Friday, April 04, 2008

San Francisco, Day 5

Charles’ Chocolates Tasting

Chocolatiers are a lot like brewers of beer; there are companies that do it to make money, and there are companies that do it to make quality products. Charles’ Chocolates was definitely the latter. We got a brief tour of the kitchen before our tasting, at which point it was made very clear that this three-year-old company makes all of their delicacies from natural products and by hand. No artificial flavors, no preservatives, and no manufacturing machines.

The result is one of the most delicious (and pricy) chocolates I’ve ever eaten in my life.

Let’s start with the peanut butterflies, the company’s most popular sweet. Instead of being a Reeses-style peanut butter cup, this was more of a peanut paste made from peanuts roasted in sugar until it caramelizes, then ground up and put into thin chocolate shells. I can’t explain to you how sweet and smooth these were. I would’ve bought more, but it was $30 for a package of sixteen of them.

Think of Hershey as the big mass-producing chocolate company in this country. Everything is done in bulk by machines. At this place, Chuck (the awesome owner who guided our tour) hires only experienced pastry chefs to work in his kitchen. That’s why they cost so much. I’d never buy these things for recreational purposes, but considering this was a special occasion, we paid for the tasting and didn’t regret a single moment of it.

City Lights Bookstore

After grabbing some pizza in North Beach we went to the City Lights bookstore at the suggestion of my father. This was the last major stop on our five-day trip to California.

The draw of this little shop was that it acted as sort of an intellectual hub during the West Coast uprising of beat writers in the 1950s. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, and many others got their start out here, and Ginsburg’s poem “Howl” stirred up all kinds of hullabaloo in the 1950s for its unprecedented candid discussion about homosexuality and drugs.

The store was told by the government to stop selling the controversial and “indecent” book it published, and the media coverage of that ugly situation put the store on the map. Since my dad suggested I visit this little piece of San Francisco history, I bought him a copy of “Howl” from the store where it was first printed. I’m a good son.

A nap and a shower later, Amy and I were back at Oakland airport, ready to head back home to clouds, rain showers, and 40 degree weather. It’s a lot harder leaving sunny California than it was leaving chilly, snowy Chicago five days ago.


On our first day out here, Amy saw some cows grazing in a pretty amazing field and said, “No wonder the cows are so happy here!”

Admittedly, I had a pretty romantic idea as to what San Francisco would be like, and to be honest the real thing lived up to every single one of my expectations. It was as sunny and beautiful and interesting as I thought it would be.

The most obvious things that I’ve noticed—there are a LOT of Asian people out here, and not that many black people. The ocean is infinitely more amazing than Lake Michigan. It’s legal for motorcycles to weave through traffic even if there aren’t open lanes to do so, and the landscape is actually worth looking at.

There are two baseball teams out here, The Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants, that I would have loved to see play so I could’ve added them to my list of baseball parks attended, but the season doesn’t start until next week. Also, there’s a Six Flags out here that would’ve been fun to attend if Amy didn’t loathe roller coasters more than whiney children. So there were some things that didn’t happen, but I’ll live with it. What we did accomplish was pretty incredible, making my first experience in California totally worth the time and money it took to make it all happen.

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