Tag Archives: tourism

Cafe Miranda: Dark Chocolate Truffles

16 Jul

15 Oak Street

Rockland ME, 04841

(207) 549-2034

http://www.cafemiranda.com

I was back on the east coast recently visiting family and by shear happenstance I ran into a lovely chocolate experience. I was relaxing in Owls Head Maine and enjoying the New England ocean vistas…

…watching the belted galway cows…

…and then went out for a lovely dinner in the evening with my father and brother for a Father’s Day celebration at Cafe Miranda.

We have been going to Owl’s Head for 25 years. In all of that time, I had never been to Cafe Miranda. This time I managed to go and it turned out to be quite a treat. With it’s intimate atmosphere and funky decoration I felt right at home. Unfortunately, I wasn’t expecting this wonderful surprise, and thus, was caught without a flash, as you can see from my blurry photographs. Although, I think that it portrays the warm, energetic ambiance of the place quite well. Cafe Miranda has one of the most eclectic menus I have ever encountered. It boasts Italian, Mexican, and Thai food. I had to make sure and get seafood since I was in Maine with Cafe Miranda’s house-made pasta. Also, the owner, Kerry Altiero is of Italian descent so I opted for a dish in the My Italian American Grand Ma section of the menu. I chose the Pasta, Mussels, & Roasted Italian Sausage.

It was delicious. Here, my dad’s semi-devoured Seafood Mixa in the upper left, my dish is the blurred mess in the foreground. That’s as far as I could go. My brother bet me $100 I couldn’t finish my plate. He won. It just wasn’t possible. Yet, I still found room for dessert.

This is where the surprise comes in. I, of course, asked for the dessert menu, wondering if there were any chocolate treasures to be found therein. There was a chocolate cake I was considering. However, our waitress announced that there were some chocolate truffles that were not listed on the menu due to their unpredictable delivery. I got very excited and told her about Chocolate Explorer and she said that I definitely needed to try the Woody-O’s as well. First, Why would truffles be unpredictable? Second, who the heck is Woody and why does he have O’s?

As soon as I got my plate, I started attempting to take an acceptable picture without a flash. I love the presentation and the color. Kerry, the afore mentioned owner, saw me with my camera and yelled,”Hey, are you a food critic? We may have to kill you!” I told him that I wrote about chocolate. To which he said, “Get her some Woody-O’s!” He then began the story of Woody the Renegade Chocolatier of Rockland. The Owsley of Chocolate.

Kerry first met Woody in Rockland when he walked past Woody’s ice cream shop The Tangerine Tiger and saw the flavor Blorange, (if you haven’t guessed, blueberry orange) on the menu. He walked into the shop and said, “There is no way that flavor works!” Woody responded, “Who the f*#* are you?” Kerry tried the flavor and discovered it to be sublime. They were friends from that day forward. The Tangerine Tiger’s doors have been closed for quite some time now. Woody has had many odd jobs since. At one point he worked as a plant in the audience to drive up  prices during auctions. Kerry went on a few of these expeditions where he acquired some of the objects located throughout the restaurant, such as his “white trash” can, which stands behind the kitchen counter, faithfully serving its original purpose.

Woody is indeed a practiced chocolatier. He once had a truffle shop in Portland, ME. Since his days as a business owner he has gone off the grid. He has no cell phone, or landline for that matter, and no one knows where he lives. He just occasionally appears with truffles and delectable desserts, requesting ingredients, such as butter, cream, and chocolate. Everyone who knows of Woody’s confections, looks forward to his appearances and his Woody-O’s, his take on the oreo, made with chocolate sugar cookies and filled with melt-in- your-mouth chocolate ganache.

 

Needless to say, I enjoyed every bite of my Woody’s O’s and even managed to share them instead of keeping them all for myself. The truffles, with their deeply robust, dark chocolate ganache and just the right amount of salt to be complementary, were definitely the highlight for me. There are also several chocolate dessert beverages on the menu.  One is titled cocoa d’vine, made with a combination of chocolate, cherry juice, and red wine. I was a bit suspicious of the uncommon method of pairing these flavors, but as soon as I had tasted it I wondered why I had never encountered this beverage before.

I know that I will be returning to Cafe Miranda whenever I’m in Rockland. If you ever visit, make sure to ask about the Woody-O’s and check out the Elvis shrine which also serves as a bathroom.

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5th Annual International Chocolate Salon: San Francisco

21 Apr

When I first found out about the International Chocolate Salon I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I just like the word salon. In this case, because it implies that there is a conversation, an exchange of ideas and methods in the art of chocolate.

