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Chocolates' Charms

Chocolates were made for Valentine's Day. But you can't just get that drugstore heart-shaped box; it reeks of last minute guilt. Even the slightly more upscale telltale white box from See's Candies is a copout. If your special someone likes their chocolate, San Francisco has some wonderful choices sure to woo- and that's what it's all about.

The highly lauded XOX Truffles (754 Columbus) is a quaint Parisian styled café in the heart of North Beach. The bite-sized nuggets of chocolate goodness are made in the true French tradition, hand rolled, irregularly shaped, and only with the finest ingredients. With 27 different flavors ranging from the liquor infused cognac and rum raisin to the virgin French roast and coconut you're bound to find a few that call to you. There are even three vegan choices made with soy instead of cream. Purchased by weight, the truffles are packaged in hand-painted papier mache boxes sure to catch your lover's eye.

Another local name in the truffle biz is Joseph Schmidt (3489 16th), with a charming little shop on the edge of the Castro. They are best known for their large, half egg-shaped truffles with all the predictable, but oh-so-tempting, flavors like Frangelico, cappuccino, chocolate decadence, and champagne. But the pieces that really caught my eye were the solid chocolate slicks and mosaics. The slicks are thin rounds of chocolate about the size of a bar coaster filled with truffle, nougat or caramel, each one decorated with a faint watercolor-like image. They are beautifully subtle. The mosaics are small squares of chocolate filled with caramel, nuts, nougat, biscotti crunch and Belgian chocolate, each hand decorated with brightly colored geometric patterns- perfect for the modern artist in your life. Make sure to take your time checking out the chocolate sculptures that decorate the shop. Chocolates can be purchased by the piece or in already packaged boxes.

Around the corner is the shoebox-sized Faerie Queene Rococoa (415 Castro) known for the handmade fudge that is freely offered to sample. With 12 different flavors available in the shop on any given day and over 70 in rotation, it begs the question: "What about plain chocolate?" Trust me, there's plenty of that too. The display cases are filled with handmade, imported Belgian chocolates with a wide range of flavors in both dark and milk chocolate. I was elated to see I had three choices when seeking that simple dark chocolate truffle- from a cocoa dusted one that tasted like chocolate butter, to one covered in chocolate shavings (not quite as creamy, but more rich and intense than I have ever tasted). The shop offers various sizes of gold boxes to take home your treats and pre-packaged bright red boxes for V-Day.

By far, my favorite chocolates in the city come from Recchiuti Confections (One Ferry Building Marketplace, Shop #30). With flavors like tarragon grapefruit, lavender vanilla, jasmine tea, and lemon verbena, it's hard not to be enchanted. The simple, elegant, bite-sized chocolates are intense in flavor, but not too sweet. They also offer three-varietal chocolates and one blend that allow you to taste, like a wine, how different growing regions affect the taste of chocolate. Different colored, understated boxes offer a choice for every price level. The fall/winter selection is a keepsake bamboo box that beautifully accents the stunning chocolates. Pieces can also be purchased individually.

In the name of that special chocoholic in your life, go out, sample, and treat them to some of the best confections the city has to offer this Valentine's Day.