Friday, February 17, 2006

the candyman can. . .

I'm very excited because I am going to see my chocolate pimp on Sunday!

Nope, I'm not talking about Snoop Dogg. I've had the pleasure of meeting him and that's a whole other story. Besides, I happen to know that his favorite candy is more in the vein of, say, Now & Later. Or Laffy Taffy.

My chocolate pimp is Jack Epstein, proprietor of Chocolate Covered in SF's Noe Valley. While waiting for a table at nearby Lovejoy's Tea Room, we happened upon Mr. Epstein's compact shop. Without noticing the store name at first, it just seemed like a gift shop featuring unique, handmade boxes with photos of various streets of San Francisco. But we soon discovered it was a lot sweeter than that.

It didn't take long before we engaged Epstein on his favorite topic. I didn't notice how or when the brainwashing process started, but I do know that I didn't leave until I had spent $16 on exotic chocolates (very unsensible, given my current economics). My friend Susie spent a dollar more, leaving with only ONE bar of chocolate. But it was a limited edition, hand-numbered dark chocolate from Spain. The way he described it gave me the same warm feeling when I talk to my fellow record collector geeks about rare pressings, and Susie's eyes danced with the excitement of possibility of sampling such a treat.

My loot that day:

*A dense milk chocolate bar studded with caramelized Rice Krispies from Charles Chocolates, a local chocolatier that I am very happy to learn about (and will hopefully be writing about in depth soon).

*Emperor's Ginger Tea bar from Splendid Specialties, a luscious combo of milk chocolate, ginger and green tea. Missy got the chocolate-chai version, and I couldn't decide which was better.

*Naja bar from Chicago's Vosges, the self-proclaimed purveyor of "haut chocolat." Milk chocolate with sweet Indian curry powder and coconut flakes. I am saving up so I can mail-order the Naja chocolate chips (they also have them in a cinnamon-chili version, which we'll have to snap up as well). I can only imagine the yummy experiments that will result once those get into my kitchen. Vosges has an intriguing product line with some incredibly unusual flavors, including an "Italian Collection" that features fresh cream truffles filled with various cheeses. But, as you'd imagine, such creativity comes at a dear price. Where is your Sugar Daddy when you need him?

The real kicker, the thing that will keep us coming back to Chocolate Covered like the true fiends we are, was the sample he sprung on us right before we left: A dark chocolate bark with chili-dusted pistachios (from, of course, New Mexico). Obviously, I am a milk chocolate baby, but even this got me to convert. The heat of the chili doesn't come out until well after the first swallow, but when it does, it is simply graceful in its approach. At $4.50 for a few little slivers, it ain't cheap. But few great intoxicants are.

Chocolate Covered is located at 3977 24th Street in beautiful San Francisco. 415.641.8123


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