As I strolled down from the Marina to Fort Mason, I thought about how I was going to approach such an overwhelming situation. What does one do when they are surrounded by table after table of chocolate in all of its delicious reincarnations? What should I taste? Who should I talk to? How will I not get sick from eating too much chocolate? What will I do if I clean out my bank account after being seduced  by a particularly sumptuous looking bunch of truffles?

By the time I arrived at the Festival Building I had decided that I would focus on bars from single origin, bean to bar companies, I would pick three, and I would only taste dark chocolate. The only tasting dark chocolate idea lasted till the second table from the door. I saw salted caramel truffles.

The salon was in full swing when I got there at 11:30 am. The event was very well attended, but not so crowded that you couldn’t snag yourself a sample of whatever chocolate confection or creation may have caught your eye. Also, the exhibitors were generally very helpful and knowledgeable. In several cases I was able to speak to the chocolatiers and chocolate makers themselves.They were all happy to talk about their greatest passion: chocolate.

This is Neo Cocoa’s spread. The salted caramel truffles that were my downfall. I love the time the exhibitors took with their presentation.

And now for our feature presentation:

http://www.cacaoatlanta.com

Kristen Hard (above) is the owner, founder, and chocolate maker behind Cacao Atlanta. As  you may have guessed, the company’s boutique and production facility are located in Atlanta, Georgia, which is where Kristen hails from as well. She is also the first female chocolate maker in the United States. An important specification is that chocolate makers start with the unroasted bean, chocolatiers start with something called chocolate liqueur, after the beans have been roasted, shelled, and ground into a paste. The reason I was originally drawn to Cacao Atlanta was the bars, but one of the interesting things about Kristen, is that while most chocolate makers stick to making bars, she also uses the chocolate that she makes for her own line of truffles. She actually began her chocolate business by creating a variety of herbally infused truffles, which were  not only delicious, but also contained healing properties.She is now heavily involved in sourcing the beans for Cacao Atlanta. She has developed relationships with all of the growers that she works with and considers them to be her friends. Once she decides to buy from someone she goes and participates in the harvest. She is also focused on working with farmers to improve all aspects of the production process, such as fermentation. Recently, she has been assisting the University of the West Indies in developing a documented fermentation method.

Love Bar (Patanemo) Straight Up 75% from Venezuela is one of my new favorites. This bar has a smooth caramel intensity, cushioning your senses with just the right amount of sweetness, so that you only notice the rich cocoa flavor. I think it was Oscar de la Renta that said something to the effect of, “When  you make a dress for a woman, you want people to look and say, “What a beautiful woman!”  not “What a beautiful dress!”.”

The logo is a flying cocoa pod.

http://www.snakeandbutterfly.com

Caught in action, talking about bean to bar.

These are the owners of Snake and Butterfly. From left to right, Celeste Flores, her father Vince Flores, and the guy in the hat as Vince told me. It turns out his name is Ben Bulik and it turns out he does research and development for Snake and Butterfly. They are located in Campbell, CA and I fully intend to go and check it out at some point.

What initially caught my eye in this box of chocolate bars was the third one in from the left. I had never seen a bar from Belize before. However, I seem to be following a trend because I  tasted a Venezuela 75%. It was rich and savory in a way that I haven’t tasted in a chocolate before. There was just the slightest suggestion of citrus at the end. It was bold, yet soft around the edges.

http://www.madecasse.com

Brett (above) and  Tim, his friend in the New York office, started Madecasse after being Peace Corps Volunteers. Their term of service ended, but their lives had become intertwined with those of the people with whom they had been living and working. They knew that 85% of the worlds cocoa comes from Africa, but only 1% is made there. Brett and Tim decided to create a company that would produce in the beans country of origin, but still sell to consumers in the United States. As a result four times more income is generated for the workers in Madagascar than if beans were shipped for production.

I tasted their Madagascar 70% and it is one of the juiciest chocolates I have ever had. The taste of berries floods your mouth. I would say blackberries with a little cranberry tartness. The interesting thing is that the fruitiness doesn’t linger. It recedes and the flavor of pure cocoa lingers and cleanly fades away.

Here is a list of the exhibitors if you want to explore.

SLO Down Wines strikes a pose.

They featured their wine “Sexual Chocolate”, which also has one of the most entertaining wine labels you will ever read. Chip, in the hat, is one of the winemakers.

As it turns out there was also wine tasting! How do you make a good thing better?

