If you had a spare $25 a few weekends ago and a thing for chocolate, the place to be was at San Francisco's Ft. Mason Center for the 4th Annual San Francisco International Chocolate Salon. Imagine, 50,000 square feet of chocolates. Artisan chocolates. Chocolate drinks. Truffles and bars and bon bons. Oh my.
Lucky me. I was there. And even luckier still because I was with my buddy Amy Sherman, who was a judge. She'd already received and tasted samples so she was able to send me to what she thought were the best vendors. This was good because no matter how much one loves the chocolate, the 10th or 12th or 14th starts to wear on you. I got the best of the best and still ready to eat lunch within a couple of hours.
So, let me tell you my favorites and where you should be able to find them. These several are truly extraordinary.
Amano Artisan Chocolate: Amy steered me to them first, declaring they're the best chocolate bars in the country. They are, indeed, fine. And they won Gold for Best Dark Chocolate and Best Dark Chocolate Bar at the Salon. Made in small batches near Salt Lake City, Amano is inspired by French and Italian chocolate makers, sourcing beans from around the world and creating a dark chocolate confection that is smooth with concentrated flavors. You can order their chocolates online or your local Starbucks may carry their Madagascar and Ocumare Milk bars.
Her Coconess Confections: If you love Rocky Road, toffee, and caramels, you'll love the products made by Shelly Seward. These unpretentious confections are utterly delicious with pure flavors that are irresistible. Try her cocoa bean and vanilla bean caramels for a dreamy, melt-in-your mouth sweetness. The Rocky Road is crunchy and chocolatey and salty. And, her toffee has the crisp crunch with sweet and salt that just teases the taste buds. Currently, she sells at local farmers markets and online on Etsy.
William Dean Chocolates: It's not like I want to live in Largo, Florida, but I'd love to be close to these folks. Really close. Amy directed me to them breathlessly telling me to try their tropical caramel sample. The line was long, nobody wanted just one taste. But, finally, I was able to snare that gorgeous bon bon and one bite created a rush of fruit flavors that made me imagine relaxing under a swaying coconut tree drinking some divine mango/pineapple/papaya elixer. Then I took a bite of the peanut butter and jelly chocolate. I don't even like PB&J sandwiches, but I loved this. It doesn't taste like a synthetic version of the PB&J. It tastes just like it only improved, the best you've ever eaten. And, so beautiful. You can buy online or at their shop in Largo, Florida.
Clarine's Florentine's: Do one thing well, right? Clarine has achieved this with a delicate cookie featuring thinly sliced almonds, butter, sugar, honey, and cream. It's light, it's brittle, a little salty, a little sweet, thanks also to Guittard bittersweet chocolate. These fragile confections are made in Berkeley and sold in Northern California, but you can email or call to place an order.
Vice Chocolates: This chocolate has attitude. From the multi-tatted young woman in a purple bodice handing out the chocolates at the booth to the flavors of these confections. With truffles named "Domina," "Rasgasm," "PunkN," and "Vixen," you've got to have some attitude yourself. For the money, you must try the Fig + Anise Seed bar. All that flavor and then a nice crunch at the end. If you're not in Oakland, buy these online.
Alter Eco: Chocolate for a cause, and marvelous chocolates. Amy asked me if I enjoy Nestle's Crunch. Uh huh, sure I do. I grew up scarfing those bars down. Well, meet the dark chocolate quinoa Midnight Crunch, a grown up version made with toasted quinoa. That's right. A healthy chocolate bar with protein. Plus, Alter Eco brags that all of their products are fair trade and cultivated using sustainable farming methods by small farmers. So, now you can eat healthy chocolates that are sustainably produced and support small farmers. Win, win, win! The site has an extensive map showing where you can buy them. In San Diego, it includes Whole Foods, Jimbo's, OB People's Food Co-Op, and Barons.
Did I mention that I love hanging out with Amy? I tend to eat extremely well. (Insert smiley face here!)