Wednesday, June 9, 2010

One Sweet Saturday: The Napa Luxury Chocolate Salon

Want to know the ingredients for a pretty darn good day?
Here goes:


Sparkling Wine....

and Friends!

(These aren't my friends, but I failed to take a picture of my friends, so these random folks are the stand-ins. Apologies to the real friends.)

The occasion? A random Saturday, of course! Thanks to the investigative reporting of my friend and ace media consumer, Denise, we discovered that the first-ever Napa Luxury Chocolate Salon would be taking place last weekend, and voila - instant excuse for a get-together. Now, call me strange and an affront to women everywhere, but I am not a chocoholic (gasp!). It's true - I never crave it, I never buy it, sneak it or stockpile it. I will pass it by if there is cheese within a 100-mile radius. But, an expo devoted to all things chocolate? That was just too good of an opportunity to get friends together for an afternoon of fun. I would suck it up.

The event was held at the Yountville Community Center. Great venue, packed ass to teakettle with local Bay Area chocolatiers. I suspect if this becomes an annual event, they'll need a bigger room. But that's beside the point. We paid our $20 admission fee - the golden ticket to sample as much chocolate as one could reasonably consume. Or unreasonably consume, as the case may be.

I had given myself one parameter: sample only the things that were truly unique. I have recently cut out refined sugar in all forms from my diet, so I was making a rare exception on that day.... if it wasn't something completely original or truly extraordinary, I would pass it by. The trouble was, everything there was unique and stunningly extraordinary! It was a room chock full of artisan candy makers from the ever-competitive and cutting-edge Bay Area foodie scene for God's sake - what was I thinking? Chocolate - 1; Resolution - 0.

There were a few themes running throughout: chocolate truffles with fruit (key lime, candied lemon rind, pomegranate, passionfruit, blood orange); chocolate with sea salt (the salt on sweets phenomenon manages to make me even sit up and take notice); chocolate with spicy chili peppers (some too hot for even me to enjoy - caliente!); and of course, chocolate with bacon (it was rampant!).

There were also loads of chocolates that had been infused with tea (which all got me thinking about my fellow blogger and boot camper Teresa over at Wife of a Tea Drinker... listen up girl - these are right up your alley!). I loved the Black Masala Chai chocolate bar from The Tea Room: milk chocolate with Indian black tea, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon. The Tea Room's products are all organic, and they have chocolate bar flavors ranging from Raspberry Rooibos to Honeybush Caramel, but the Chai was so exotic, spicy and complex, that it was an instant hit with me.

After loving the Chai chocolate, I was eager to try other tea-infused creations. Jade Chocolates had a beautiful display set up and oodles of variations to sample. I went straight for the Kuro Genmai flavor, since one of my favorite teas in the world is the toasted brown rice tea, Genmai Cha. Sadly, I didn't get so much as a hint of the tea in the chocolate. Oh well.

Best packaging of the day, by far IMHO, was by Brix, a chocolate made to accompany wine. Not only was it beautifully presented, but it was freaking delicious as well. And what's not to love about a big brick of chocolate? To go with WINE! It is billed as "a [chocolate] blend so pure in flavor that it actually enhances those nuances found in great wines, without confusing the palate." If and when I'm ever in the market for chocolate, this will be the one. Guaranteed.

Best tasting presentation of the day goes to Gateau et Ganache for their S'mores, complete with blowtorch to toast the marshmallows. The showmanship of the blowtorch caused quite a commotion and brought a lot of clamoring attention to their booth... alas, the S'mores were merely ok. I wanted them to knock my socks off, and they didn't. Again, oh well. Their truffles, however - stunning and tasty! Like little works of art, each one.

Not to be outdone, the best looking chocolate creations of the day goes to Vice Chocolates. Man-o-man.... just looking at their bars and truffles was treat enough for me. Obviously handcrafted, the ingredients are artfully placed with care, each nut or candied bit perfectly situated on its bed of chocolate. They almost look to pretty to eat... almost. My photo does not do Vice justice, but you can trust me on this one: gorgeous and delicious!

Best goodie of the day: Clarine's Florentines. My one sole weakness in the world of chocolate just happens to be toffee; these florentines topped with delicate sliced almond brittle and a thin coating of bittersweet chocolate stared that weakness right in the face and won. Handily. Damn you Clarine!

Jelly-filled chocolates? Check (best flavor: peanut butter and jelly, of course!).

Chocolate flavored alcohol? Check (complete with bartender shaking up chocolate martinis).

More chocolate than anyone rightfully needs to consume in a day? Check (I actually did pay for it later... got a little bit sick).

At any rate, my girls and I had a great time - sugar overload or not. We followed up the chocolate fest with some wine tasting and a great lunch, and once again, I am grateful and blessed to have such fun people in my life. I'll hang out and eat forbidden treats with you any old time. Any of you game for the next cheese festival? :)

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