The new, jewel-like truffles from Amano ChocolatesForty-plus chocolatiers. As many as six tastes from each. Well over 200 bites of chocolate. Yes, there can be too much of a good thing – especially when you’re a judge trying to pick the best of the best, in 20 different categories. Last week’s San Francisco International Chocolate Salon was an over-the-top indulgence of luxury and artisanal goodies. The final results of the judging were out this week, with a surprising amount of agreement among the judges. You can check out the official winners here – but first, here’s a taste of my favorites: Chocolates of my dreams Everything I tasted from Gateau et Ganache (Palo Alto) was exceptional. Chocolatier Anni Golding seems to have a magic touch for creating filled chocolates with vibrant, perfectly nuanced creamy centers that burst with fresh flavors. Her lavender/Earl Grey truffles were spectacular, as were her new lime/tequila truffles. The French-style caramels had just the right balance of salt (quite a few others I tasted elsewhere went overboard). Gateau et Ganache was my best of show. Seeds of a great idea Motombo chocolates, from Nicaragua, had some exciting flavored rough-ground truffles, including green chili and tamarind. But what really blew me away were their hand-peeled, chocolate-coated cocoa beans. I bit into one and it shattered into a crunchy, intense burst of chocolate heaven. Available at the Chocolate Garage in Palo Alto.
The guys from Lulu’s ChocolatesHipster Willy Wonka & Chocolate Elvis These guys from Lulu’s Chocolates not only make some tasty raw chocolate products (plus cocoa butter balm and a wicked chocolate essence perfume), they also had the best outfits at the show. Now where’s my golden ticket??
The delightful sisters of Socola ChocolatierSweet sisters Susan and Wendy Lieu, of Socola Chocolatier, were some of my favorite chocolatiers to chat with. The first-generation Vietnamese-Americans pull from their heritage (Vietnamese coffee or Sriracha truffles) and their imaginations (Stout or applewood-smoked bacon truffles). Starting as teenagers, they grew their hobby into a business, and their enthusiasm and passion left me excited to see what they’ll come up with next. Best (mini) salespeople Kids were front and center at NewTree chocolate’s booth – and what a great job they did! The young daughters of company principals chatted up visitors and told them about the various bars, some with add-ins like pink peppercorns (one of my favorite combos with chocolate). They did such a great job, I suspect they could be taking over the company before they’re old enough to drive! Divine inspiration The bars from Divine Chocolate are not only delicious, they’re fair trade product from a co-op of 45,000 farmers in Ghana, who also own a share in the company. So, while you enjoy creative flavor combos like orange-ginger chocolate bars, you know you’re helping empower farmers who never got a fair deal before. Tasty! Honey, that’s expensive! Amano, always a big winner at the Salon for their single-origin bars, is now producing gorgeous, jewel-like truffles (see photo at top). In one, you’ll find what they say is the world’s most expensive honey ($85/pound), from Yemen. It has an interesting, complex flavor that unfolds in tandem with the chocolate. Let’s say there’s going to be a lot of BUZZ about these! Bite-seeing Here are some interesting, attention-getting products worth a taste: Salt Side Down – Umami #5 truffles, made with the umami paste of the same name, these hop back and forth across the line between savory and sweet.
William Dean’s beautiful packagingWilliam Dean – filled chocolates with lychee pate de fruit and jasmine ganache – and some of the most beautiful packaging at the show. Her Coconess – Bittersweet Nibby Rocky Road rises far above a generally disgusting genre with house-made marshmallow and the inspired use of nibs. Saratoga chocolates – strawberry/balsamic caramels had a lot going on, but it worked. I wasn’t crazy about the couverture choice, though. CJ’s Toffee Talk – not just great traditional almond toffee, but pecan toffee that was even better. Jade Chocolates – Thai basil and jasmine truffles are great first forays into new products for this company that creates wonderful, intriguing flavored bars (my favorite is the fabulous Jade Dragon’s Breath). Neo Cocoa – old-school, undipped truffles are supremely silky, with subtle, compelling flavors like toasted coconut, almond butter topped with smoked sea salt and mocha cinnamon. Goat Milk Candy Co. – new dried figs stuffed with goat cheese blended with orange zest and honey, then dipped in chocolate. Yes, it sounds like a bit much, but boy, did it ever taste good! Vice Chocolates – their pear-ginger caramels totally wowed me! Amano – their Dos Rios dark chocolate bar makes you taste chocolate in a whole new way. Choclatique – these guys are sure having fun, making truffle flavors like PB&J or root beer float. But I happened to really like their tongue-tingling 91% chocolate (yes, you’re supposed to eat it, not bake with it!). Astonsihing, but it’s not bitter like most chocolates would be at that percentage. Madécasse – milk chocolate even a dark chocolate lover (me!) could enjoy. Kika’s Treats – the fabulous dark chocolate-covered caramelized graham crackers are still my all-time favorite among their products. Irresistible! Clarine’s Florentines – as good as Florentines can get – and that’s pretty darn good! Valrhona – it was nice to see this pioneer of single-origin chocolates at the Salon – as always, a class act. Like what I have to say? Subscribe to my RSS feed and follow me on Twitter!