There will be an International Chocolate Salon Part II

TCHO: San Francisco

11 Apr

TCHO

Pier 17: The Embarcadero @ Green Street

San Francisco, CA 94111

Monday to Friday 9 am – 5 pm

Saturday and Sunday 10 am – 5 pm

(415) 981-0189

Tours: Every day at 10:30 am and 2 pm

If you walk down to Pier 17 on the Embarcadero you won’t be able to miss TCHO, right next to a tug boat rental company. You would never know that this building is the home of innovation on several fronts. Founded by Timothy Childs, a former NASA employee on the shuttle program, literally a rocket scientist who turned to chocolate making, and Karl Bittong, a chocolate industry veteran who has been constructing chocolate factories for the last 42 years, TCHO was set up to succeed from the beginning. They sweetened the deal by bringing in the c0-founders of Wired Magazine, Jane Metcalf, as President and Louis Rossetto, as CEO. For anyone who has written a business plan, this is a management dream team. TCHO is the beginning of a socially conscious chocolate revolution that synthesizes the art and science of chocolate making while still maintaining environmental and human ideals by qualifying as a fair trade organic product by third party certifiers such as California Certfied Organic Farmers (CCOF) and Fair Trade USA. We can only hope that their practices will cause a ripple effect throughout the industry.

TCHO is a self proclaimed flavor based chocolate company. While the popular trend right now is to focus on the origin of the cacao beans, TCHO has chosen to focus on the primary flavors cacao beans are known to produce. They locate beans that manifest the chosen characteristic, such as chocolatey, citrus, fruity, or nutty and then develop the chocolate making process to maximize their flavor potential. Flavor notes are connected to the regions from which they come, so they usually have a pretty good idea where to start when they begin development.

One of the characteristics that makes TCHO so different from other chocolate making companies, is their scientific approach to the entire chocolate making process from pod to bar. TCHO has worked with farmers to innovate the fermentation and drying process by working with farmers to create a three tiered fermentation system, allowing for thorough fermentation and a mellowing of the cacao bean, and drying beds where beans are exposed to the air on all sides, releasing gases that would otherwise create a harsh or bitter flavor. Also, they have built flavor labs on location at the farms so that farmers can taste what type of product their beans are going to create.

Right now “chocolatey” is from Ghana, “citrus” from Madagascar, “fruity” is from Peru, and “nutty” from Ecuador. The jury is still out on my favorite.

TCHO has also produced a flavor wheel and they are in the process of developing “floral” and “earthy” chocolates. There are also several milk chocolates that are in the beta phase due to demand. They have also developed a line of baking chocolates because chefs and bakers were coming to TCHO asking if they could create a high quality baking chocolate so they could buy  within the United States instead of having rely on Europe. I got some. I will report back on my findings.

The tour guide, Tyler, told us that two of the indicators of a well tempered chocolate, thus having a wonderful mouth-feel and well balanced flavor, is the shine and snap of the chocolate when you break it.

 

I took the factory tour on Saturday. The first part of the tour was a very engaging presentation by Tyler. With the aid of a slide show you learn about the history of chocolate from its origin in the Amazon Basin to the process of fertilization of the cacao flowers performed by a midge, a tiny winged insect. A dried cacao pod is passed around as well as some beans. You get to see them up close. I like the tactile aspect of it. The most interesting thing  I learned about the growing process, is that the cacao pods begin to glow when they are ready to be picked. I’m not joking. It really happens.

The factory itself was not in production so it was a bit of a different experience than it may have been. Tyler said that it is usually extremely loud with all of the machinery going. We had the added benefit of being able to hear a description of what the machines do, while seeing them. The factory was actually moved over to San Francisco piece by piece and reassembled at Pier 17.

You are not allowed to take pictures on the tour so I snagged a few of TCHO’s so I could give everyone an idea of what the factory looks like inside. You have to wear hairnets and beardnets, when applicable, even when the factory is not in production. They are extremely serious about maintaining cleanliness. My favorite part came at the end when we got to taste the chocolate! If you want to, you can talk about the different flavors you tasted. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy. It is always interesting to hear what other people are experiencing. I recommend you try the hot chocolate. It’s amazing. Get one.

P.S. Bonus innovation. They developed an Iphone app so you can run the factory remotely from your Iphone!

TCHO: “chocolatey” 70%

7 Apr

As advertised, this is an intensely chocolatey chocolate. Apparently, chocolatey is actually an industry term so saying chocolatey chocolate is not redundant. The bouquet on this single origin chocolate from Ghana is amazing, a fragrant, earthy, clean scent.Rich and velvety all the way through, you can tell they put a lot of work into creating this bar. The experience starts out with a cranberry tartness easing you into a wash of chocolatey cacao that dominates your palate until its gentle finish.  One thing about this chocolate that differs most from the other bar chocolates that I have tried thus far, is that it doesn’t have that astringent, slightly bitter tail at the end. Instead, there is a full earthy flavor of cacao that slowly fades away. A much appreciated smooth finish.

