Sunday, September 13, 2009

Chocolate Galore

Another post about chocolate proves how much I love this food.

I was thrilled to attend Ghirardelli Square's 14th annual chocolate festival yesterday! I invited quite many friends that shared my chocolate obsession along with me, and we were completely satisfied. Overwhelmed even.

The festival gathered 40 chocolate-related vendors together to benefit Project Open Hand. It's free to attend, but it costs $20 for 15 tastings you could use at the vendors. Fortunately for my friends and I, we received free tasting tickets, courtesy of Cadillac Ride & Drive. Thank you Cadillac!
The following pictures reflect my highlights of the festival:
At the Main Stage: Icecream Sundae Eating Contest for Kids! I believe there were six contestants, and they weren't allowed to use their hands. The sundae was eight scoops of icecream with whipped cream, nuts..basically all the works! Those kids probably walked off with brain freeze and sugar high afterwards. This was so fun to watch! The winner won a Ghirardelli chocolate gift basket (as he/she doesn't have enough sweets already...). By the picture above, guess who the winner was?
At the Cadillac Ride & Drive tent: make your own Ghirardelli sundaes! Start off with traditional vanilla icecream, choose a drizzling topping and top it off with whipped cream, nuts and a maraschino cherry! I chose Ghirardelli's famous specialty: hot fudge. It was a small simple treat to start off our day!
At the Cost Plus World Market's Wine & Chocolate Lounge: 72% cacao dark chocolate square, spicy tortilla chips and chocolate covered peanut butter-filled pretzel bites. The bitter dark chocolate (at only 4.25 gm fat & 55 cals) was perfect to pair with red wine (a wine glass costs $5, so we didn't go for it), and the chips and pretzel bites were a 3-S (sweet, savory and spicy) combo! And I'm not usually a fan of peanut butter outside of PB sandwiches. I had to get a second serving.

Plus, Cost Plus World Market gave us free $5 coupons! I'll be shopping there soon.
At the Boomerang Australian Vodka tent: Chocolate Martinis! Yummy chocolate concoctions. The vodka rolls down smoothly with a sweet chocolate finish. Boomerang Vodka is 5x distilled - very pure, ultra-smooth and elegant. Definitely a good cocktail to include in your chocolate & wine parties.

Side note: One of my friends noticed someone using all of his tastings at this tent!
At the Rustic Bakery: The title says it all. This looked absolutely delicious! I didn't get a chance to try it, but one of my friends liked it! It looks like a fresh donut hole drizzled in cream and chocolate. It's comfort food for the sweet tooth.
According to, crème anglaise is made by whipping egg yolks and sugar together until it turns white, then slowly adding hot milk and cooking until thick. It's usually flavored with vanilla. It's used as a dessert sauce and a base for crème brûlée! Yum!
At the Sterling Confections tent: Sterling Truffle Bars! They served long decorated Toblerone-like bars. They were confectionary chocolate bars. I bet they make a popular gift during Christmas!
At the Island Breeze Macaroon & More tent: Chocolate Drizzled Coconut Macaroons! I chose the white chocolate & cranberry combo. It was sweet, tart and coconutty. A good treat to eat for a tea party!
At the Mary Louise Butters Brownies tent: Assorted Brownies! They were generous, because they gave us 2 brownies per tasting. The selections were orange, rose, ginger and chipotle. I chose the last two (ginger on left, chipotle on right). I liked that the brownies had chunks of ginger and chipotle; I could taste the strong flavors really well. My favorite was the chipotle, as the chipotle spice went really well with chocolate. Care to have a spicy dessert?
At one of the Ghirardelli tents: Decadent Drinking Chocolate! This is no ordinary hot chocolate. It was literally chocolate liquor! My friends and I couldn't finish our small 4 oz. cups; it was too decadent for us. I tried dipping a chocolate covered almond biscotti to finish it... but it didn't help much. I had to throw it away, which saddens me because I hate wasting food.
At the McCormick & Kuleto's tent: Mini Chocolate Truffle Cakes! They were assembled on-site for the whipped cream and assorted berries (blackberries, blueberries and raspberries) as toppings. I chose the raspberry truffle cake. The chocolate truffle was semisweet, the tart was flakey and the raspberry was a sweet "cherry on top"! This booth was very popular; there were 3 lines for it!
Last but not least, my favorite tasting was at Gelateria Naia's tent. They generously served fresh gelato waffle cones: Stracciatella (Italian's version of chocolate chip icecream) and Ferrero Rocher. Gelato is a healthier alternative to icecream, because it has a higher milk to cream ratio than icecream (less fat). Plus, gelato is churned more slowly than icecream, which makes it more dense to intensify its flavors (less air). Gelato is served fresh while icecream is served frozen. [Info from]
Since FR is one of my favorite chocolates growing up, I had to choose it! It tasted exactly like FR in a frozen creamy treat. This completed my chocolate indulgence for the day. I chomped it up before I realized that I forgot to take a picture of it!
To learn more about the chocolate festival, visit

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

RR: Cheeseboard Pizza (Berkeley, CA)

A friend who currently attends UC Berkeley introduced me to this popular pizza eatery. Now I'm not a huge fan of pizza, as my places to go for pizza have been limited to Costco ($10 for a large combo! what a great deal), Pizza Guys (there's a store really close to my previous apt) and California Pizza Kitchen aka CPK. My friend told me that I had to try out this place for my first restaurant in Berkeley, because it's pretty well-known amongst locals. Bring it on Cheeseboard, my palate is ready for ya.

