for international, American, and local artisan chocolate and a separate entrance for Bi-Rite Creamery customers craving salted-caramel chocolate pots de creme and dark chocolate mint-chip ice cream sandwiches.