Sunday, November 25, 2012

San Francisco Coffee and Chocolate Staycation - Day 4 of 4

A special shout-out to 24-hour fitness, who has offered free access to its gym and classes all this long weekend. It's the only way to survive holiday eating - and chocolate tasting! Another guideline staycationing is trying to walk or bike everywhere. You'll be more immersed - and have a healthy experience too!

Amazing hot chocolate with a side of Bay shrimp tartines!

After yoga, our tour of San Francisco widened a bit today as we stopped by Chocolate Lab cafe in the Dogpatch neighborhood for brunch. Friendly staff and dog-themed decor (get it?) compliment a short but diverse menu of savory and sweet creations from the mind of famed local chocolatier Michael Recchiuti.  Opened just 2 weeks ago, we weren't sure if we should expect a savory meal, desserts, or hot chocolate. It just so happened that we got all three! The Bay Shrimp tartine, plate of pickled vegetables, root beer float (malt ice cream, chocolate sauce, root beer), and hot chocolate all fit together better than I would've imagined. The shrimp tartines have a subtle mixed of sweet, bitter, and salty that make the hot chocolate a perfect accompaniment.

Chocolate Labs one-of-a-kind root beer float
So good I couldn't put it down!

The hot chocolate at Chocolate Lab stood out as the most delectable treat we sampled during our staycation this week. It's rich and bittersweet, almost as thick as Mayan hot chocolate, and it goes well with EVERYTHING :) Thankfully Recchiuti sells it at his neighboring chocolate storefront called "Little Nibs", which was a mandatory stopover so we could take home a box of joy for later. If you want a gift of amazing San Francisco hot chocolate for the holidays, let me know! :)

Noir truffles from Recchiuti's shop Little Nibs
The hot chocolate was far too dangerous to take home :)

After stopping home to drop off the precious chocolate package and pick up laptops, we biked over to Flywheel Coffee Roasters in the Haight. Olga's Madagascar pour-over was a bit more palatable than others she had this week, but still a little sour. Perhaps these single-origin roasts to a bit too intense for our naive palettes. My medium-roast Tasmania Peaberry was good, but later I noticed a very special contraption they have for slow-cold-brewing ice coffee. This I want to try next time!

Olga at Flywheel while I keep an eye on the tower of ice coffee gadgetry

Note: every single cafe we visited this weekend - without exception - takes the Square payment system. It seems to be taking off like gangbusters!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

San Francisco Coffee and Chocolate Staycation - Day 3 of 4

After gym, breakfast, and phone calls, we were off and running on our staycation plans. Halfway through the itinerary, we shuffled the 4 remaining shops a bit to line up walkable neighborhoods and anticipated amounts of food consumption.

Our first brief stop was to Stanza Coffee Bar, only 3 blocks from home. They opened just two weeks ago, and it seemed they'd been waiting for us! We popped in just to check out the ambiance and see if we'd be able to come back later to hang out with our laptops. We mentioned to the baristas that we would be right back after a quick stop to Dandelion chocolate shop - do they want us to get them anything? You should've seen the excitement on their faces! The two uber-trusting friendly neighborhoody guys opened their wallets and gave us money and instructions on what to get from Dandelion - as long as we promise to come back! Only in San Francisco...

 Dandelion Chocolate: Outside and Inside

Dandelion is a storefront and small chocolate factory that opened 10 days ago another 3 blocks away. In the store, you can taste samples of their three single-origin bars and teach your palette to differentiate qualities of the regions. The Venezuelan 70% dark chocolate was described as "chocolately with notes of chocolate" and the Madagascar 70% dark is super complex. We took an even-stronger 85% dark version of the Madagascar and brought the other two bars for our new barista friends.

The expert coffee artists at Stanza working their magic

One thing I love about Stanza Coffee Bar is they feature coffees roasted by home-roasters IN THEIR HOUSES. This is like a coffee equivalent of nano-brewing - such a cool idea!!! Olga ordered well-priced Sumatra blend and I splurged for the homebrew Panama Hacienda La Esmerelda Geisha. Hers was (again) a little sour, but mine was fantastic, so much so that I took it black (first time for me). Olga seems to be having a run of bad luck with the fancy coffees this week! The baristas were very emphatic that I take mine as a pour-over and Olga get hers in a small French Press - they certainly know their coffees!
Later overheard in the cafe, baristas exclaiming to each other "you have to try this espresso with the dandelion chocolate!"

