Valentine’s Day is all about romance. And by “romance,” I mean sex. Whether you’re trying to get sex or you’re trying to comfort yourself because you’re not getting any, chocolate is your friend. Whatever the mood or reason, the following artisans, shops, restaurants, and chocolatiers will supply your wildest cocoa fantasies:
Five years ago I did a two part survey of every shop selling chocolates in the Portland area. Part 1 focused on national or international chocolatiers: Godiva, Moonstruck, See’s, Teuscher, and Verdun. Part 2 focused on local chocolatiers: Euphoria, Guanaja, Jaciva’s, Michelle’s, Pix, Sahagun, and Van Duyn. During the following year, there were enough quality local chocolatiers to emerge that another survey was in order, this one covering Alma Chocolates, Art of Chocolate, Depaula Chocolates, Hot Chefs, Pix, Sahagun, Wingnut, and Vosges. (Vosges being a highly-lauded national chocolatier used as a comparison.) I’m happy to say that the best have not only survived, but flourished. Pix, Sahagun, and Alma Chocolates have all received notoriety locally and beyond. Wingnut and Depaula both sell their chocolates directly and through popular local stores, such as Cacao.
But since the last survey — and especially in the last year — there’s been another explosion of local chocolatiers. A new head-to-head tasting is in order. In this report, I’ll focus on truffles from six chocolatiers: Cocoa Velvet, Couronne Chocolate, Ladybug Chocolates, Missionary Chocolates, Northwest Sweets, and Xocolatl de David. I’ll also look at the bars produced by Cocanu. (I tried to purchase truffles from Coco & Co, but my calls were not returned.) As a baseline, I bought a large selection of truffles and caramels from Sahagun and Alma Chocolates, my two favorite local chocolatiers that I believe are making chocolates as good as anything you can find outside of France.
Hopefully you’ll read this in time to spend your money wisely this Valentine’s Day. There are definitely some to seek out and some to avoid.
Bakery Bar’s Citrus Poppyseed Cake
My mom loves holidays. Especially religious holidays. Even moreso if gift-giving is involved. So, despite being a single parent living day-to-day on waitressing tips, every Easter she made sure that I would wake to a brightly-colored basket overflowing with gifts, chocolate, and candy sitting in a bed of plastic grass.
The love I felt from my mom makes me want to be able to share that same feeling with others. I spent the last couple days exploring the offerings in Portland, finding foodie-level Easter sweets to give that would far exceed the Peeps and Cadbury Eggs of my youth. Although they could never exceed the love behind those simpler gifts.
Here are some especially tempting Easter treats from six of my favorite Portland shops: Bakery Bar, Di Prima Dolci, Ken’s Artisan Bakery, Pix Patisserie, Sahagun Chocolate Shop, and Saint Cupcake.
A Corazon from Alma. Yes, that’s chocolate, not metal.
If you’ve waited this long to buy your SC (significant chocoholic) a cocoa fix for the holiday, you’re either a procrastinator like me, or have been desperately hoping I’d update my pre-Valentine’s chocolate reports from last year. Well, if you’re the latter, you’re in luck.
Portland already had a formidible chocolatier presence last year. Sahagun provided the artisan chocolates, Pix provided the exotic flavors, and Moonstruck provided the ass-kicking of the commercial competition. I was satisfied.
Then along came three new chocolatiers — Alma, DePaula, and Hot Chefs — small operations that aspire to unseat Sahagun and Pix from their chocolate-covered thrones. Add to that another small business hopeful, Art of Chocolate, vegan chocolatier, Wingnut (which I missed last year), and Vosges out of Chicago as a control, and here you go, a full report with just enough time to get your sweetheart a guilt-inducing present that will result in hours of insisting that they are not fat.
(A quick apology to the readers and especially the chocolatiers. I had some very nice photos which were accidentally erased while transferring them to my computer. New camera. Luckily I had others that aren’t terrible.)
Baker & Spice’s Yule Log
Portland has a wonderful community of bakeries and pastry shops. Christmas and the holiday season affords these carb pushers a chance to make more complicated desserts and play with traditional winter flavors. From decorated cookies to seasonal tarts to made-to-order cakes, Portland’s bakers use Christmas to show off — or at least have a little fun.
The following are nine holiday menus from some of my favorite sources for pastries around town. Even this long list isn’t close to comprehensive. I didn’t have a chance to visit Blue Gardenia, a relatively new bakery on Mississippi that generally has tasty homestyle treats at the farmer’s market. I didn’t check to see what could be ordered from Portland Farmer’s Market regular Monica’s. I haven’t been to some of the newest spots in Portland, such as Saint Cupcake. I didn’t even go by my favorite spot in Portland for breads, Pearl Bakery.
