So, you’ve been taking a break from sweets after the indulgence of the holiday season.
But aren’t you about done with your Whole 30, your liver detox, your Master Cleanse? Isn’t it about time you had some chocolate?
Because Valentine’s Day, and besides, chocolate.
And if you’re not eating chocolate on Valentine’s Day, you’re not showing yourself enough love.
I’ll do my detox, okay, never. (Although some day I will post about my excellent Whole 30 experience — I’m still on that ride, except for the chocolate. And cocktails, and occasional cheese binge.)
Forget dinner out on Valentine’s Day — just take your sweetheart to one of these independent West Coast chocolate shoppes whose locations are (almost) as sweet as their offerings.
Carpenteria, on the south-end of California’s Central Coast, is just a beach breeze away from schwanky Santa Barbara, yet has two of the best chocolate experiences you can have by the salty SoCal Seaside.
This was a box of Robitaille’s Peppermint Bark, a Christmas gift from my family who lives near Carp (so I have easy access to all the chocolate-covered Oreos, homemade Cappuccino Fudge, and Presidential Mints I can eat. But let’s not test that limit.)
A true neighborhood candy shop, Robitaille’s specialty is their huge selection of candy (over 800 varieties), which includes homemade chocolates, fudge, and their famous “Presidential Mints.” Family-owned and operated for over 40 years, Robitaille’s is a sweet feast for the eyes, mouth and sugar-loving soul.
With the largest selection of candy in Santa Barbara County (including a wide selection of sugar-free), you might have a hard time narrowing down what to take home — or nibble while you’re strolling Carpenteria’s quaint downtown.
All of Robitaille’s handmade chocolates are irresistible (turtles, nut clusters, barks, chocolate-covered s’mores!?!), or you could just go for the fudge: Chocolate for the purist, Cappuccino for the sophisticate, Mint Chocolate for the daring, and Rocky Road for my mother. Just know you will be thinking about it whenever you’re not eating it. Plan accordingly.
But you owe it to yourself (or your sweetheart) to try a box or three of their “Presidential Mints.”
Discovered by Ronald Reagan due to his Secret Service staff’s proximity to Robitaille’s first factory while lodging in Santa Barbara, Reagan requested they be the “Official Mint of the 50th Presidential Inauguration.”
Whatever your opinion of our 40h President, the man knew his candy. Creamy white chocolate kissed with the perfect touch of mint, the mints come in a decorator’s array of colors and are hand-made in Robitaille’s on-site kitchen.
I imagine somebody just may gift me with a heart-shaped box this Valentine’s Day — but this pretty pink and red box of mints was my present to myself.
ROBITAILLE’S FINE CANDIES
900 Linden Ave., Carpenteria, Ca., 93013
HOURS: Mon. – Sat. 10:00am – 5:30pm, Sun. 10:00am – 3:00pm
Order online at http://robitaillescandies.com
If I told you you could find a little bit of the Left Bank in a warehouse district in Carpenteria, you might not believe me, until:
There IS a lovely downtown Santa Barbara location — but let’s not get distracted about ambience.
This is all about the chocolate. How about a French Kiss?
Chocolate du Calibresson’s French Bisou is dark and milk chocolate ganache kissed with tangerine liqueur and covered with white chocolate, and is
almost as delicious as the real thing.
Master Chocolatier Jean-Michel Carre crafts the most gorgeous bonbons, exquisite truffles and sumptuous caramels with the finest ingredients and a Frenchman’s passion and creativity.
There is an almost overwhelming selection available, from a Geranium Fleur-de-lis, to a “Cajeta” milk caramel turtle, to the Calibressan — dark chocolate ganache with local Ventura Limoncello liqueur. (photos: Chocolats du Calibressan)
Some of the finely molded creations take days to make.
You might as well just splurge and get yourself — I mean your sweetheart — the “Grand Amour” 30 piece gift box for Valentine’s Day, which includes their French Bisous, as well as dark chocolate Spicy Rose Hearts and the dark chocolate/key lime ganache Blue Diamond.
My sweetheart (SPOILER ALERT, HONEY) is getting a sweet selection that includes a Bisou, Sichuan Pepper Orange Truffle, a little Peanut Butter Fish, and my favorite, the Buddha Beauty, salted soft caramel in dark chocolate.
Jean-Michel Carre is simply one of the most talented chocolatiers you could hope to cross paths with — and once a month, you actually CAN.