Cheeseboard Pizza is a collective of twelve employees that make and sell a vegetarian pizza 5 days a week. Yes, just one pizza to choose from, called "Pizza of the Day." Despite the low selection, the restaurant has no problem in drawing in a large crowd. It doesn't need coupons in the newspaper to persuade you. Its pizza is an everchanging menu special by itself.
After waiting a couple of minutes in line (we just beat the lunch rush), we ordered a whole pizza to split for $20 (a single slice goes for $2.50, and there's no extra charge for tax). They quickly assembled the pizza in a box and handed it to me by the time I finished paying. Wow, no wonder the line moves so quickly. They only have one pizza to make, so production time is very speedy! Plus, they added two half slices in as a bonus. Now that's good service.
I was particularly excited to see pine nuts on the menu! They have a good mild nutty flavor, and contain antioxidants (particularly vitamin K for blood clotting and lutein for eye health), fiber and oleic acid (a monounsaturated fat that helps control cholesterol). All of the components of pesto (delicious on sandwiches and pasta) are there, plus tomatoes, onions and cheese, on a thin crispy crust (cut down on some carbs!).
The pizza was still bubbling by the time we sat down at our table. I sampled the half slice first. The tomatoes and basil taste very fresh, the cheese and garlic olive oil melts in your mouth and the crust is crisp and doughy. I never knew that vegetarian pizza would taste so good! My only complaints are that the pizza was very oily (due to the olive oil - napkins to the rescue!), the garlic flavor was overempowering, and there weren't enough pine nuts! I only tasted about 3 pine nuts total while eating 2.5 slices.

I liked the openness of the restaurant; you can see the entire kitchen when you are ordering your pizza, so you get an idea of what they do. While we were nibbling on our pizza, a live local jazz band was playing in the dining area. Their music was awesome to hear, but since the dining area is small, it was pretty loud and I had trouble talking with my friends over the music. There were tables inside the restaurant and patio tables outside, but the seating is still not enough (see first picture). Some customers resort to sitting at the grassy center divide in the middle of the road.

A random note: Their restrooms are clean! Extra kudos!
Overall, I have to give a thumbs up for making yummy vegetarian pizzas with fresh ingredients. I don't think I can look at other pizzas the same way again. We can really taste the difference. Heck, maybe I can be a temporary vegetarian with this!
Check out their "Pizza of the Day" @

Monday, September 7, 2009

Eat REAL at Jack London Square

During the last weekend of August, I volunteered at the 2nd annual (or is it their 1st?) "Eat Real Festival" at Jack London Square (for details, check out It was a very hot day (even though we were riight next to the water) with a huge turnout of people (70k+)! Under One Brick organization, I was assigned to work at the info/merchandise booth. I was a little bummed out because I signed up originally to help serve beer at the beer tasting truck area. The leaders e-mailed us last-minute saying that we'd be doing other things instead. Nonetheless, it turned out great! The booth I worked in had a canopy (cheers for shade), we got to choose 1 free "Eat Real Fest" t-shirt to advertise the $20 shirts, and I learned how to use a credit card machine! Plus, the volunteers I worked with were awesome people. We also sold picnic cloths with the state of California picture and plastic tote bags that twist into a small bag.

At the fest, it was the first time I tried an iced coffee float. Now I've had root beer floats, 7up floats and coke floats... but this is an update. Almost like an upscale update for the grown-ups to enjoy.

And I loved it! The coffee was very rich and unsweetened that rolls down in the right way with a bitter aftertaste, but then you taste the frothifying vanilla icecream that puts you afloat in sugarville. It made my day.

The festival generated great business for vendors. The iced coffee float was in a small plastic cup and costed $4 (thank you my new friend who got it for me). But hey, it was so hot! Literally hot air was blowing in all directions, and the event was outside with barely any shade! So bring on the popsicles and icecream to semi-cool off!

Moreover, there was a huge variety of street food available. It all smelled so wonderful! My friend and I got hooked up with free beer tickets to try out a beer (now I'm not a fan of beer, so I asked for a light beer), and I got one of the lagers. My only complaint is that it wasn't ice cold; ice cold beer would taste pretty sweet on a hot day. Many adults were holding these small beer glasses with the "Eat Real Fest" stamp on them (it costs $25 for 4 beer tickets and the complimentary glass).

Of course, you can't drink beer without eating food (as alcohol tends to lower your blood sugar, even though it's 7 cal/gm...cruel isn't it?)! We walked around to check out the foods available, and I was pretty impressed with the variety available considering that none of the vendors cooked on-site. There were burgers, ribs, corn on the cob, pizza, hot links, Korean BBQ, falafels, cupcakes, goat icecream/froyo, creme brulee, gelato...and I'm sure a lot more than I can't name. And I don't forget Chipotle, as they gave us volunteers free burritos! They're awesome.

If you live in the East Bay area and didn't get to check it out this year, be sure to check it out next year!