Sunday, December 13, 2009

Molly D.'s Kitchen in Seattle: Local Chocolatiers

Like many Seattleites I try to buy local and organic, and if you’re visiting you can find amazing apples from Central Washington, blackberries that grow like weeds, and shellfish pulled from local waters.

Okay, I guess you can’t possibly buy locally-grown chocolate, but you can do the next best thing and support our economy. Seattle alone has a wealth of chocolate manufacturers, each of which has found a niche in a pretty crowded market:

Oh! Chocolate has three locations (plus one in Georgia?!) and makes crazy good truffles, creams, caramels, and assorted dipped and seasonal treats like sugar plums and peppermint-white-chocolate-coated shortbread bites. I’ve been to two of the locations and the people working there were chatty and sweet, and they always give you a free truffle or caramel to try along with your order.

Theo Chocolate is quintessentially Seattle: organic, fair-trade, with many vegan offerings and its factory and showroom in funky Fremont. You can walk in and try pieces of almost all of its bars, or call ahead and reserve a spot on the factory tour, which I have yet to take but have heard is great. Many of the single-source Origin bars, simply-flavored Classic Combination bars, and funky 3400 Phinney bars are now available nationally, so you might be able to pick up Bread and Chocolate or Dark Chocolate with Orange where you are. Fig, Fennel, and Almond has its fans though I’ve never warmed to it, but for me a little of the Coconut Curry goes a long way, and the Vanilla Milk Chocolate bar is smooth and creamy. In-store and online you can get all sorts of confections like scotch caramels, walnut flaxseed crunch truffles, and Big Daddies in peanut butter or marshmallow. Theo is one of my top 10 Seattle food finds.

Seuss Chocolates & Pastries is the new kid on the block, making truffles and German pastries in an open kitchen in a cute area of Madison park. It’s clearly a labor of love for partners Dennis and David, who even donated their proceeds from heart-shaped Equality chocolates toward supporting Washington’s (now-successful) domestic partnership bill. I’ve bought chocolates for them as gifts but haven’t tried them yet myself, but I liked their focus on classic European chocolates and appreciated seeing slices of German stollen in their pastry case, so I hope they stick around.

Fran’s Chocolates has three locations, none of which I’ve visited myself, but I’ve seen her bars and salted caramels in grocery stores all around the area and have tried her dense, stubby nut-and-caramel filled Gold Bars in almond and macadamia. She seems to get good national press as a successful high-end chocolatier, and I think I’ll make a greater effort to try her wares.

Dilettante wants to satisfy all of your chocolate needs. Not only can you buy or order chocolates and bars, you can also get a whole range of hot chocolates and coffee drinks at its five mocha cafes, and the Mocha Martini Bar on Broadway has all of the above plus cakes, pastries, sundaes, chocolate martinis, and even a few savory items to soak up the sugar and alcohol. The chocolates are good, but Dilettante is really about the experience. I went to the martini bar for the first time recently, and I can vouch for its simple Mexicano cocoa as a warming, not-too-sweet cup of comfort on a frosty night.

Seattle Chocolate seems awfully corporate: available in all the grocery stores and the airport souvenir shops, no individual locations, readily-packaged items without adventurous flavors. I will, however, admit that I’ve enjoyed my share of its Truffle Bars, which have a texture like Lindt’s Lindor Truffles in bar form. You know they’re bad for you, and the flavors are a bit cloying, but they’re also addictive and you’ll keep eating pieces of Coconut Macaroon or Extreme Dark until the bar is gone.
Chocolati makes tasty chocolates, but my interaction with the company has primarily been through a couple of its four Chocolati Cafés. They’re a bit homier than Dilettante’s, more like independent coffee shops than Starbucks, and they make thick hot chocolates and mocha drinks that are a nice alternative to Seattle’s ubiquitous coffees.

A small shop I have yet to visit is Boehms, east of Seattle in Issaquah. The website touts a goofy-sounding Edelweiss Chalet, Alpine Chapel, and fountains and some old-school items like pecan roll and chocolate-covered licorice. I’m intrigued enough to stop by the next time I’m out that way.

If all this isn’t enough for you, take the Tour de Chocolat. It starts at Chocolate Box, a chocolate shop near Pike Place Market that serves confections along with selling a variety of upscale American and imported bars, then continues on to a tour of Theo, and one each of the Oh! Chocolate and Fran’s Chocolate shops. I haven’t been myself and am not sure how well it’s worth the $69 cost, but you do get to take home some treats and if you’re in Seattle without stamina for a self-directed tour, perhaps a guided one is the way to go.

So…how is this about cooking? Only tangentially, I suppose, but my love for food and my love for cooking are inextricably intertwined. If yours are too, come to Seattle for the food, chocolate included!

Chocolate on Foodista

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