Friday, April 17, 2009

A BERKELEY DAY: LUNCH AT ECCOLO; CHOCOLATE AT CHARLES CHOCOLATES

On our day in Berkeley, MA joined us. We started at the Fourth Street shopping/restaurant area with lunch at Eccolo. You might recall that my Valentine's Day dinner at Eccolo was less than satisfactory, but, this time, the restaurant was its "normal" excellent self with great service and plenty of room in all dining rooms between tables. Note to Self: REMEMBER holidays and special occasion days like Valentine's and Mother's are the worst times to go to restaurants.



At my suggestion, we started our lunch with a shared order of the Roman-style fried Artichokes, which are served with aioli for dipping. The Artichokes are amazing...way better than Fries, but I must say that when the table next to us started with not only the Artichokes, but also the Tuscan Fries, we really wanted to try them too.



MA could not pass up the Lobster Roll, which she throughly enjoyed and recommends.



Amy and I could not decide between the Sicilian Tuna Sandwich and the Cuban Sandwich, so each ordered one and shared them. Made on Acme bread, they were both excellent. The Tuna was Italian tuna mixed with capers, olives, roasted peppers, and aioli. The Cubano was the typical combination of sliced pork, ham, cheese, and dill pickles, served as a warm sandwich.

We passed on dessert, knowing that there was chocolate ahead in our day.

After lunch we spent some time browsing in the many Fourth Street shops. We spent a lot of time in Sur La Table and couldn't resist buying a few kitchen/home items. We also dashed into Bryn Walker to look at clothes and purses, and made a quick run through the Crate & Barrel Outlet Store. We would have spent the rest of the afternoon there, but we had to get to Charles Chocolate for a 2:30 p.m. tour.

So, off we went to Emeryville for a tour and tasting at Charles Chocolates.




With the closing of some of my favorite local chocolate makers, Joseph Schmidt and Scharffenberger, I've been searching for another outstanding local candy maker. I had tried some of Charles Chocolates confection around Christmas time and was impressed with his use of fresh fruits in his fillings. The fillings all have intense natural flavors.

It is only recently that I heard about tours at his factory. The tours are conducted every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. There is no charge for the tour itself, but, if you wish to follow the tour with a formal tasting of 5 different chocolates, that costs $10. A more extravagant Deluxe Tour is offered for $75 per person and includes the tour and tasting plus a gift set of Charles Chocolates' most poular products; it is said to be valued at over $100.

We signed up for the $10 Tour and Tasting.





Much to our delight, owner Chuck (Charles) Siegel, was our tour guide.

The tour and tasting take place in the factory's Chocolate Bar, where at other times, visitors can sit and enjoy a cup of coffee or hot chocolate and, of course, a piece or two of chocolate.

The Chocolate Bar overlooks the kitchen where just about all the processing of the confections is done. We learned the difference between molded and enrobed chocolates. And, everyone got to sample a few pieces, even those who were not signed up for the tasting. Chuck guided us as to what and how we were supposed to taste. We were particularly intrigued by the Fleur de Sel chocolate covered Caramels. Also of interest is that Charles Chocolates does not make its own chocolate but rather buys premium chocolate from some of the best chocolate makers in the world. Chuck describes his product as Confections, most of which are covered with chocolate. It is his fillings...caramel. ganache, marzipan, and more...that make his confections unique. The tour is very informal and Chuck encouraged us to ask questions.






At the end of the "formal" part of the tour, those of us who had signed up for the tasting, tasted 5 handmade confections. Chuck guided us through this tasting and provided us with more insights into Charles Chocolates.



Even after 7 pieces of chocolate, we still could not resist purchasing a few pieces of candy to carry home with us. The complete selection of Charles Chocolate confections is sold in their small retail store here at the factory.