Chocolate in vodka.
Chocolate in cake.
Chocolate in custard tarts.
Chocolate in fanciful bonbons.
Chocolate, chocolate, everywhere.
That was the scene at last Saturday’s San Francisco International Chocolate Salon at Herbst Pavillion, where 30,000-square-feet of space was devoted to all things chocolate. Yours truly was lucky enough to be a judge for the chocolate competition. I think chocolate is still coursing through my veins from all that nibbling.
Hundreds of chocoholics made the rounds to taste samples at more than 50 booths. Here were some of my favorites:
* Van Gogh Dutch Chocolate Vodka: Think the taste of chocolate milk, but in the form of clear vodka. This is one smooth operator, even when tasted straight. It goes down easy, with no serious burn. A truly elegant and polished spirit. A 750ml bottle is about $30.
* William Dean Chocolates: Bold colors (green, fuchsia, azure, bright orange) and unique shapes make these truffles extremely eye-catching. The Largo, Fla. chocolates are all made by hand. The PB&J is a masterpiece: milk chocolate and peanut butter with the crunch of peanut brittle, and a sweet, complex jelly made from three different fruits. A nine-piece box of assorted chocolates is $18.
* Marti Chocolatt: Filipino-American Tonet Tibay studied the art of chocolate making at Ecole Lenotre in Paris. These exquisite creations explode on your tongue with the assertive flavors of pandan, ginger, rose-raspberry, and even goat cheese. The durian is creamy, bold and complex. Made in Los Angeles, these are chocolates that grab your senses. A box of six bonbons is $13.50.
* Loft Organic Liqueurs: Inspired by Italian limoncello, these organic, kosher, handcrafted spirits are made with fresh fruit and botanicals, and sweetened with agave nectar. The Emeryville company makes such flavors as lavender, lemongrass, and spicy ginger year-round, and seasonal ones such as tangerine in the summer and blueberry in the fall. Being the ginger addict that I am, I tried the spicy ginger. I loved its pronounced fresh ginger flavor and medium heat at the back of the throat. The liqueurs retail for about $30 a bottle.
* Kika’s Treats: The San Francisco company turns out bite-sized treats (shortbread, honey cake, and graham crackers) covered in chocolate. The caramelized graham crackers dipped in dark chocolate are a grown-up treat you won’t be able to stop reaching for. They’re crispy, and just sweet enough. A bag is $7.50.
* The Bread Project: In collaboration with the Berkeley Adult School, this organization teaches on-the-job-skills for entry-level positions in the food industry. At the Chocolate Salon, pieces of heavenly chocolate loaf cake were being passed around for sampling. The light, moist cake with a big chocolate taste was made by the students. It had the comfort of homemade, along with a heap of finesse.