Recently I spent a few days in the Bay Area / Silicon Valley for work. As I’m originally a NorCal girl, it was great to be home, and see family and friends during my evenings off! When my workday ended around noon on the day I was scheduled to fly back to the East Coast, I had decided to spend eight hours in San Francisco playing tourist before heading to the airport for my red-eye flight. I’ve realized that you never play tourist in your own city, and I wanted ride the hop-on/hop-off bus and listen to recorded stories of the places we drove by. And luckily, it was a gorgeous, sunny, breezy day, perfect for being outside.
Then I got into the City and found rockstar parking on The Embarcadero. And I decided that I wanted to play chocolate tourist instead. That was one of the best, deliciousest decisions I’ve ever made!
As usual, I can blame Laura Florand for many of my culinary ideas. I asked her on Facebook if there were any chocolatiers in San Francisco that she would recommend, or any that she hadn’t had a chance to try. I bravely offered myself up as her guinea pig.
You guys, she sent me a map of a dozen chocolatiers in the city.
A map. Dedicated to chocolate.
This is why I love her.
So I started with Recchiuti at the Ferry Building. I had seen their website and was intrigued. It was a smallish, open shop with lots of flavors to choose from, and plenty of boxed sets that made great gifts. I bought my co-workers a box of the Creativity Explored: San Francisco Landmarks chocolates, which were Burnt Caramel Truffles. I bought myself a Peanut Butter Puck to kick off my sweet exploration on the right foot.
Everything about Recchuiti said “dark” to me. The shop’s colors were glossy browns and black, the flavors were deep with just the right amount of bitter to complement the sweet. If you like dark chocolate, this may be your Mecca.
After Recchuiti I checked my handy chocolate map (seriously, one of the best maps ever created) and skipped across the street to shove more quarters in the parking meter. Then I headed south-west to Folsom St. and Socola Chocolatier in the heart of SoMa. This adorable shop is bright and airy, and the ladies behind the counter were delighted to hear that I was on a chocolate tour. Tea sounded refreshing after my walk to their store, so I picked a Masala Chai truffle and a Jasmine. Both were delicious and exactly what I expected of the flavors. And since two of the women were cutting and wrapping fresh caramels, I may have gotten one of those two.
It went on my list of favorite caramels.
I asked them for more recommendations and they sent me back to the Ferry Building and Dandelion Chocolate. Since Miette patisserie was right next door to Dandelion, I felt obligated to get a macaron – salted caramel, do y’all see a pattern here? – on the way. Miette had some of the prettiest cupcakes I’ve ever seen, with super slick, glossy frosting. Stop by their shop to give your eyes and your taste buds a treat.
Then back on track and I stopped at Dandelion’s small corner counter. This place is amazing. Their chocolate bars have only two ingredients – cocoa beans and cane sugar. They are purists. And it is so completely worth it. They have samples out and, like coffee and vanilla, you encounter different flavors in the chocolate depending on where it was grown. So even though it’s about as pure as chocolate can be, one bar may taste like Meyer lemons, another may have notes of tropical fruits, and a third may be flavored with cinnamon and espresso, though none of those flavors have been added. They even have a 100% cacao bar. I thought it would either make my jaws sting and I’d drool all over myself, or that it would be so dry that I wouldn’t be able to swallow it. But it was smooth and nowhere near as bitter as I imagined.
Next I got back in the car and headed into the Mission. Socola and Dandelion both suggested I try Chocolatier Blue on Valencia. Unfortunately, when I arrived it looked like the place was closed down. Not just closed for the moment, but like they’d moved out and were never returning. Since I had once again found great parking – at the end of the block in the last parallel spot, so I wasn’t blocked in – I was sad to have no real reason to park there. I checked the time and decided to take a few minutes to change into a dress for dinner.
Did I mention I had made reservations for myself at a Michelin-starred restaurant? No? I didn’t mention that? Well, I had. And since I was on schedule and had a few minutes to spare because I wasn’t debating chocolate flavors, I changed in the car right quick.
I drove north again to find Christopher Elbow Chocolates, the one shop Laura had specifically recommended. I had to circle the block twice, but my parking mojo finally kicked in again and I found a spot just a block from the store. And imagine my surprise when I passed by Chantal Guillon – San Francisco’s only dedicated macaron shop – on the walk to Christopher Elbow.
The sugar fates smiled down on me during this whole trip, you guys!
Christopher Elbow was the most glamorous shop I found during my tour. I felt like I was in an haute couture fashion store. The chocolates were beautiful and I almost didn’t want to eat them. But of course I did. Because who buys chocolate just to gaze at it? I wanted to do nothing but consume the shiny green, rosemary caramel for the rest of my life.
Y'all...Christopher Elbow has a rewards card. They reward you for buying chocolate, as though chocolate is not a sufficient reward in and of itself.
Obligation once again forced me to stop and get a macaron. Or two. Chantal Guillon offered me the best salted caramel mac I’ve ever had. Quite an accomplishment, considering how many macs I’ve eaten at this point. The swipe of gold paint on it just made it that much nicer to eat. And the lemon poppy seed was bright and light, just as it should be.
The Pacific Heights neighborhood and my dinner reservation at SPQR were just a few minutes away, so I made it to the restaurant with plenty of time to spare. Which was good, because the parking gods deserted me at that point and I drove around for ten minutes trying to find a space in the midst of rush hour traffic.
SPQR is an Italian-inspired restaurant that received a Michelin star in 2013 and again in 2014. As I was dining alone, I requested a seat at the chef’s counter.
Oh, man...how had I forgotten how freaking attractive a man is when he completely owns his physical work? The chef, Matthew Accarrino, quietly expedited orders while his sous and other line cooks prepared the meals. I could have watched those boys – and I call them boys because I don’t think anyone on that line was over the age of 29 – for hours. They were exceedingly capable, each knowing exactly what was expected of him and delivering perfection every time. The dance of a professional kitchen has always captivated me. And knowing how stressful a kitchen can be, I’m constantly impressed when cooks choose to work in an open kitchen, where they can’t get away with cursing and throwing things if they end up too far in the weeds. The SPQR team never once touched those weeds while I sat at the counter.
Dinner was phenomenal.
I didn’t get the best photos since I was using my cell phone, but I hope you can see the beautiful presentation of each dish. This is absolutely a restaurant I will visit again, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that Chef Accarrino and his team earn more stars this year.
I finished up my trip with a stop at my favorite place in San Francisco – the beach at Crissy Field. I discovered this spot with friends 15 years ago, and I try to visit each time I’m in the City. On a good evening, you can watch the sun set over the Golden Gate Bridge. My evening was not to be sunsetty, but I still enjoyed an hour reading, maybe changing clothes in the car again (at least I was appropriately at the beach this time!), and watching the fog tumble down the hills of the Presidio.
A huge thanks to Laura for sending me the chocolate map. In return, I offer her a macaron map and the updated 2015 chocolate map for when she and Monsieur Florand take that long overdue, romantic trip to San Francisco.