If you ever want to be adventurous and try a chocolate and cheese combination, I would recommend using TCHO chocolatey and your favorite triple cream. Now all you need is the right wine and the world will be a perfect place.

The TCHO chocolate factory is located down on Pier 17 in San Francisco. I intend to go there this coming weekend for a factory tour, so stay tuned.

 

XOX Truffles: San Francisco

3 Apr

754 Columbus Ave.

San Francisco, CA 94133

Monday – Saturday: 9am to 6pm

Sunday : 10:30am to 6pm

(415) 421-4814

http://www.xoxtruffles.com

I had the wonderful opportunity to visit one of the best chocolatiers in the country. XOX Truffles is rated one of the  greatest chocolate’s in America by Chocolatier Magazine. Little did I know that it was right in my own backyard. Located on the edge of the North Beach neighborhood in San Francisco on Columbus Ave, between Filbert and Greenwich, it is a common destination for locals and tourists alike. Easy to get to by bus, on foot, or if you are up for the San Francisco experience, the cable car. XOX Truffles is one of the places that makes San Francisco what it is; a city with an international reputation as a center for art and culture. In this case XOX Truffles is literally, a taste of local flavor.

Jean-Marc and Casimira Gorce founded XOX Truffles in 1997. With Jean-Marc as the creative talent and Casimira, his wife, as the business sense, XOX soon took off as part of the chocolate community of San Francisco. Jean-Marc was inspired to make truffles in response to a heart attack which threatened his life, so these beautiful confections really are a celebration of life and how sweet it can be. A sweetness that he shares with his patrons every day, in flavors such as cognac, his favorite,


Casimira’s  favorite, white chocolate enrobed in white chocolate, spicy cayenne tequila, a l’Orange, one of my favorites, and many more. You can check out their website or take a trip to the shop to see a full list. He will also take suggestions and is very accessible. You may just be a part of the next truffle revolution. Each truffle will saturate  your senses with its title flavor, brought out by the smooth, chocolatey ganache that provides a base for all of them. The cozy shop has a counter at the window where  you can sit while waiting for a cappuccino, or if you decide to have a chat, or watch the truffle making process.

During our discussion, Jean-Marc informed me that chocolatiers are disappearing from San Francisco at an amazing rate. Some due to the recession, others have tried to expand to quickly, and several, such as the Scharffen Berger Chocolate have been bought by Hershey. There is something so wonderful about stepping into this shop and seeing the owner creating these delicious gems right before your eyes. You can’t mass market this feeling.  Jean-Marc told me that he has managed to keep the business alive by keeping it small. XOX Truffles has some wholesale accounts managed by Casimira and Jean-Marc maintains a single store front and kitchen with the assistance of  one employee, Kirby. She is a student at the San Francisco Institute of Art and assists him in the creation of these one of  a kind truffles. Her favorite truffle is the matcha green tea. I was able to see them in action.

The cocoa powder. Root of all chocolate truffles.

Once the filling is made it is piled into in a pastry bag.

The filling is then applied to the tray for cooling

Not a bit of chocolate or space wasted. So beautiful. I would eat them just like this.

Once cooled, they are enrobed in cocoa powder, a chocolate shell or chopped nuts, such as the noisette. Another one of my favorites.

Once complete they are each as individual as a snowflake.

Then, into the case they go, for your viewing pleasure. Soon to be consumed by ravenous chocolate lovers.

And, if you want someone to love  you forever XOX is here to help you seal the deal.

And, if you are very lucky, you may meet regulars, Wednesday and Morticia. They come to XOX Truffles everyday. They give hi-5’s for treats!

You will find the store adorned with some of the many endorsements XOX Truffles has received from numerous publications,

A salute to cocoa in all of its may forms,

and photos of France where Jean-Marc had his apprenticeship.

XOX Truffles is a great place to come, not just to treat yourself or buy a gift, but on a nice day you can get a coffee and a free truffle and just sit in front of the shop and watch the world go by. That is exactly what I did yesterday. Of course I also bought 20 truffles for my tasting enjoyment. As a chocolate lover an exercise regime is a must.  In addition to the truffles I have mentioned previously, the earl grey truffle is phenomenal.

Getting there can be quite an adventure in itself. If you go through China Town on a Saturday (Shopping day) and there is a festival going on. There is always a festival somewhere in San Francisco on any given weekend. If  you are on the tourist circuit this is perfect. Or if you are in North Beach for lunch, walk over to XOX Truffles for a decadent dessert. It is impossible not to be impressed.

Once you arrive XOX Truffles is close enough to the center of North Beach to be accessible, but far enough that it is a nice quiet place to sit and enjoy San Francisco in one of its many manifestations.

Keep the art of chocolate alive!