Carol Gancia gave up a gig as producer of KQED’s “Check, Please! Bay Area” for an even sweeter assignment — chocolate maker.
In June, she opened her Kokak Chocolates in San Francisco’s Castro District, specializing in small-batch, single-origin heirloom chocolates.
And what phenomenal chocolates they are — as I recently discovered when I received samples to try.
Gancia crafts her confections with a rare heirloom cacao variety in Ecuador, known as “Nacional,” which traces its origins to the earliest-known cacao trees 5,300 years ago. These old-grown trees are now protected by the Cacao Preservation Fund.
Complex and boasting a long buttery finish, the chocolate stars in truffles made with thin shells and incredibly silky fillings. The Mango Lemongrass, decorated with a Mondrian-inspired design, explodes with profound floral notes. The Passion Fruit made me think I was in Hawaii for a second with its taste of the tropics. The Hazelnut-Caramel tastes like a pound of hazelnuts was somehow squeezed inside a two-bite bonbon. Its flavor is that intense.
These are elegant truffles that will make your eyes and taste buds pop with surprise and delight.
This sweet collection is by Sarah Kieffer, celebrated creator of the award-winning, The Vanilla Bean Blog.
Among the 100 tantalizing recipes are “Chocolate Basil Brownies,” “Raspberry Rye Cookies,” and “Olive Oil Sugar Cookies with Blood Orange Glaze.” There’s even an entire chapter on “Pan Banging Cookies,” using the technique she perfected that went viral. It involves banging the tray of cookies periodically as they bake in the oven, flattening them and creating concentric ripples that leave them crisp on the edges with soft centers.
“Double Chocolate Espresso Cookies” don’t require that kind of work. They also don’t need an electric mixer to make.
Some like it hot. And if they do, they head to Chili House in San Francisco’s Richmond District for Sichuan and Beijing specialties, most of which will make you feel the burn — in an albeit delectable way.
You know what you’re in for when you see menu items such as “Pork Chop with Explosive Chili Pepper.” Even so, when I was invited by the restaurant to try some of its dishes for takeout, I was game — and at the ready with a yogurt drink to douse the flames, just in case.
Chef-Owner Li Jun Han cooked for two Chinese presidents before immigrating to the Bay Area to open Chili House, as well as Z&Y Restaurant in Chinatown.
The Beijing pot stickers (4 for $7.95) are not the usual half-moon shaped ones you’re familiar with. Instead, these are long and slender wrappers rolled around a pork filling. You could even pick them up with your fingers to dunk into the accompanying black vinegar-soy sauce.
Apologies to Chef Anthony Secviar for my plating skills — or lack thereof — on his sublime takeout food from his Protege restaurant in Palo Alto.
Because, yes, it’s possible to enjoy Michelin-starred food to-go in the comfort of your own home.
And getting takeout does offer an alluring plus: the chance to enjoy one of the restaurant’s “family meal of the week” options. I’ve had the pleasure of dining several times pre-pandemic in the lounge of the restaurant, where an a la carte menu is offered. But before, the only way to indulge in a multi-course progressive meal was to book a table in the intimate dining room for the tasting menu.
The “family meal of the week,” however, is a much less expensive variation with typically about four courses or dishes, including dessert. For instance, the one offered last week, which I got, was $75 per person.
It began with shaved Brussels sprouts salad, the crisp julienned leaves tossed with an almost equal amount of grated cheese, as well as pomegranate seeds, walnuts, and crunchy, salty, porky bits of pancetta for a dish that hit every taste bud.