Categories
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…

INFORMATION
Chocolatier Blue
1964 University Ave
Berkeley, CA 94701 map
510.705.8800
Web site

Categories
Alice Waters Chez Panisse Northern California reviews

Chez Panisse

With all the praise and reverence that is bestowed upon Chez Panisse, it’s easy to become jaded about it before even stepping foot in the restaurant. I admit that I had my share of skepticism, but I also knew that the restaurant known for being the birthplace of California cuisine and an alumni list that reads like a culinary all-star team wouldn’t be around for nearly 40 years if it was merely mediocre.

Normally, Chez Panisse takes reservations a month ahead, but I called two days before our Friday night dinner and secured a late dinner reservation upstairs in the cafe at 9:45pm. Both the upstairs cafe and the downstairs restaurant offer different menus every night, but the cafe offers an a la carte menu with several options, while the restaurant has a set menu. We looked up the menu for the day online, so we pretty much knew what we wanted when we walked in the door.

We ordered a pizzetta of squash and squash blossoms, and it was the perfect starter. The toppings were really good, nice and balanced, although I’m more into eating squash blossoms than actual squash. The crust was perfect—crispy but chewy and salty—exactly how I like my pizza crust. I’d even say that the crust rivals that of some of my favorite pizzas, including Pizzeria Mozza and Pizzeria Picco.


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My wife really liked her wood-oven baked lasagna with tomato, eggplant, basil and Parmesan, a simple, beautiful rustic dish. I ordered lamb with frisee, sausage, fennel, crispy potatoes and chanterelle mushrooms. The lamb and potatoes were perfectly cooked and delicious. The sausage was a little bland, but when eaten with its natural partner i.e. fennel, it was really nice. I even ate the chanterelles, and I don’t really like mushrooms.

For dessert, my wife ordered a strawberry and raspberry shortcake, which she loved. It’s a simple formula really… take the freshest fruit and combine it with a sweet, biscuit-like shortcake and a little creme chantilly, and you have a perfect dessert.

I ordered the mint chocolate chip ice cream with chocolate sauce, and I was in heaven. Mint chip is one of my favorite flavors and this iteration was one of the best I’ve had. The mint flavor was great, and I loved the dark chocolate chips embedded in each bite. It was served with what our waiter said were called “Killer Cookies,” which were like chocolate, chocolate-chip cookie slivers and lived up to their name.

Overall, we had an excellent meal and were already talking about a return visit as we walked out the door. If I had any regrets, it’s that I wish I had visited this culinary mecca years ago.

INFORMATION
Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, California 94709 map
510.548.5049 (Cafe)
510.548-5525 (Restaurant)
Web Site
Chez Panisse on Urbanspoon

Categories
dessert reviews

Ici

Ici specializes in artisanal ice cream, made fresh daily in small batches, and it’s been described as some of the best ice cream in the Bay Area. It was smoldering here in the Bay Area last week (90+ degrees in SF???), so we stopped by Ici on our way to Bakesale Betty. Yes…dessert before lunch.


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We got six scoops between the three of us and got to sample a wide range of flavors. I don’t think all the flavors necessarily worked, but you have to appreciate the care and the commitment that goes into every batch of ice cream.

  • Chipotle Chocolate Chip – good, but the heat from the chipotle threw me off. I wished it was chipotle, chocolate chocolate chip. I think a chocolate ice cream would have gone perfectly with the heat of the chipotle.
  • Malted Vanilla – good…mild vanilla flavor.
  • Lemon – loved it…sour at first but I like how it mellowed out.
  • Fresh Peppermint – good minty flavor…not overbearing.
  • Saffron/Orange Blossom – I thought it tasted like Indian food (I know that sounds odd) and my wife was trying to figure out what orange blossom actually tastes like. She liked it though.
  • Peach/Habanero Sorbet – i didn’t think this one worked at all.

I also tried the basil ice cream as a taster and thought it was interesting, but I don’t know if I’d want a whole scoop of it.

Flavors change daily and I’d like to go back and try some more of their ice cream, but I hesitate to join the chorus of folks anointing it the “Best in the Bay,” especially when I didn’t think any of the flavors we tried topped Bi-Rite Creamery’s salted caramel (and I’m not even a caramel fan) or the Milk and Cookies or Orange Sherbet from San Rafael’s Three Twins.

However, it is nice to know that there are so many artisanal ice cream shops are out there making small batches of fresh, natural ice cream, and having more options just makes trying to figure out who’s best more fun and challenging.

INFORMATION
Ici
2948 College Ave
Berkeley, CA 94705 map
510.665.6054
Web site