If Santa left you a little extra cash this holiday season, hop a plane to Paris so you can hit the spectacular sales that always begin in the second week of January. Here are some tips to help you find the deals — and compensate for an exchange rate that’s more naughty than nice. WHAT’S THE DEAL? From Jan. 6 to Feb. 10, nearly every store in Paris will put fall and winter merchandise on sale. Dates are officially set by the government and discounts of 50% off are commonplace. The best deals are on seasonal items like clothing, but it’s rare to find a store that isn’t playing along. (Hint: Look for the signs that say soldes.) Avoid the Saturday crowds and remember, many shops are closed on Sundays. WHERE THE BUYS ARE: Short on time? Hit the department stores (addresses are listed on the official Paris Tourism website) to up your buying power with discount cards and tax refunds (see below). At Monoprix stores, scattered across the city, find bargains on clothing, accessories and makeup. For a convenient block of discount shops, head to Rue Saint-Placide, between Cherche-Midi and Sèvres (6th Arrondissement; Metro: Sèvres-Babylone), where Mouton à Cinq Pattes (No. 8 and 18) has designer clothing and Du Pareil Au Même (No. 14) sells creative kids’ wear. Farther afield, Rue d’Alésia (14th Arrondissement; Metro: Alésia) is lined with outlet stores, including Cacharel (No. 114) and Daniel Hechter (No. 92). Or keep an eye out for these money-saving clues on the front of stores: dégriffé (designer merchandise with labels removed); stock (surplus stock boutiques, often outlets) and dépôt-vente (resale shop). DISCOUNT CARDS: Department stores Au Printemps, Galeries Lafayette and La Samaritaine offer 10 percent discount cards year-round. Find them in tourist brochures or ask at the stores’ welcome desks. You must show your passport with each purchase, and some products are excluded.
Delicious boots – delicious prices! When the Paris sales start, almost everything is 50% off
COOL THINGS TO BUY WITHOUT THE EIFFEL TOWER ON THEM: Head to a grocery store for deals under $3, including Maille flavored mustards (or visit the Maille mother ship), Confipote jams, dark chocolate bars, elegant teas and flavored tisanes (herb teas) . . . Monoprix has chunky-chic Rhodia notepads for around $2 and addictive store-brand dark chocolate bars packed with whole almonds – or spend a bit more and get a pair of iconic patterned tights. . . Diptyque candles (34 Blvd. Saint Germain, 5th Arrondissement; Metro: Maubert-Mutualité; or department stores) are expensive but divine; save $10 to $20 over U.S. prices . . . For an upscale take on Home Depot, check out the BHV (52/64 Rue de Rivoli, 4th Arrondissement; Metro: Hotel-de-Ville), which offers all sorts of home decor, including très-French wall stencils int the paint department. . . For a vast food playground, head to La Grande Epicerie (38 Rue de Sèvres; 7th Arrondissement; Metro: Sèvres-Babylone), where you’ll find everything from home molecular gastronomy kits to frozen dinners by Michelin-starred chefs. TAX REFUND: Taxes of up to 19.6 percent are included in French sticker prices. You can get some of it back if you spend a minimum of 175 euros (about $215) in the same store on the same day. This sweet deal, for non-EU citizens only, is the detaxe. The easiest tactic is to group your purchases at a single department store, then take the receipts to a customer service desk, where they’ll start the paperwork for a 12 percent refund to your credit card. Don’t forget your passport. Other tourist-friendly stores should give the detaxe and may refund more than 12 percent — but ask before buying. When you leave France (or the EU), get the papers stamped at a Customs office (“Douanes“) and drop them in the mail, using the included prepaid envelope. At the airport, do this before checking your luggage (you may have to show the goods) and allow plenty of time to wait in line. SHOPPING BOOKS: Love it or hate it, Suzy Gershman’s Born to Shop Paris: The Ultimate Guide for People Who Love to Shop is the best-known guide, with some good tips but heavy doses of the author’s personality. Other useful resources include the Insight Guide Shopping in Paris, by Cathy Muscat, which is organized by location; The Paris Shopping Companion: A Personal Guide to Shopping in Paris for Every Pocketbook, by Susan Swire Winkler, also organized by location; and Best Buys and Bargains in Paris: (Yes, they do exist!), by Jeanne Feldman, organized by product type. Make sure you get the most recent edition, as stores come and go quickly. SHOPPING TOURS: Chic Shopping Paris (011-336-14-56-23-11) offers a number of four-hour tours ranging from food to baby gear to antiques, plus custom sale tours – and the founder, Rebecca Magniant, has also written Chic Shopping Paris” target=blank>a shopping guide book. French Links (011-331-45-77-01-63) has a “Pretty Lady” day of beauty and shopping, a discount designer tour and other offerings. Shopping Plus (011-331-47-53-91-17) has three tours, including haute-couture, and offers tea or lunch as part of the itinerary. INFO: For details on Paris shopping, go to www.paris-touristoffice.com; click on “English,” then “Shopping.” !
A few tasty items I picked up at Monoprix and brought back to the U.S.