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February 03, 2006

Bittersweet Chocolate Cafe

Tucked away on College Avenue in Rockridge,Oakland is Bittersweet, a rustic little cafe devoted entirely to chocolate.  The first time I stumbled onto this place was when I was going to dinner at the wonderful Soi 4 Thai restaurant next door (the particular stretch of College Avenue around Rockridge boasts a marvelous conglomeration of eccentric boutiques, cozy eateries, and unique little shops like Bittersweet - making for a wonderful stroll on lazy Sunday mornings) and saw this sign dangling temptingly before my eyes:


Inside your eyes are immediately drawn to the racks on the right wall, filled with dozens of colorful little rectangles that look like books - but are actually bars of chocolate from around the world.  The founders of Bittersweet Cafe have made it their mission to introduce the US to chocolate life beyond Hershey's, See's, and even Scharffen Berger.  There is a dazzlingly array of brands and types of bars from all over the globe, from Cluziel to Amedei to Pralus, as well as some wonderful US-made creations like Dagoba and Vosges.  There are super-dark-bitter varieties for the purist, milk and white confections, and most exciting for me, a rainbow of "concept-type" bars.


While I am usually not a big fan of nuts, fruit, and other bits in my chocolate, some recent tastings have led me to partially reconsider.  Chocolate makers are infusing their bars with some intriguing and unexpected flavors and essences that make you reconsider what chocolate should - or can- taste like.  Dagoba's Xocalatl (74% cocoa)is a spirited take on the increasingly popular chili-and-chocolate combo: the bar starts with a creamy vanilla and nutmeg overtones and it isn't until you're about to swallow that the spice kicks in - a pleasant parting fillip. I also love NewTree's Renew Dark Chocolate (73% cocoa) - it's flavored with blackcurrant and grape and taste wonderfully of berries. There are so many to try at Bittersweet - return visits are a given! On my last visit I picked up a box of Fran's Gray Sea Salt Caramels - sweet buttery caramel in dark chocolate, topped with sea salt from Brittany. The caramel is chewy-soft, and mixes perfectly with the tang of the salt.


Bittersweet Cafe also offers cute little chocolates and cupcakes, and they serve coffee and chocolate drinks - what's a cafe without drinks?  I am most fond of their Classic - a big cup of hot, dark chocolate with some milk mixed in.  Their Bittersweet, which is supposed to be all chocolate, is just too thick and bitter for me - I guess I'm not as hard-core a chocoholic as I thought!

This little slice of chocolate heaven is just one more reason for me to frequent College Avenue.  However, for those San Francisco city folk who refuse to make the trip across to Oakland, a Bittersweet Cafe has opened up on Fillmore - no reason now not to get your chocolate fix!



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