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Originally published February 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 27, 2008 at 11:05 AM

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The sweetest chocolate spots

Whisper sweet nothings to your valentine: "Theobromine, darling. " "PEA, my pet. " These are two components in chocolate — theobromine...

Special to The Seattle Times

Chocolate tidbits

The tree that produces cacao beans grows in a very narrow range: 20 degrees north and south of the equator and only in shade.

West Africa produces more than half the world's chocolate.

Per capita, Americans eat about 12 pounds of chocolate a year.

Store chocolate in a cool, dark place but not in the refrigerator.

What's in chocolate? See www.theonistasunite.com and click on "from the Top Secret Chocolate Laboratory."

If you go

Chocolate here and there

Chocolate Box. One-stop shopping for all things chocolate. Coming next month, the store hosts tours of area chocolatiers. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 108 Pine St., Seattle; 206-443-3900 or toll free 888-861-6188; www.sschocolatebox.com.

Chocolati Cafe, Green Lake. 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday. 7810 E. Greenlake Drive N., Seattle. 206-527-5467 or www.chocolati.com. There are also cafes/shops in Wallingford, downtown (Seattle Central Library) and Greenwood, plus a factory outlet. General information: 206-784-5212.

Theo Chocolate. Valentine's Day party tonight at Theo's in Fremont, 8 p.m.: "Belle Debauche," for adults 21 and older; featuring oysters, chocolate, live music, dancing, plus aerial and acrobatic performances. Tickets: $65 in advance at www.brownpaperticket.com or $75 at the door. Regular hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Public tours 1 and 3 p.m. weekdays; 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m. Saturday, Sunday. $5, ages 5 and older. Reservations required. 3400 Phinney Ave. N., Seattle. 206-632-5100 or www.theochocolate.com

Boehms Candies. Producing European-style chocolates in its trademark Alpine chalet since 1956. Store hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday- Saturday; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. Tours June through September. 255 N.E. Gilman Blvd., Issaquah. 425-392-6652 or www.boehmscandies.com.

Dilettante (Capitol Hill). One of Seattle's original designer chocolate shops. 10 a.m.-midnight Sunday-Thursday; 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 416 Broadway East, Seattle. 206-329-6463 or www.dilettante.com. Cafes/shops also in Bellevue, Kent, SeaTac, Rainier Square and Westlake Mall.

Cafe Flora. Available through today while supplies last: vegan chocolate truffles, four to a box, $7: mint julep, orange cappuccino, ghost chili (chocolate with the heat of a chili called "ghost"), nibby gianduja (sweet chocolate with hazelnut). Hours: dinner, 5-9 p.m. daily; lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 2:30-5 p.m. Monday-Friday; brunch, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. 2901 E. Madison St., Seattle. 206-325-9100 or www.cafeflora.com.

Valentine promotions

Wily marketers pull out all the stops for Valentine promotions, as evidenced by a recent celebration in Seaside, Ore. Called "Chocolate 'n Chowder," it included chocolate martinis and sundaes along with seafood. Hmmm.

A more conventional pairing is found in the numerous "Red Wine and Chocolate" events around the Northwest:

Yakima Valley: "Red Wine & Chocolate," Saturday and Sunday. More than 50 wineries pair chocolate desserts with their own red wines. Tickets: $25 at the door or $20 purchased online. 509-965-5201 or www.wineyakimavalley.org.

Maryhill Winery: "Red Wine & Chocolate," Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wine tasting, chocolate samples and live music. 9774 Highway 14, Goldendale, Klickitat County. 877-627-9445 or www.maryhillwinery.com.

Olympic Cellars Winery: "Cashmere, Cabernet & Chocolate," part of the Olympic Peninsula Wineries annual Red Wine & Chocolate Tour (see below). Saturday through Monday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; live jazz from 1-3 p.m. Visitors purchasing a specially priced wine selection receive a red cashmere scarf in honor of American Heart Month. 255410 Highway 101, Port Angeles. 360-452-0160 or www.olympiccellars.com.

Olympic Peninsula: "Red Wine & Chocolate" Tour: North Olympic wine country in the Port Townsend, Sequim, Port Angeles area. Saturday through Monday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tickets: $15 or pay tasting fees at individual wineries. 800-785-5495 or www.olympicpeninsulawineries.org.

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Whisper sweet nothings to your valentine: "Theobromine, darling." "PEA, my pet."

These are two components in chocolate — theobromine, which affects mood, and PEA (phenethylamine), acting perhaps as an aphrodisiac. Not everyone agrees. Some cupid-grounding scientists think levels of these chemicals found in a few pieces of chocolate are not potent enough to flutter hearts. But Wikipedia quotes a study that says "melting chocolate in one's mouth produced an increase in brain activity and heart rate that was more intense than that associated with passionate kissing, and also lasted four times as long after the activity had ended."

Four times! Gentlemen, are you thinking what I'm thinking?

That chocolate goes with love — or its approximation until the real thing comes along — is hardly a secret. The Mayan and Aztec cultures linked chocolate with fertility, as well as value, using the beans as currency.

And in the 21st century it gets even better. Turns out dark chocolate is good for us. Eaten in moderation, it can be heart-healthy.

That's a nice justification, but really, who eats chocolate only for health? That would put it on equal footing with, say, okra. On a gut level, literally, we know that chocolate tastes great and feels good, and that's all there is to it. To quote connoisseur Charlie Bucket in the movie "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory": "Candy doesn't have to have a point. That's why it's candy."

With this understanding, off I went on a wonderfully pointless search for some of the best chocolate in my town. (I trust you will do research in yours.) Some of my top finds:

Chocolate Box

Across the street from Seattle's Pike Place Market, the Chocolate Box offered an excellent selection from varied chocolatiers including the local companies Fiori, Theo Chocolate, Oh! Chocolate and Chocolat Vitale.

Whatever your level of sophistication, you'll see something to please. There are boxes of chocolate Altoids and gag chocolate bars with amusing wrappers: "Bochox," "Emergency Chocolate," "Chocolate is the New Black."

Find also luxurious sipping chocolate, chocolate teas and an awesome variety of truffles. This was the first time I had ever eaten edible gold, exquisitely placed atop a dark Fiori truffle. For two bucks. Worth every penny.

Store assistant Mike Klein offered this tip for savoring: Inhale, and on the exhale, focus on taste. It really works — the breath passing over the palate pops flavors.

Chocolati

Since 2000, Chocolati has been serving handmade chocolates to a grateful public, so I visited one of their shops, at Green Lake. Julia Salamonik, behind the counter, helped me decide between several shelves of truffles in the deli case. I gave up and told her to pick one for me, and that was the cinnamon almond truffle — a perfect little button ($1.35) that did not overwhelm with sweetness. Among Valentine's Day favorites are their chocolate "fortune cookies" that can be ordered with a personal message inside.

Theo Chocolate

This may be bigger than Obama: Oprah chose Seattle's Theo Chocolate for her "Best List" in this month's O magazine.

Even if you're Oprah-averse, try the Theo factory tour for a thorough education on the business and production of chocolate. With plenty of sampling opportunities, there are surprises, like a bar of Venezuelan chocolate that's 91 percent cacao. One kid on a tour observed: "It tastes like dirt. But in a good way."

Known for using organic ingredients, Theo's is also a fair-trade certified company — no small thing in an industry tainted by child labor and poor pay for farmers. As my tour guide, Rachel, said, "Theo's is karmically good chocolate."

So, today, of all days, give and receive that which needs no point to have a point — chocolate.

Freelance writer Connie McDougall of Seattle is a regular contributor to Northwest Weekend. Contact her: conniemcdougall@yahoo.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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