Besides snagging a dinner reservation, finding a great present for your sweetie can be the most stressful part of Valentine's Day. But lucky for you, you don't have to resort to chocolates bought at the drugstore or Amazon.com gift cards--because you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, populated by creative people making interesting and quality items. Here are some gift ideas for your Valentine that are more personalized and thoughtful, and that help San Francisco and San Franciscans to boot. We lead with chocolate and other food groups, and since there is a little bit more to life than just food, we've included some non-edible homegrown gifts, too.
*VALENTINE'S DAY CHOCOLATE & OTHER GIFTS TO EAT AND DRINK*
Poco Dolce - GANACHE HEARTS
Poco Dolce (meaning “not too sweet” in Italian) makes chocolates in small batches in its Dogpatch kitchen. Its Valentine’s Day special is a box of hearts: Eight bittersweet chocolate ones surrounding a white chocolate heart, each of them filled with seductive chocolate ganache ($20; available only on Poco Dolce’s website).
The Valentine’s Day Basket includes the ganache hearts as well as a package of five sea salt caramels, a tin of bittersweet drinking chocolate and handmade Poco Dolce marshmallows ($50). Or go for the company’s signature sweet, bittersweet chocolate tiles in various flavors (e.g., Aztec chile, burnt caramel, almond coconut, ginger) topped with a sprinkle of gray sea salt, sold at Whole Foods locations, Rainbow Grocery, Bi-Rite Market, and many Draeger's and Mollie Stone's markets in the Bay Area.
Socola Chocolatier - APHRODITE'S DELIGHT
The "Aphrodite's Delight" collection features two kinds of chocolate truffles, Hot Lava (raspberry pate de fruit with champagne ganache), printed with “love,” “amore,” and the word in Chinese, Hebrew and other languages, and Burnt Baby Burnt (burnt caramel and dark chocolate with a dash of red Hawaiian sea salt). Boxes of 4, 12 and 24 truffles are available ($9.95, $24.95 and $44.95).
“Sôcôla” is a Vietnamese word for “chocolate,” and the two Vietnamese American sisters who founded the San Francisco company have infused their cultures and travels into their business. Some of the other truffle flavors they have created are lychee, matcha (green tea), Vietnamese coffee, sriracha, and tamarind black sesame. Their chocolates are available from their website and at DarTealing Lounge (470 3rd St., San Francisco 94107; phone (415) 644-0142).
TCHO - VALENTINE GIFT BOXES
TCHO has conveniently bundled its chocolates in gift boxes with heart- and love-themed graphics made by various designers. The selection includes strategically cropped images of Venus and of Michelangelo's David statue. They are available online, at TCHO's factory store on Pier 17 (on the Embarcadero at Green Street, San Francisco), and some Whole Foods outlets.
Donsuemor - MADELEINES & FINANCIERS
The Alameda-based company is best known for its buttery madeleines, pound-cake-like vanilla and chocolate nuggets that come plain or dipped in chocolate. Its financiers are rich French cakes with ground almonds. The petite cakes are available from the Donsuemor website and at some Peet’s outlets, Nordstrom’s espresso bars and Boudin bakery locations in San Francisco.
Dragonfly Cakes - PETITS FOURS
For die-hard sweet-tooths, these stylish gems are layers of moist cake and butter cream with a touch of either jam or chocolate ganache, all wrapped in marzipan and decorated by hand. The Valentine's Day box has an assortment of raspberry, chocolate and vanilla petits fours, and is offered with 16, 32 and 64 pieces ($39, $68 and $109). Order online or over the phone (415 332-6812); the cakes are shipped using second-day air service or can be picked up at Dragonfly's kitchen in Sausalito.
The Republic of Tea - TEA FOR SWEETHEARTS
The North Bay tea purveyor has two limited-edition rose blends for Valentine's Day: Rose Petal (young rose buds and petals with China black tea); and Raspberry Rose Hibiscus (Nigerian hibiscus, ripe raspberries and dainty rose petals). They can be ordered online or by phone (800 298-4832).
The Republic of Tea also has chocolate-flavored teas--such as red velvet and chocolate with strawberry and with peppermint.
Numi Tea - FLOWERING TEA
Flowering tea is like a bouquet in a teapot: Add hot water, and a nondescript wad of tea unfurls into a pretty blossom. The magic comes from hand-sewing tea leaves and flowers--such as chrysanthemum, lavender, jasmine, lily and rose--into a bundle.
*OTHER VALENTINE'S DAY GIFTS (NON-EDIBLES)*
Rickshaw Bags - KISS ME! KIT
A kit with everything you need to make a Valentine's Day card: Fabric hearts, decorative doilies, craft paper, and two Recchiuti burnt caramel truffles (made in SF) for inspiration. All of this fits into a handy, durable, limited-edition Valentine drop pocket ($25).
Back to the Roots - MUSHROOM KIT
Coffee grounds and mushrooms diverted two UC-Berkeley students on the verge of graduating into investment banking and consulting. Three years later, they now use millions of pounds of Peet’s coffee grounds for their gourmet mushroom growing kits, which are available online, at Whole Foods and Nordstrom stores in San Francisco, and at the Safeways on Market near Church Street and in the Marina ($19.95). They’ve also developed a home aquaponics garden, a closed-loop system that simultaneously cleans your fish tank and fertilizes a mini herb garden ($60).
Some notable, recently published books and cookbooks by local authors and chefs. (Many thanks for suggestions by manager Ken White of Books Inc., 2275 Market St. (near Noe St.), San Francisco, where all of these titles are available).
- A Working Theory of Love, by Scott Hutchins
Love in all sorts of forms, reconciliation and grief play out in this modern-life, set-in-San-Francisco story that involves a newly single guy and a supercomputer. This is the first novel by Hutchins, who lives in San Francisco and teaches at Stanford.
- The Joy of Sexus: Lust, Love, and Longing in the Ancient World, by Vicki León
Anti-aphrodisiacs, pornographers, dildos, prostitution and hermaphrodites are just a few of the topics covered in this just-released romp through the sex worlds of ancient Greece, Rome and the Mediterranean. Find out what was considered obscene back then and why Greeks adored dolphins. Publishers Weekly noted that Leon “minces no words exposing the truth” about the “stunning, sometimes barbaric, and always entertaining sexuality” of ancient civilizations.
- Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts, by Alice Medrich
The chocolate queen proves that fancy desserts like rose-scented almond cake, Tahitian vanilla tart and bittersweet cocoa soufflés don’t require the time or talent of a pastry chef to make--and many can be whipped up in a food processor or in one bowl. Medrich introduced the country to chocolate truffles when she began making and selling them in Berkeley and opened Cocolat in 1976.
- Hubert Keller's Souvenirs: Stories and Recipes from My Life, by Hubert Keller
This recently published memoir by Keller, owner of Fleur de Lys and Burger Bar in San Francisco, traces his upbringing in Alsace, France, his work with French culinary masters like Paul Bocuse and his adaptation to South America and the U.S. The big book includes 120 recipes from the talented celebrity chef, who DJs on the side.
- Vietnamese Home Cooking, by Charles Phan
The first cookbook by Phan, who introduced many people to Vietnamese cuisine when he opened The Slanted Door in 1995. A refugee from Vietnam, Phan’s first job in San Francisco, in 1978, was busing tables.