Dandelion 85% dark chocolate and Stanza
home-roasted coffee pairing in honor of my Dad


Friday, November 23, 2012

San Francisco Coffee and Chocolate Staycation - Day 2 of 4

After breakfast and gymming, we started out today's staycation staycursion biking over to the brand new (4 days old) Littlejohns toffee and chocolate shop on Market Street at the tip of the Tenderloin. The place has an upbeat fun vibe, a young peppy updated version of stalwart See's Candies. The staff loves watching customers take first bites of their confections. They got almost as much pleasure of watching us bite into the English Toffee and the Caramel-covered honeycomb as we did tasting them.
We walked out with several pieces of chocolate, having spent only a couple bucks. Their other location is in the touristy Los Angeles Farmers Market. Who are they targeting here: tourists or locals? Are they hoping to sell in bulk or by the piece? Regardless of lingering questions of their business plans, the confections were highly enjoyable.

Lingering at Littlejohns

Minutes later, we had biked over to Sightglass Coffee & Roaster in SoMa. They have a large loft, more spacious than most Mission cafes, with some people bringing their bikes indoors and leaning them against the large sacks of coffee that line the cement walls. I would describe it as a more comfortably spacious and slightly less pretentious version of Four Barrel Coffee. Like Four Barrel, there are no power outlets or wifi. In fact, than are fewer outlets than you would find almost in almost any random space this size. All equipment has power conduit run so there are no exposed outlets to be found. How do they vacuum cobwebs or buff the floors? We both ordered the "pourover" (cup-at-a-time drip) - Olga having the Blueboon Blend and me getting the Finca Cuminate from Costa Rica. I enjoyed mine about the same as yesterday (not amazing), Olga liked hers slightly more than yesterday, neither of us have been terribly impressed with our fancy roasts so far during this experiment. Without wifi and power, the clientele seems to mostly be reading books and kindles, chatting politely, writing... more creating and producing than consuming. Perhaps the sour coffee helps folks stay focused on whatever they are creating.

Soon Sipping at Sightglass


Thursday, November 22, 2012

San Francisco Coffee and Chocolate Staycation - Day 1 of 4

Our tradition is to visit family and friends in the East Coast for Thanksgiving, but this year we decided to stay put and have a little staycation in San Francisco. Olga and I each came up with a theme to explore - I focused on coffee-roasting cafes, and Olga on artisan chocolates. We cross-references, narrowed, and finalized the list matching each of 4 cafes and 4 chocolate shops with the 4 days of the holiday weekend.

Poco Dolce Cranberry Pumpkin Seed with Grey Sea Salt

After a very rewarding morning delivering Thanksgiving meals to homebound seniors as volunteers for the Salvation Army, our delivery route left us very close to Contraband Coffee Bar in the Tendernob. It's not a neighborhood I associate with the hipster 3rd Wave Coffee movement. At the fringe between the Tenderloin and Nob Hill, it's certainly tapping into pent-up demand. The place is cute and cozy, with bar space, window seating, a small shared table, and rock-n-roll posters on the walls. They have a menu of roasts to choose from - Olga selected the Bali origin beans and I latched onto Brazil because of our upcoming trip there - for our cup-at-a-time drip coffees. Hers was unfortunately sour, not a very enjoyable coffee. Mine was a little too bitter, but with the proper amount of dairy product, it was made drinkable. We also shared a chocolate-chunk cookie, which warmed our tummies that the coffee had left unsatisfied.

Bubby's Apple-Orange Kugel recipe
in the shape of a turkey!

Chocolate Covered, an 18-year-old chocolate shop in Noe Valley, was the Chocolate destination to get us pumped for Thanksgiving cooking. The shopowner Jack Epstein, who has been recommending fine chocolate to San Franciscans for almost 2 decades, exudes chocolately knowledge from every pore. He can tell you the history of any chocolatier, and how his store's composition (80% bars, 20% truffles) compares with that of other shops in the city. What a great place to start our chocolate voyage - he has chocolates from most of the local chocolatiers - including Dandelion and Poco Dolce - that we want to visit this weekend. We went home with an armful of chocolate, including Poco Dolce Cranberry Pumpkin Seed with Grey Sea Salt, which we later brought to Thanksgiving dinner to much fanfare and rave reviews.