Mar 052009

When I visited Seattle in December, I was lucky to be able to take a tour of Theo Chocolate, an artisanal chocolate maker in the Fremont neighborhood. The previous time I visited Seattle, I had tried to go with my godson and his family, but we were unable to get tickets.
Jen and Samuel
There is a waiting room and retail area in the front of the chocolate factory. In this image, Samuel, my godson, and Jen, my godson’s mother hang out in the front of the store.

Samuel in a hairnet
The front room offers samples of all of their chocolate bars. Samuel enjoyed having chocolate as we waited for the tour to start. Everyone must wear a hairnet on the factory floor.

Dan, Roan, and Audryn
There are frequently people who reserve a space on the tour and don’t show up; Dan, Roan, and Audryn were able to join us at the last second.

Chocolate beans at Theo Chocolates, Seattle
Chocolate beans at Theo Chocolates, Seattle
Theo uses fair-trade and organic chocolate beans to make their chocolate. They produce confections from the bean to the bar. It’s fairly uncommon for a confectioner to make chocolate from the beginning to the end–most vendors focus either on making chocolate or on making confections. My understanding is that even Jacques Torres, perhaps the best confectioner in New York City, uses couverture for his bon-bons despite producing his own chocolate bars from beans.

Theo regularly visits their cacao manufacturers to make sure that they are adhering to fair-trade and organic standards.

Chocolate beans quality control at Theo Chocolates, Seattle
The staff at Theo take quality control seriously. While it’s always important to have strong quality control, it’s especially important at Theo since they produce such small batches of chocolate. In the photo, you can see the device that is used to split the cacao beans in half and inspect the contents. Beans that do not make the cut for Theo but are still good enough to be used for larger production lines may be sold to other chocolate manufacturers.

Chocolate manufacturing equipment at Theo Chocolates, Seattle
Chocolate manufacturing equipment at Theo Chocolates, Seattle
What was striking to me about the factory floor at Theo was that it was actually a factory with heavy manufacturing equipment. While roasting the cacao bean may seem similar to roasting a coffee bean, the process is very different. As distinct from coffee beans, the cacao bean will be processed much more than just a simple roast and grind. Impressively, the factory floor and equipment were spotless. I almost thought there would be a secret door where the “real” grimy, noisy factory was kept. But the one I saw was clearly not for show.

Chocolate at Theo Chocolates, Seattle
While bars are produced using another machine, the individual bon-bons (or truffles) may be produced by hand. There is another room beyond the factory store where people work to temper the chocolate and create bon-bons.

Andrew, Jen, and Samuel
Everyone had a great time at Theo Chocolates. This photo of Andrew, Samuel’s father; Jen; and Samuel was taken just outside of the factory.

Dew on sage leaves in Seattle
I left Seattle the day after the chocolate factory tour; I had a great time there. It gets damp in Seattle, and the dew clings to the leaves of a sage plant in front of Samuel’s house in the morning.

 Posted by at 12:42 am
Feb 282009

I try to travel to Seattle at least once per year. There are at least a dozen or more friends of mine who ended up in Seattle for one reason or another, and it’s always a pleasure to see them. I’m always amazed by how quickly time passes–until I just did the math right now, I didn’t realize that I’ve known many of my Seattle friends for almost twenty years!

I flew to Seattle from Las Vegas for $80 on Virgin America. It’s unclear to me how Virgin America is making money. The flight was terrific, but it was also only half full. I had to switch planes in San Francisco, but I didn’t mind. I enjoy Virgin America’s flights.

I visited Seattle well before their terrible winter storms that shut down most of the city–if anything, it was unseasonably warm, pleasant, and dry. Seattle rarely has the torrential downpours of the northeast, but it frequently is covered by a gray, steady misty drizzle of rain that manages to float underneath any rain coat or umbrella. Which is why many Seattle residents never carry an umbrella.

One of the places I visited in Seattle was the Zig Zag Café. Several folks had recommended I go there, including Jim Meehan from PDT and Eryn Reece formerly with Bar Milano. The Zig Zag Café is located on the hill between the Public Market and Elliott Bay, just next door to a taqueria and downstairs from where the Spanish Table used to be. (Hey, if you know the shops near Pike Place Market, it’s a perfectly good description.) Jim specifically told me to be on the look out for Murray Stenson, an award-winning friendly and talented bartender. He wasn’t there the first evening I visited, so I spent some time chatting with one of the other bartenders who worked there and Kacy Fitch, one of the owners. It’s an elegant dimly lit bar with a tremendous selection of liquors, beers, and cocktails. There are many tables, but it’s a popular spot and fills up quickly. The staff is warm, friendly, and unpretentious.
Zig Zag Café, Seattle Zig Zag Café, Seattle

Of course, I had to visit the Zig Zag Café a second time to see Murray. It was worth the second trip out there. Even though the place was packed, Murray took the time to say hello and recommend some other good restaurants in the area. I was walking around the waterfront area before going to Zig Zag, and I saw one of the most spectacular sunsets I had ever seen in Seattle. Friends of mine who were out agreed that it was a rare sight.
Sunset over Elliott Bay, Seattle Sunset over Elliott Bay, Seattle Sunset over Elliott Bay, Seattle

While I was in the Pike Place Market, I stopped by World Spice Merchants. World Spice Merchants has been featured on television shows like Alton Brown’s Good Eats. They have a very large selection of teas and spices; in addition to their retail and mail-order businesses, they also supply restaurants around the Seattle area. I feel that the folks there are more knowledgeable and passionate than the folks who work at a typical Penzey’s retail outfit. And that’s saying a lot: the folks at Penzey’s are smart and dedicated.
World Spice Market, Seattle

From a food perspective, no trip to Seattle would be complete without a trip to Salumi next to Pioneer Square. Salumi is a salumeria, a place where meats are cured and salamis are made. The store is divided into several parts: in the front of the store is a very small seating area, followed by a sandwich line and cashier, then a small seating area and a small kitchen. Beyond that there is another intimate dining room. Finally, the curing rooms are beyond the final door.
Curing meats at Salumi, Seattle

Salumi was opened by Armandino Batali after retiring from Boeing where he was an engineer. Last year, Armandino turned over the shop to his daughter, Gina Batali, and son-in-law, Brian D’Amato.

One of the best features of visiting Salumi is purchasing sandwiches from the counter. Most of the sandwiches are served on a nice white rich and not-overly tough sandwich roll with a variety of spreads and sauces. The tongue sandwich is one of the best sandwiches there: it’s served with slow-cooked soft onions and two spreads. (I believe one was a garlic spread, and one was a pesto spread.) I also had sliced fresh mozzarella. It was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had.
Tongue sandwich at Salumi, Seattle

There’s more photos to come from my trip to Seattle.

 Posted by at 1:47 pm
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