Every second Saturday at 3:30, you can tour the Calibressan chocolate factory. Sip champagne, nibble chocolate samples, witness an artist at work. Grand Amour indeed.
CHOCOLATS DU CALIBRESSAN
4193 Carpinteria Ave, Carpinteria, Ca., 93013
HOURS: Mon. – Fri. 10:00am – 6:30pm; Sat. 10:00am – 5:30pm
Order Online at http://www.chococalibressan.com
The Seattle area is blessed with some of the best chocolate to be had, with creative chocolatiers taking advantage prime PNW ingredients to please sophisticated Seattle palates. Two of my favorites chocolate-makers can be found just outside the Emerald City Limits, with talented chefs creating their unique expressions of chocolate amour.
VAVAKO CHOCOLATES, Bellevue
Vavako is passionate about the culture of cacao, and are involved from bean to bar to bon bon.
Sourcing and selecting organic, responsibly farmed cacao, Vavako crafts their chocolate into unique bars, truffles and caramels that you can feel good about eating.
I first sampled Vavako’s wares at Seattle’s Northwest Chocolate Festival, where their pared-down-perfect selection stood out among hundreds of quality chocolates.
I scored a trio of the bon bon bars, which which are like bon bons except BIGGER — in flavors like “Carya” — a buttery caramel with pecans, and Florentine, a honey-orange caramel with almonds, ginger, cherries and cacao nibs. They have something most caramels don’t have, and which I love — crunchies!
For Valentine’s Day, visit Vavako’s sweet shop on Bellevue’s quaint, historic Main Street.
There, you can sample Vavako’s inclusion bars in unique and exotic flavors. (all photos Vavako)
Afzal melds the Middle Eastern flavors of coffee and cardamom; Goiabada goes tropical with guava and anise, and the exotic Inca incorporates an Andean legume, pearl lupine and the crunch of Andean pink salt.
Chocolatier Nicolas Espinosa’s mission is to create a “world of flavors,” which you can find right in downtown Bellevue.
VAVAKO CHOCOLATE BOUTIQUE
10149 Main St., Bellevue, Wa., 98004
HOURS: Mon – Fri. 10:00am – 7:00 pm, Sat: 11:00am – 7:00pm
Order online at http://vavako.com
EVOLVE TRUFFLES, Bellingham
“All You Need is Love…and Truffles!” is the motto of Shannon and Christy Fox’s Evolve Truffles. With a truly “evolved” selection of elegant — but not TOO fancy — truffles, Evolve fully embraces locally-sourced ingredients: Bellingham Bay Coffee Roasters’ coffee, PNW cherries and Holmquist hazelnuts.
Smoked Sea Salt Cajeta Truffles, Beer Caramels, Boozy Brownies — THIS is Evolved.
Evolve does not have a set retail location (yet — they’re working on it!), but they often host pop-up shops for holidays and special occasions.
For Valentine’s Day, visit the Evolve Chocolate Lounge in downtown Bellingham, which features tastings, live music, local art, sipping chocolate with handmade marshmallows, and…those truffles….
For Valentine’s Day, your sweetheart might want flowers, but Floral Truffles will melt her heart. Infused with flavors like lavender and lemon, Violette Passion, and Antique Rose, and decorated with edible flowers, this selection of white, milk and dark truffles.
The beer-lover in your life will gush over Evolve’s “six-pack” of Beer Infused Truffles. If you thought chocolate and red wine were a pair, wait until you sample a Dark-chocolate-date truffle with Baltic Porter, or a Russian Porter melding with fig, balsamic, and 85% dark chocolate.
Wife and wife team Shannon and Christy are each others inspirations — and their love is grandly expressed in their truffles.
Valentine’s Pop-Up Shop/Chocolate Lounge
1313 N. State St., Bellingham, Wa.
Order online at: http://www.evolvetruffles.com
There are some sweet rural and beach towns in Oregon that are worth a trip in their own right. Central Point is the nexus of the Rogue River Valley recreational opportunities and the heart of Oregon Farmland. Bandon is a historic beach town with world-class golf. These chocolatiers make them both worth a trip.
LILLIE BELLE FARMS, Central Point
Organic farmer and rock & roll fanatic Jeff Shepherd turned his passion towards chocolate over a decade ago. Now, Lillie Belle Farms, out of the rustic, rural farming community of Central Point, Or., is one of the (deservedly) most-honored artisan chocolate brands in the Pacific Northwest.
Shepherd uses only organic chocolate and the best and freshest local ingredients like dairy, nuts and produce, including preserves made with organic berries from his own farm.
