Dietary Diaries

The food inspired musings of a culinarily inclined nerd.

Location: Berkeley, California Bay Area, United States

Berkana signifies rebirth and new beginnings; I have found these in Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Scharffen Berger's Café Cacao

Last weekend, Peter took me to Café Cacao, located at the Scharffen-Berger chocolate factory. This is one of those spots which we had been looking forward to dining at ever since we took the factory tour. (Sorry, no oompa loompas nor nut-cracking squirrels. Wrong factory.) As it was located at the chocolate factory, and was named “Café Cacao” (or mis-named if you ask Pete; it is not a proper café but a restaurant), we expected it to have dishes (other than dessert) that included cacao as a featured flavor or ingredient.

Permit me to digress a moment, or I may seem unduely harsh in my expectations; what happens when you’re a foodie and have a culinarian as a best friend with whom you talk about restaurants and cuisine is that every restaurant you go to comes under critical scrutiny. When the experience goes well, the enjoyment and appreciation experienced by a culinarian go much deeper than the casual diner’s, but the restauraunt really has to work for that level of approval and satisfaction.

So, as I was saying, we expected to see cacao used in the food offered there, but there was a conspicuous absence of anything with cacao on the dinner and appetizer menu of Café Cacao. The drink menu had hot chocolate and mocha, but we had expected to see at least Cacao chicken molé or Halibut seared with some herb and spice crust with cacao. Pete ordered a hot chocolate, which was good (which from now on, means “comparaable to home made” when Pete says it). Fortunately, they had soft shelled crab sandwiches, which we both ordered, requesting that the freshly made potato chips be substituted with their thin-cut french fries, with an appetizer of Foie gras (fattened goose liver) “tostadas”.

The appetizers were très yummy; a thin slice of foie gras was broiled and served on top of a tortilla chip with thin cut cabbage and a mild red jalapeño jam. I thought this to be very creative, and quite delicious. Pete noted that the chip's strong corn flavor overpowered the delicate flavor of the foie gras. Not to be too harsh or anything, the second round of disapointment was soon served up when we received our main dish. The soft-shelled crabs were battered and deep fried, served on nice buns with a garlic mayonaise, but were quite oily. Not quite what we expected, but it was quite yummy, though oilier than optimal. And though they forgot to substitute thin-cut fries for chips, they made it up to us with a plate of thin-cut fries later, though it was after we had finished the bulk of our meal.

One observation we made as food-nerds was that both the fries and chips were hardly browned and often oil-soaked. This indicated that the frying temperature was too low to create enough steam from the potato’s water content to force the oil out as it cooked. And as on prior occasions, Pete inquired of the waitress what frying substrate they used. Secondly, the oil was not broken in yet. But given that it was at the Scharffen Berger chocolate factory, we still looked forward to the dessert, which we could not have left without. (Unfortunately, much of the dessert menu contained no chocolate!)

Now, maybe Pete’s standards are high (actually, they are quite high. . . but this was Scharffen Berger. . .), but even as a recently trained pastry chef, Pete found their Chocolate “Tribute Cake” wanting. Their decorative fringe of chocolate was out of temper, exhibiting “alpha crystals” (if I remember Pete's words; I think that term refers to sugar crystals), and though I myself would not have been able to tell, Pete immediately identified the flour used in the cake as AP flour (all purpose flour) rather than cake flour simply by texture and mouth-feel. On top of that (literally), the chocolate ganoche glaze was too thick; it squashed the cake and layers of cream when we tried to cut into it.

Over-all, it was a great birthday dinner, nerding-out with Pete over food at a nice restaurant. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt of having a sample size of one to evaluate from, but honestly, I expected something different from Scharffen Berger.


Blogger loren said...

Hi Berkana,

In your profile, I noticed that you said you were interested in Messianic prophecy. In the whole blogger universe, we were the only two who are!

As I'm sure you know, Jesus' passion was prophesied extensively and usually in first person. It is so detailed that it can actually be harmonized into story form, to tell the same story through Jesus' own eyes. I wanted to a include a link where this has been done:

The Sufferings and the Glory

If you have the time for it, I would appreciate your opinions on this composition. His peace be with you.


1:35 PM  

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