candy chocolate reviews

Chocolatier Blue – Berkeley, CA

Chris Blue, the owner/operator of Chocolatier Blue in Berkeley, CA, is a lucky guy—he’s young, talented, and passionate about his work. By combining fresh, mostly local ingredients with the world’s best chocolate, Chris has created line of chocolate truffles with bold yet balanced flavors.

TrufflesChocolatier Blue’s truffle assortment.

A stint as chocolatier at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago taught Chris that you have to use the best ingredients to make the best product, and this ethos is reflected in every chocolate truffle he creates.

To start, Chris is the only chocolatier in America that’s allowed to make chocolate confections using Amedei chocolate from Tuscany, which is considered to be the world’s best chocolate. Amedei’s chocolate is unique because they get all their beans come from the famed Venezuelan region of Chuao, which has an ideal microclimate and an age-old tradition of harvesting cacao. Amedei has complete control over the chocolate from bean to bar, and they developed their own processing techniques that maximize the bean’s delicate flavor. Amedei is also one the most ethical chocolate companies in the world, negotiating directly with farmers, ensuring workers rights, and paying them above fair trade standards. For a good overview of how Amedei does business, see this article.

(Amedei’s story is intriguing to say the least, especially when one if its main driving forces is a personal vendetta against French chocolate maker Valhrona, who refused to sell chocolate to Amedei founders Alessandro and Cecilia Tessieri because “Italy wasn’t evolved enough to appreciate such ordinary chocolate.” The Tessieri’s took it as a “personal slight, a national insult, a call to arms” and declared war on Valhrona. Seriously…read the article).

The $14 Chocolate BarThe $14 Chocolate Bar.

We ended up ordering a 15-piece box with one of every flavor they had on hand: apple cider, pumpkin, peppermint, pistachio, chili, lime, grapefruit, tangerine, lemon, caramel, passion fruit caramel, egg nog, espresso, and palet d’or. There were 14 flavors total, so we got two palet d’ors to fill the extra space. Each one of these truffles needs to be savored, but since my wife and I were splitting them and only had half a truffle each, we made sure to take the time to enjoy every second that they were in our mouths. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but the palet d’or, caramel, espresso, lemon, peppermint and lime truffles were definite standouts. There’s a detailed list of Chocolatier Blue’s current offerings on their Web site.

TrufflesTruffles on display.

We originally went into the store to buy a box of truffles as a present for a friend who was in town, and ended up staying for nearly an hour talking to Chris about his career, chocolate, and the chocolate business. He offered us some chocolate samples and even gave us a taste of some of new flavors he was developing. The more Chris talked about chocolate, the more I started picking things up off the shelves to buy. Our finally tally was over $80 for two 15-count gift boxes of truffles, a couple packs of Amedei tasting squares, a little bag of the best peanut brittle I’ve ever had, a bag of gianduia (hazelnut) truffles, a $14 bar of Amedei Chuao 70% bittersweet chocolate that was unbelievably smooth with a fruity finish, and a perfect cup of cinnamon chili hot chocolate (the secret? a little sea salt).

Gift Boxes

Overall, we came away impressed with Chris’s commitment to his craft. He makes all the truffles himself in the store’s open kitchen and doesn’t have any other employees as a way to control quality and reduce overhead, which keeps prices down—his truffles are a bargain at $1.50 each. One of the reasons Chris set up shop in Berkeley was because the rent was much lower than more high-profile locations in San Francisco, like the Ferry Building (although I’d love to see him go head to head with Michael Recchiuti).

It’s pretty obvious that we’ll be going back, especially with Valentine’s Day just around the corner…

Chocolatier Blue
1964 University Ave
Berkeley, CA 94701 map
Web site

chocolate dessert recipes

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Filling

I came upon the recipe for Double Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Filling at Food & Wine’s Web site while doing research for a cupcake contest I was planning on entering about a month ago. Eventually, laziness set in and I didn’t enter the contest, but these cupcakes were still on my mind. When our friends decided to have folks over this past holiday weekend, I thought it would be a good time to break out some cupcakes.

Glossy ganache tops this cupcake

I love the double-dipped ganache topping as opposed standard frosting. It’s much easier than making frosting, and the cupcake has a lower profile so it’s easier to eat. The peanut butter filling was really good too, but I ended up getting a little sick to my stomach after OD’ing on peanut butter while I was making it. :-)

Mmmm...peanut butter

Credit must be given to my wife for making these cupcakes look so good. I tasked her with doing the ganache and dipping the cupcakes. She’s really good at making things pretty.

beef Best of Inuyaki chocolate dessert Northern California reviews

Alexander’s Steakhouse

Special occasions call for special restaurants, and when a friend and former coworker decided he was going to pack it up and move back home to the ATL, it was the perfect time for some old friends to get together, reminisce about the good old days and send him off in style. We quickly came to a consensus on Alexander’s Steakhouse in Cupertino, a modern American steakhouse with Japanese influences that does some pretty amazing things with meat.

The first thing you notice when you walk into the restaurant is the meat locker on the left that contains huge slabs of dry-aged beef. It’s always nice to know when a restaurant is aging its own beef, and as a meat lover, it’s really a sight to behold.

Beautiful Aged Meat

We were presented with a really nice ahi tartare amuse bouche to kick off the meal. A few of us decided to try the Hamachi Shot off the small plates menu, one of Alexander’s most popular appetizers (it’s also the cheapest at $4). It’s a shot glass filled with hamachi, red chili, frizzled ginger, avocado, and truffled ponzu, and you simply stir it up a bit and then shoot it. It’s quite a rush, and I loved the slight kick you get from the chili.

