Truffle tour

Notes on top chocolates from around the world

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GUARDIAN PHOTO BY VIRGINIA MILLER

virginia@sfbg.com

FEAST 2012 Clearly, we can't get enough chocolate. As chocolatiers continue to proliferate around the country, we are blessed with an endless wealth of fine sweets to choose from. Tirelessly sampling chocolates in every city and country I travel in, I've found standouts of all kinds. Some chocolatiers have perfected a certain truffle, others a pure bean-to-bar process. Many local greats produce treats in the city, like SF classic Recchiuti, single-minded Hooker's Sweet Treats, playful Poco Dolce, and forward-thinking TCHO. Here are a few more, plus my notes on favorites, worldwide.

SAN FRANCISCO SHOPS

With a new Victorian-era mercantile on Haight Street, Buyer's Best Friend has among the best gourmet food selections in the city in many categories – and it is slated to open its second shop in North Beach on October 26 (450 Columbus, SF). When it comes to chocolate, the shop often has samples from rarely-seen small chocolatiers from around the globe, for many of which they are the sole distributor. Start asking questions and you'll discover a whole world of chocolates you never knew existed.

1740 Haight, SF. (415) 745-2130, www.bbfdirect.com

Eccentric and delightful, Noe Valley's Chocolate Covered has long been the premier chocolate shop of SF, with a rare and varied selection. I lived directly across the street from it for six years — in dangerously close proximity.

4069 24th St., SF. (415) 641-8123, www.chocolatecoveredsf.com

Tiny but well-curated, Russian Hill's shiny Candy Store has long been a source for rare and old fashioned chocolates and candies.

1507 Vallejo, SF. (415) 921-8000, www.thecandystoresf.com

BAY AREA CHOCOLATIERS

There's chocolate and then there's bean-to-bar chocolate. Whereas most chocolatiers start with already fermented cacao beans (yes, cacao beans go through fermentation), few oversee the entire process from sourcing to processing. Dandelion Chocolates was launched right here in SF by chocolate lovers whose experimentation with bean-to-bar as a hobby turned into a business. Purity of the cacao is their passion, so Dandelion makes chocolate with only bean and sugar, no cocoa butter.

Tasting their bars side-by-side is like sampling wines or coffee, with different nuances and terroir apparent in each. There's the lush, malty notes of Rio Caribe, Venezuela (my favorite bar), bright citrus-strawberry expression in the Ambanja, Madagascar bar, and earthy, tannic notes from Elvesia, Dominican Republic. Already, Dandelion is easily one of the superior chocolates you'll find in the Bay.

Visiting the company's Dogpatch factory last month, I witnessed Dandelion's entire process: roasting, cracking, sorting, winnowing, grinding, conching, tempering, molding, and packaging, all happening in one small space. Dandelion is moving to its new Mission location on Valencia (though it will keep its Dogpatch space), slated to be factory, tasting room, shop, and cafe all in one. Opening this month, it's sure to be a hit. It's inspiring to see passion lead to success — especially when your sweet tooth reaps the benefits.

740 Valencia, SF. (415) 349-0942, www.dandelionchocolate.com

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