Friday, September 28, 2012

A Chocolate-y Guest Post!

by the fabulous Stef AKA Motherocker AKA our cousin!

Like a bolt from the blue I got the message in my inbox from component X of team BCD. Xani had tix to Gourmet Walks ULTRA Chocolate tour in downtown San Francisco, but had a change of plans at the last minute. Would I be able to step in and fill her shoes? Three hours of walking around downtown SF that started with a martini and ended with a wine tasting and was filled with all manner of high-quality chocolate tasting in betwixt. It was a tall order, but I was up for the challenge.


Our journey began at the luxurious Le Meridien hotel. Our guide, Ahmet Aydogan (weekday photographer, weekend chocolate expert) graciously found my companion and I wandering the lobby and ushered us to the meeting spot. We were soon joined by the rest of our fellow tourists. As we waited (and waited, and waited) for our first tasting of the day, Ahmet gave us the run-down on how the afternoon would progress and then launched into an interesting and informative chocolate history lesson. I won a chocolate for guessing that the Mayans were the first to discover chocolate’s aphrodisiac qualities! But I had no idea that chocolate beverage houses existed before coffee or tea establishments in Europe, although they served a very different beverage than what we are now accustomed to. Apparently there was a thick layer of grease on top as they hadn’t figured out how to separate out the cocoa butter. But once that happened it was only short distance to the invention of chocolate as a confection. We learned that chocolate at its’ most basic consists of only 3 ingredients, chocolate, cocoa butter and sugar. Varying the amounts of the ingredients is what gives each product it’s unique flavor. Poor Ahmet was nearly done with his talk by the time the hotel bar finally had our drinks ready- chocolate martinis! I have to say, this was the only underwhelming part of the tour for me. It was a pretty standard chocolate martini. I don’t know if it was the environment or the name of the tour but I was expecting something with a little more wow factor. At least jazz up your presentation by lining the rim Le Meridien!

But alcohol is alcohol and everyone was in a jolly mood as we headed out to our next stop. Ahmet was the consummate host and did a great job at spending a little time with each group of people. He also pointed out bits of SF foodie culture, architecture and history along the way between stops. Leonidas, a belgian chocolatier located in the Crocker Galleria, was our next stop. Here we got an education on the process of chocolate making from bean to bar. This was super fascinating to me. There are 3 different kinds of cacao trees. Forestaro, or bulk beans, account for nearly 90% of what makes it to the shelves and is primarily grown in Africa (!). Criollo is the highest quality bean with the most complex flavor. It is also extremely difficult to cultivate. Trinitario is a hybrid of the other two and gives a bit of the best of both worlds, being a bit easier to grow then Criollo and having a bit more flavor than Forestaro. As you can see in the images above he showed us a cacao pod and beans in their raw and roasted forms to smell and touch. Cocoa nibs and cocoa butter also came around. Then it was finally time to taste some chocolate!

Chocolate Buttercreams and Pralines - Leonidas
The dark chocolate layer on the buttercreams was rich and slightly bitter which perfectly offset the velvety hazelnut buttercream within. Although I typically can’t stomach white chocolate (I find it cloyingly sweet), my fellow tourists persuaded me to give it a try. Nope! Still didn’t like it. But....more on that later.

Next up we wandered over to Market Street to visit Fog City News where the owner stocks 200 premium chocolate bars and does not allow any pictures. They carried some truly interesting and delicious looking product (a brown butter bar I believe, keffir lime maybe...?) but I can’t remember any of it. So you’ll have to take my word for it!
Recchiuti Chocolates

 Then it was over to the Ferry Building for a whirlwind tour and 3 amazing vendors. The Ferry Building is a must visit for any foodie worth their salt and it’s sort of impossible to walk in there without wanting to try some of everything. One of the things I really loved about the tour was learning San Francisco’s role in US gourmet chocolate making and how many ground-breaking chocolatiers make the Bay area their home. We got a little presentation at Recchiuti. The owners are a husband and wife team who got their start selling at local farmers markets and working with local farmers to obtain the ingredients for their chocolates. We tasted a dragee (chocolate covered almond, dusted with cocoa powder) on the spot and picked up a few others to taste with wine later. Next up was Scharffen Berger. That brand may sound familiar to you, it’s become one of the premier chocolates to use in pastry and many recipes recommend it next to Valrhona. They are also one of the first bean-to bar manufacturers in the US, meaning they process from roasting all the way through to finished product. We did a fun tasting here, first of Scharffen Berger’s original dark chocolate bar, and then of chocolate flavored with mint- which turned out to be the same base chocolate, surprise!

Here’s how you taste a fine chocolate bar:
1. Smell
2. Snap (in half or a piece off)
3. Smell again
4. Stick it in your mouth hole
5. OMG, so good.

 Lastly we breezed by Miette and picked up a duo of macaron for the road. I remember Erins post on making these in Paris- a huge PITA as I recall. I ate them the next day in your honor BCD Girls!

It doesn’t seem like we tasted all that much chocolate, but we were all feeling a bit chocolated out by the time we got to Blanc et Rouge a perfectly nice little wine bar but would probably have been nicer without the rather raucous birthday celebration in the room. Ahmet did a great job speaking over the din as he talked us through the tasting.

 We started to our right with a lovely dry Cava (Kila Cava 2008- Spanish sparkling wine) paired with a square of....dun dun DUN - white chocolate. This was a revelation for me. The dryness of the wine perfectly offset the sweetness - making the white chocolate taste rich and buttery instead of overwhelmingly sweet. The second pairing was a Recchiuti Ginger heart with Husch Gewurtzraminer (2009, Anderson Valley). I normally find Gewurtzraminer too sweet (quelle surprise, huh) but this one was surprisingly light and went excellently with the spicy ginger and dark chocolate. I probably could have eaten a bucket of those two.

Ahmet told us that they sometimes switched up chocolates 4 & 3 with the third and fourth wines. On the official menu, we were supposed to have the Recchiuti Force Noir (a piece of pure dark chocolate ganache) with the Beucanon Cabernet Franc and the Recchiuti Cassis Strata (Dark chocolate with cassis uh...jelly or something) with port (Warres ruby port) I’ve never had a Cab Franc before, apparently it’s unusual to be sold as a varietal and not as part of a blend (I don’t know that much about wine in case you couldn’t tell). Anyway, it was the kind of dry that makes you feel like your saliva glands have stopped working. It went ok with the Force Noir, but I felt the sweetness of the fruit in the Cassis Strata was a better match and likewise the more bitter Force Noir with the syrupy port.

All in all it was an amazing afternoon which lasted closer to 4 hours than the estimated 3. I could not recommend this tour highly enough to anyone who loves good chocolate and wants to learn more about it for Bay Area residents and visitors alike. Thanks Xani for such an unexpected and delightful treat - was wonderful for many more reasons than are appropriate to write about here.  Muah! - Stef

Thank you Stef for an awesome field report!!


  1. Yay! Great guest post by another Podolny! Thanks Stef - xoxo!

  2. Thanks so much for having me cuz-es. Can't wait till you're out this way again in person. ;)

  3. still waiting for motherocker to return to blogging damn it.

  4. Look at you taking one for the BCD team MR...And yes start blogging again!

  5. I didn't know either that chocolate drinks are older than coffee and tea beverages in Europe. It is a very informative blog. I got to know so many things after reading this article.

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