I’ve only been to Portland once, and I loved it. The city is walkable and cute, the people are friendly, and the food is simple but good.
And there’s really great chocolate.
I’m the first to admit that I’m a bit of a snob. I’ve eaten a lot of chocolate. I like a lot of chocolate–and I also dislike a lot of chocolate. And, well, Portland, you–your fabulous city with its cute chocolate shops, each totally different from the other? You impressed me.
I’ll be back in Portland this week for the IACP 2010 conference, and despite the action-packed conference schedule, I’m making a point of visiting these places again.
I am a particularly big fan of The Meadow because it was the reason for my first visit to Portland. The wall of chocolate is impressive, but so are the salt wall, the French wine and champagne wall and the blocks of pink Himalayan salt everywhere. And the flowers? Gorgeous.
I could go on and on about how I love the Meadow, but I already have. I’ll just say that you need to visit.
3731 N. Mississippi Avenue
Portland, OR 97227
Cacao is one part cafe, one part chocolate shop and is wholly lovely. They serve drinking chocolate and various espresso drinks alongside a small selection of baked goods. There’s also a small confection case featuring a variety of local and international chocolatiers. The staff are knowledgeable and friendly, informative but not condescending.
However, the interesting part is in the chocolate bars. It’s rare to find the full line of Domori, but there it is on the shelf. And the limited edition box of Porcelana bars from Coppeneur? Yup, those too. Rounded out with a nice selection of standards (Pralus, Amano, Askinosie, among others), the selection at Cacao is almost like that of a great museum exhibition: well-curated, appropriate and delightful.
Cacao (2 locations)
414 SW 13th Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97205
712 SW Salmon Street
Portland, OR 97205
Alma Chocolate is the brainchild of Sarah Hart, which explains the shop’s heart logo. Inside is an impressive collection of cheeky, funky chocolate goodness. The confections are inventive, even if some of the combinations are a bit too adventurous for me. The salted lavender caramel is particularly well executed. And trust me, I’ve eaten a lot of salted lavender caramels.
There’s a small selection of bars, but the second-best part of the shop is the selection of chocolate-shaped religious figures gilded in gold leaf. It’s slightly shocking and maybe a bit offensive if you’re prickly about religion, but somehow it gets away with being subversive, ironic and cool.
If you’re looking for something less controversial, there were squirrel-shaped lollipops when I visited.
The best part of the shop is their bicerin. This is only the second place I’ve ever seen it offered, the first being Soma Chocolatemaker in Toronto. Alma Chocolate’s bicerin is a lesson in layers. The first sip is a shock of espresso, so robust that it could wake the dead. That mellows into a layer where espresso and drinking chocolate meld into a happy marriage, and it ends with a layer of rich drinking chocolate. Three oh-so-distinct layers, three different tastes. It’s like engineering in a mug.
140 NE 28th Ave.
Portland, Oregon 97232
Sahagun Handmade Chocolates
Update, August 2010: Elisabeth Montes has closed her storefront to concentrate on wholesale business. You’ll still find Sahagun goodies around Portland, and fingers crossed that an online option becomes available.
If you aren’t looking for a chocolate shop, you will walk right past Sahagun. And you will be very, very sorry indeed.
Sahagun is run by the lovely Elisabeth Montes. She’s cute as a button, and talented to boot. I think she’s one of the best chocolatiers on the west coast. Really.
Most chocolatiers use one chocolate for everything, and that chocolate is typically chosen because it lacks character. That makes it easier to combine with any number of flavours. At Sahagun, unusual chocolates are the focal point. In the summer, they’re transformed into silky smooth sorbet. In the winter, they’re the base of the best hot chocolate you’ll ever taste. Montes takes small-batch, artisan chocolate and gives it to customers in a way that’s accessible.
The confection case is full of beautiful things, including the Oregon Kiss: local Oregon hazelnuts with milk chocolate and a touch of sea salt. However, my favourite is the Miracle Pill: an organic prune stuffed with confit orange, dipped in chocolate. It’s an exercise in chewy, contemplative goodness. Don’t miss the barks: chocolate tiles studded with flavours like almond/bergamot, peanuts/salt and hazelnuts/raisins.
Sahagun Handmade Chocolates
10 NW 16th Ave.
Portland, OR 97209