But these nine — Baker & Spice, Criollo, Di Prima Dolci, Grand Central, Ken’s Artisan Bakery, Papa Haydn, Pix, La Provence, and St. Honore — provide a good range of options whether you need to order something for your Christmas dinner, New Year’s eve party, or just want to satisfy your seasonal sweet tooth.
Some readers are under the impression that I eat out for every meal. Not true. Not true at all. In fact, I cook more meals than I eat out. I cook two meals nearly every day for my wife. I make most of her lunches, which we freeze and she takes to work, plus I make most of her dinners. I also usually make one meal a day for myself (rarely the same as what I make for my wife).
However, I rarely write about the food I make. I would occasionally do a write-up on eGullet when I was active there. I even taught a cooking class through them. I am considering a cooking blog in the future, but for now I thought I’d go ahead and write up this one meal since I went through the trouble of taking pictures. I’ll return to dining reports soon. I promise.
A little background: over the past several years I’ve tried to make a special holiday meal. I’ve made a Mexican themed Christmas dinner for my dad’s family, including dishes like chiles en nogada stuffed with smoked turkey and dried cranberry picadillo. I made a huge tasting menu for my wife’s family that included oddities like parmesan ice cream.
This year, I wanted to take classic holiday dishes and put a spin on them either in form or flavor. The dinner took four hours with two days of prep for eight courses serving nine people. I didn’t sleep but one hour the night before and yet got much less done than hoped.
Few of the courses came out as I planned, and fewer courses came out than planned. But it was good experience for me and pushed my cooking skills.
You can find the full-sized images here.
Magic with corn husks
I was ecstatic after last year’s Cinco de Mayo celebration. The food, the entertainment, the arts — all were wonderful and sent me back to my travels in Mexico and Guadalajara.
But this year’s fiesta has left me less than festive. As a food-lover, I first noticed the disappointing trend of pad-this and teriyaki-that replacing foods found south of the border (and in this hemisphere).
I also noticed the declining quality and quantity of Mexican artisans. There seemed to be as many or more South American goods as Mexican goods. But worse was the huge increase in typical county fair style peddlers. Thank you, but I can get my cheap sunglasses at Wal-Mart. If I want a clown-sized button with my photo on it, I’m sure any mall will do. And I have plenty of junk mail where I can get another credit card. I saw a vendor from last year who was browsing and asked them why they weren’t selling. The answer: prices for their spot doubled.
But it’s more the trend that I’m concerned about rather than the overall quality. There’s still the folklorico, which in itself is worth the six dollar admission. And there are still several quailty Mexican artisans and food stalls.
Following are some of the highlights.
The Box of Five: Pix’s gorgeous petite chocolates
Oregon is a pioneer state. Oregon is a hippy state. Today’s pioneers are the entrepreneurs who, tired of their 9 to 5 jobs or wanting to make a little money on the side while they stay at home with their kids, start a business based on their passion. Today’s hippies are the artisans who, often disregarding the economic, engage their passion and hopefully business finds them. Oregon’s — and Portland’s — unique character depend on both.
In the first part of this chocolate tasting, we covered the national chains and foreign chocolatiers. Now, we’ll cover the locals, the entrepreneurs and artisans who give Portland flavor.
One of Verdun’s several elegant displays
For a food-lover with a sweet-tooth, Valentine’s Day might as well be re-named Chocolate Day. In Portland, there’s certainly no shortage of cacao-confection consumption opportunities. We have both several local chocolatiers and chain chocolatiers. Even one local chain chcolatier. But which is best? Who deserves to be given to me this upcoming excuse-for-gluttony of a holiday?
Only one way to find out: head-to-head chocolate tasting. Given my current diet, some might consider this undertaking an extreme sort of foodie masochism. But with spit-bag in hand, my wife and I set out to try every major chocolatier in Portland. In this first part, we’ll cover the chains. In the second part, next week, we’ll cover the locals.
When my wife and I woke up to a late fall Sunday in Oregon that for once lived up to its name, we decided it’d be a great time to visit Sauvie Island. The island has been a bountiful source for food since the Multnomah Indians populated it prior to the 19th century. Today, there are several farms on the island, some of which offer u-pick, have stands, or even supply local restaurants. Leading up to Halloween, a few of the farms have pumpkin patches and activities built around them. We decided to go to the two biggest, The Pumpkin Patch and Kruger’s.