Salads quickly followed, including my Baby Lettuce salad with yuzu vinaigrette, red radish, ten kasu, and the optional bacon lardons (of course!). The Iceberg Lettuce salad featured living watercress, point reyes blue cheese, and apples and was plated beautifully. Before our main courses arrived, we cleansed our palates with an intermezzo—a refreshing shot of mango juice and chopped strawberries.

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Between the eight of us, only three different entrees were ordered—five orders of the 10 oz. filet mignon, two orders of the Melange a Trois (including mine) and one Misoyaki Sea Bass. The filets were excellent and topped with shiitakes and candied bacon. The sea bass was served with sansho crispy squid, tempura green beans, curried trout roe, beurre noir, and their crunchiness was a nice contrast to the buttery, melt-in-your-mouth fish.

The guest of honor and I both ordered the Melange for its variety—Prime Rib in Natural Jus, Braised Shortrib with Brie en Cocette, and Bavette Steak with Green Olives and Bleu Cheese. I also added a piece of Seared Foie Gras to “round out” the meal. :-)

bakeries Best of Inuyaki chocolate dessert recipes Thomas Keller

Christmas Cookies – Thomas Keller Oreos

If you’ve ever been to Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery, chances are you’ve seen or eaten one of his famous TKOs, a.k.a. Thomas Keller Oreos (below).


Like most of Keller’s food, his take on the classic Oreo is a textbook example of refined simplicity — white chocolate ganache sandwiched between two chocolate shortbread cookies. They’re one of our favorite cookies, and I thought it would be fun to make them for Christmas presents.

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The Las Vegas NBC affiliate, KVBC, posted the TKO recipe on their Web site, which I thought was odd, but then I remembered that Keller opened a Bouchon Bakery in The Venetian a few years ago. We lengthened the the baking time from 8 minutes to 20 minutes after an unsuccessful first batch and the 20-minute baking time worked out much better. We also made a seasonal, mint-flavored TKO by adding some mint extract, peppermint extract and green food coloring to the ganache.

1/4 tsp baking soda
1 pound (4 sticks) butter
18 oz (by weight) all purpose flour
12 oz (by weight) sugar
1 teaspoon Salt
6 oz Cocoa powder

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Cream butter with paddle on mixer until smooth, then add sugar and mix until combined, scraping down the mixing bowl.
3. Sift dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients to mixing bowl and work dough until just combines. (it should look kind of like brown sand)
4. Roll dough between two sheets of parchment paper until 1/4 inch thick. Cut each cookie with scalloped cutter.
5. Bake at 325 F for approximately 20 minutes
6. Let cookies cool and then sandwich together with the following filling:

4 oz white chocolate (cut into small pieces or buy white chocolate chips)
1 oz heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon mint extract (optional, for mint filling)
1/8 teaspoon peppermint extract (optional, for mint filling)
green food coloring (optional, for mint filling)

Bring cream to a boil and pour over chocolate, then mix until emulsified. Allow ganache to set up for at least an hour before using. Ganache should be spreadable, kind of like peanut butter.

To make the mint ganache, add mint extracts to ganache along with food coloring just before placing between the chocolate shortbread cookies.

The white chocolate ganache is perishable, so if you’re making these, make sure their consumed within three days. This can be difficult, because these cookies are really rich and it’s sometimes hard to eat just one. Enjoy!

bacon candy chocolate dessert

Bacon + Chocolate = LOVE!

If you believe that bacon makes everything better, you really need to try it with some chocolate. That’s what some of the higher-end chocolatiers are doing, and it really is a match made in heaven.

The salty/sweet combination works in mysterious ways, especially with fried chicken and waffles, bacon and maple syrup (which is often accidental), and the classic peanut butter and chocolate. But bacon and chocolate is combination I’d never considered or even heard or until my friend Soo Jin gave me a piece of Zotter’s Bacon Bits bar. The finely chopped bacon bits are incorporated throughout the bar giving it a subtle, salty bacon flavor that was really nice.

zotter bacon bar

Let it be known that Soo Jin is my chocolate enabler, having introduced me to Fog City News, one of San Francisco’s best newsstands. It’s also one of the city’s best chocolate shops, sporting an extensive selection of imported chocolates from around the world. They offer a Premium Chocolate Passport, a frequent buyer program that gives you a free premium chocolate bar for every 10 bars you buy. Needless to say, Fog City News is an excellent place to try some exotic chocolate concoctions.

Last week, I got an email about one of Fog City’s chocolate tasting events, and here’s what caught my eye:

Meatpaper and Meaty Chocolate Tasting
We hope to see you tomorrow (Friday) between Noon and 2pm when you’ll have the chance to meat (sorry, couldn’t resist) Amy and Sasha, the editors of this unique new “magazine of art and ideas about meat.” And what could be more appropriate than trying samples of the latest chocolate bar with applewood smoked bacon which are being donated by the sweet (can’t help myself today) folks at Vosges? Be among the first to pick up the premiere issue of Meatpaper (Members take 10% off the magazine at the event) and learn about the trials and tribulations of launching an independent print publication in the electronic age.

First, there’s a magazine called Meatpaper? I gotta really look into that!

Since Soo Jin works nearby, I suggested that she stop by on her lunch break and she was happy to oblige. She ended up enjoying herself and picked up a Vosges bacon chocolate bar for us. Vosges has been a sentimental favorite of mine for awhile; I bought my then-fiancee some of their fabulous truffles when I was in New York on business a few years ago, and recently we discovered their delicious chocolate bar with goji berries.

Vosges bacon bar

The Vosges bacon chocolate bar is fantastic. Instead of finely chopped bacon bits like the Zotter, there are much bigger pieces of bacon in the Vosges bacon bar, and it’s got a hearty, smoky, salty kick that the Zotter lacks. So if you see a Vosges bacon chocolate are at your local market…make sure you pick one up and give it a try.

And remember…bacon makes everything better.