Tuesday, April 19, 2011

SF Chocolate Salon

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Signage at Fort Mason
Last Sunday I had a chance to go to the 5th Annual SF Chocolate Salon, held in Fort Mason in San Francisco.  I'd never been to it before but a whole bunch of chocolatiers in one warehouse giving out free samples?  I'm so there.  Beyond a slightly higher ticket price, it seemed very similar to the Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival which my friend Jenny and I went to last year and you may recall we OD'd a bit on all that chocolate.  Plus we didn't get there until early afternoon and by then it was super crowded with both locals and tourists.  So while I wouldn't necessarily go back to the Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival again, I did want to have a look-see at the SF Chocolate Salon.  Fortunately, Jenny was game as well so we met up in the city to hit Fort Mason and a day of chocolate.

This time around we went first thing in the morning, right when they opened.  We figured this would help us beat the crowds that had made the Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival a bit trying.  It turned out to be a good call because it definitely wasn't as crowded earlier in the day as it was later on.  Plus it had the added advantage of being held at the Festival Building in Fort Mason which was essentially a large warehouse.  Various chocolatiers and wineries had display tables and they were spaced far enough apart to accommodate a reasonable number of people without being so far apart that you had to trek from one to the other.

Help yourself to samples
We could - and did - wander from table to table, sampling at will.  I kept taking pictures of the tables and the signage of the chocolatiers as there were so many, I knew I wouldn't be able to remember them all.  Some had leaflets, business cards or flyers to hand out to prospective customers, some were selling their wares and others just had samples laid out of their products for anyone to taste test.  Needless to say, there was no shortage of chocolate to try.

Now, I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to chocolate.  I favor milk chocolate and I don't mind it combined with caramel and/or nuts but that's usually it.  I can appreciate a high-quality dark chocolate but my sweet tooth still prefers milk chocolate.  Those who consider themselves true chocolate aficionados will disagree with me but that's okay - there's no such thing as "wrong" when it comes to high-end chocolate.  Except I have to admit, some of the flavors at the show were a bit too exotic for me.  The recent trend has seemed to be infusing chocolate with all sorts of flavors you can think of - not just your traditional fruit flavors like orange, raspberry, cherry or liqueurs like kahlua, kirsch, frangelico, and whatnot.  But I saw a lot of tea-infused flavors like chai, green tea and jasmine as well as spice-infused chocolate.  I was unfortunate enough to sample a chili pepper chocolate.  One nibble and I had to go get a sample of the sorbet one table had to kill the taste.  Sorry, I don't believe in spicy chocolate.

My favorite - and yes, I ate a whole one
My favorite of the day though was the Salt Water Caramel from JTruffles.  Normally I don't like sweet and salty together, especially in chocolate but the combo worked really well in this truffle.  The filling was a chewy caramel, not too hard, not too liquidy or soft but just the right chewy consistency.  It wasn't too salty which is probably what won me over.  I find fleur de sel and other salt like it too salty with a sweet pairing but JTruffles did an excellent job with this truffle, to the point that I had to go to their website afterward and check out their pricing in case I want indulge at a later date and order myself a box of these truffles.  I was doubly glad Jenny and I went to the Chocolate Salon in the morning because early in the day, JTruffles was giving out whole truffles as their sample.  While it made for a big sample and we figured they'd run out fast, I enjoyed that truffle so much, I couldn't stop eating it, even though I was already sampling a lot of other chocolatiers' tables.  By the afternoon, when we stopped by their table again after lunch, they had run out of the Salt Water Caramel Truffles and had chopped up pieces of their other truffles to give as samples.

We also saw the first cooking demo of the day, given by Jake Gandolfo from Master Chef, Fox TV.  He did a balsamic vinagrette with chocolate melted into it as a sauce for a caprese and a red wine reduction with chocolate for a goat meat dish.  He only made a single serving so no sampling there :).

My second favorite sample(s) of the day was the toffee.  I sampled toffee from three tables and I don't think I had a bad one.  They all had the perfect crunch, not too hard or difficult to chew, not "chewy" but crunchy the way good toffee should be.  Milk chocolate almond toffee was my most favorite and I even met one chocolatier from St. Helena whose husband had also gone to the Culinary Institute of America, although he did the program in Hyde Park NY whereas I did the one in St Helena. Her toffee (www.permano.co) was quite good.

All in all, it was a fun way to spend the day.  Now I'll be dreaming about Salt Water Caramels for awhile....

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