"These are all chocolates?" my daughter asks as she pushes open the door to Cacao, the chocolate boutique that opened in September. "It's so beautiful."
Indeed, walking into the West Burnside shop feels like stepping into a page of the Design Within Reach catalog, every surface clean-lined, gleaming and laden with small, gorgeous objects. Except these are objects you can eat—and afford.
"Hi, hi, hi," says Aubrey Lindley, owner (with partner Jesse Mannis) of Cacao, whose enthusiasm about chocolate is infectious. He's also knowledgeable and erudite, and eager to play tour guide.
"Oh, that's a great one," he says when I pick up a Brut de SÃo TomÉ, a rough bar nearly the size of my forearm. Lindley goes on to explain the cocoa beans are grown and harvested on a tiny island off the coast of equatorial Africa using techniques mostly lost to history, and that the beans are barely crushed, yielding a bar that lives up to its "crude" appellation.
"It's the only bar Pralus distributes that's not their own," he says, indicating a dozen bars by the French chocolatier, each wrapped in different-colored paper and designated by country of origin and percentage of cocoa. When I query Lindley as to his favorites, he reacts like a parent being asked which of his children he prefers. He goes down the line, touches several, then several more, and finally smiles and admits he loves them all.
I carry an 80 percent Fortissima from Trinidad and a 75 percent from Tanzania (yes, those are both chocolate bars), plus the Brut, to a display case holding mendiants and truffles and several kinds of caramels, one sprinkled with gray salt, the other smoked salt. My daughter and I get one of each and take them and two drinking chocolates—melted 72 percent Felchlin Arriba chocolate mixed with cream and milk—to a perfect little cafe table. We slowly chew the caramels, the crackle of salt giving way to the burnt-butter sweetness. We sip the drinking chocolate, thick as paint, stupefying as a narcotic, and incredibly good. We look at the robin's-egg-blue vase holding three chocolate narcissi on our table.
"This is so nice," my daughter says. "I don't want to leave."
So we don't. We smell cocoa perfume from Atelier. We eat some truffles. We read chocolate cookbooks. We add bars of Valrhona, Chuao and a Michel Cluizel Noir Infini 99 percent to our stash, chocolates that, later, will yield flavors as varied as raisin, pepper, ash, honey, coffee and mineral.
"Thanks for coming in," Lindley says, waving as though he can't wait to see us again.
He needn't worry.
Cacao, 414 SW 13th Ave., 241-0656. 11-7:30 pm Tuesday-Saturday, noon-5 pm Sunday. Closed Monday. $ Inexpensive.