I just had a chocolate afternoon. Specifically, a Chocolate Afternoon Tea at The Heathman Hotel
, hosted by Michael Recchiuti
, renowned chocolatier from San Francisco, whose gorgeous shop in that city's Ferry Building is worth a visit for anyone who even likes chocolate just a little bit. This guy is the real deal—according to his bio, he is “a self-made chocolatier, and has been conjuring sweets all his life…baking Italian wedding cakes alongside his grandmother as a boy, then training with Alain Tricou (Maxim's) for three years in sugar and chocolate."
I've long been meaning to attend one of the Heathman's legendary afternoon teas, which take place every Saturday and Sunday afternoon, and on a daily basis between Thanksgiving and Christmas. So when I heard that the Heathman's Philippe Boulot and Recchiuti were teaming up for a special “Chocolate Afternoon and Dinner,” I couldn't pass it up.
And I am so glad I didn't. Taking “Tea at the Heathman” is a grand splurge, a true act of self-love—and in their words: “a long standing and cherished tradition in Portland, especially during the holiday season when the tea court is decked in yuletide splendor. Afternoon Tea in our historic mezzanine will elegantly transport you to another place in time.”
I can't argue with that. I was indeed transported.
My sister graciously agreed to accompany me in my teatime travel, and as we entered the grand lobby of the hotel, there were three separate tables set up offering MOUNTAINS of chocolate samples: E. Guittard provided tastes of varying percentages (see photo) ranging from 61% - 72%. Valrhona was also in the house, with their own nuggets of Madagascar and Manjari joy. I was happily surprised to see Jesse of Cacao, half of my favorite team of Portland Chocolate Ambassadors, manning a table heaped with countless samples of Pralus, among many others. I shamelessly pocketed WAY more than my share of samples. Seriously, I have about 14 small bars of Guittard and Valrhona in my purse right now. Awesome.
The main event, was of course, the assorted chocolates and savories prepared by Recchiuti, who teamed up with Boulot to create “a chocolate tea menu” inspired by his award winning cookbook, Chocolate Obsession
. The menu included the following:
Deviled Egg (I know… keep reading)
Crostini with a shmear of really nice goat or sheep's milk cheese
Cucumber Salad Sandwich (okay, cucumber sandwiches are, like, required by law at afternoon teas)
Cocoa nib nougatine shells filled with duck liver chocolate mousse.
Chocolate truffle shortbread cookies
Mini gingerbread cupcakes with white chocolate lemon topping.
Chocolate dipped sesame tuilles
Rosemary hazelnut biscotti (Recchiuti's grandmother's recipe from Italy)
Tahitian vanilla bean marshmallows with cocoa nibs
Dark chocolate mixed from different regions
Milk chocolate with burnt caramel drink
Milk chocolate chai
Sweet basil chocolate martini with Valhrona Manjari.
I've really been digging the sweet/savory fusions lately (have you gotten a load of Xocolatl de David's bacon chocolate truffles and caramels, by the by?), so the standouts for me were the sesame tuilles and rosemary biscotti, the latter which achieved the perfect consistency so rarely achieved by biscotti: not too hard and dry, but unctuous and toothsome with just a hint of give. The sesame tuilles were like if someone took one of those hippy Joya sesame candies, flattened out real thin and crisp-like, and then dipped the whole affair in the dark, excellent chocolate.
Oh yeah, and the marshmallows… better than any homemade marshmallow I've tasted. It was much wetter and stickier than uncooked marshmallows usually are. It was like when you play “taffy-pull” with marshmallows, squishing them between your fingers to transform them from dry and puffy to sweet and delicious. Man, marshmallows can be really right-on when done well. These were done very well.
Both Recchiuti and Boulot wove their way through the tea room, chatting with guests and answering questions. Not that a chocolate maker would be uptight and business-like, but he struck me as especially laid-back and casual. He explained to me, a lifelong white chocolate hater, that white chocolate does have a certain raison d'être. It's too complicated to get into, but basically boils down to the fact that most white chocolate has been “deodorized,” further nullifiying any of its chocolate flavor. I tasted a Guittard non-deodorized white chocolate, and still think it tastes like canned Betty Crocker frosting. Not a fan.
Recchiuit and Boulot, as I write this, are getting ready to serve the Chocolate Dinner, also inspired by recipes from Chocolate Obsession
, featuring items such as Tuna au Poivre with cocoa nib crust and duck mole.