Lillie Belle Farms factory store also houses Shepherd’s production kitchen, its walls embellished with classic rock album covers. The music from the kitchen might be Grateful Dead, but the chocolates are exquisitely crafted bon bons, bars and truffles with perfectly balanced and unfussy flavor combinations.
You could try their signature Lavender Sea Salt Caramels, or the Smokey Bleu Truffle, featuring neighboring Rogue Creamery’s bleu cheese, dark chocolate and buttery ganache (they also sell the truffle butter by the tub!). Their Strawberry and Marionberry Cordials are juicy and flavorful and bursting with fruit. (photos: Lillie Belle Chocolates)
Lillie Belle also features bean-to-bar, single-origin chocolate bars, and candy bars like Oregon’s Flying Pig Bar (Maple caramelized bacon, milk chocolate and smoked salt) and the ominous Do Not Eat This Chocolate — Dark and milk chocolate “screwed up” with ghost chilies, Aji Amarillo chilies and Chili Arbol.
But if you really want to win Valentine’s Day, get decadent with a box of Ramblin’ Rose brownies (70% Madagascar cocoa, topped with pecans and salted caramel) or Chocolate-covered Bacon (Chipotle-brown-sugar-bacon, dipped in milk chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt).
My favorite? The crunchy-spicy-cocoa-covered Red Velvet Almonds — caramelized almonds dunked in Ancho chili-laced dark chocolate. So addictive you might have to hide them from — or for — yourself.
LILLIE BELLE FARMS
211 N. Front St., Central Point, Or., 97502
HOURS: Mon.-Fri. 9:00am – 5:00pm, Sat. 11:00am – 5:00pm, Sun. 11:00 am – 5:00pm
Order online at: http://www.lilliebellefarms.com
COASTAL MIST CHOCOLATE BOUTIQUE, Bandon
Nine years ago, master Chocolatier Kevin Shaw and his wife Tara, decided to build their dream home in the lovely coastal town of Bandon.
Bandon Dunes is a world-class golf destination, and now, Coastal Mist is a world-class Chocolate destination.
Located in the heart of Old Town Bandon, Coastal Mist is more than a showcase for Shaw’s exquisite chocolates and pastry confections, it’s a neighborhood gathering spot.
You know you’re in good hands when you see the picture of Willy Wonka on the wall.
Like his inspiration, Shaw crafts gorgeously wrought bon bons and truffles, but in flavors like Chipotle Almond Caramel, Amaretto Apricot, and Raspberry Chocolate, filled with house made raspberry jam.
If you can draw yourself away from the cases of chocolates, cakes and pastries, sit in a cozy corner booth and indulge in a cup of hot drinking caramel — Shaw’s spin on drinking chocolate with a buttery, salty twist.
Coastal Mist is so well-loved that its fans will drive the 50 miles from the I-5 corridor to stock up on favorites like Cranberry Cordials (made with locally-famous Bandon cranberries), Alder Smoked Sea Salt Caramels with Brazil Nuts, and the “Whiskey Yer The Devil” truffles — dark chocolate with pecans and a healthy dose of Maker’s Mark.
My favorites? (You have been keeping track, haven’t you?) The Salted Caramel Pecan Bar — thick, rich salted caramel layered with rich chocolate ganache, drenched with chocolate and topped with a pecan, and the Noir de Noir — an intensely chocolatey cocoa-dusted dark Belgian truffle that showcases Shaw’s Belgian training — a masterful mouthful.
COASTAL MIST CHOCOLATE BOUTIQUE
210 2nd Street SE, Bandon, Or.
HOURS: Summer – Mon. – Thurs., 11:00am -6:00pm; Fri. – Sat. 10:00am – 7:00pm, Sun. 10:00am – 5:00pm
Winter – Mon. – Thurs. 11am – 5:30pm, Fri. – Sat. 10:00am – 6:00pm, Sun. – 10:00am – 5:00pm
Order online: http://coastalmist.com/our-retail-store/
Well, these are mine. Espresso, vanilla and sea salt caramels, Marionberry Pepper Jelly with Chocolate Chèvre ganache, a Rose’s Crannie Butter truffle, and spiced tumbled almonds.
I spent four months learning how to produce this tiny little collection — and boy, did I gain a new respect for chocolatiers. I am inspired by them all. And just maybe, next Valentine’s Day, I’ll give some to MY amour.
Love and chocolate….