Best of the Bay 2009: Food and Drink - Page 2

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But rarely have those innovations been as tasty as TCHO, the experimental chocolate company created by Wired co-founder Louis Rossetto and cocoa guru Karl Bittong. Using software development as a model, the pair first launched the company by presenting chocolates in beta form and collecting consumer feedback. Their system for classifying tastes is similarly scientific, creating a flavor wheel that explains the different flavors inherent in chocolate (such as fruity, nutty, or citrus) and then making varieties that are the purest expressions of those attributes. Now in its 2.0 phase, the company produces sustainably sourced chocolate in a stark white lab-like factory at Pier 17, using manufacturing machinery rescued from an old European castle. But a stop by the adjacent café, where you can sample flavors and hear cocogeeks talk about the production process, illuminates where the science stops and the poetry starts — it's in your mouth.

Pier 17, SF. (415) 981-0189, www.tcho.com

BEST ABUSE BOUCHE

Conan O'Brien's 2007 commercial for a Chinese restaurant that has its front door next to the kitchen and doesn't serve fortune cookies ("No fortune cookies," the actors exclaim. "Yay!") may be fake, but the place he (and Martha Stewart) are pretending to endorse is real: Chinatown's Sam Wo. The institution — occupying parts of three stories — has been serving noodles, dumplings, and stir-fry in its cramped dining room for eons, and is as famous for its odd atmosphere and bizarre customer service as it is for its late-night hours. Too bad famed waiter (and Herb Caen darling) Edsel Ford Fong — known for screaming at customers, admonishing them for not washing their hands, or dumping soup on them — passed away in 1984. But fear not: we've heard reports that current servers have physically removed patrons for sitting in the wrong chair. If you're looking for a place where the customer is always right and the bathroom is always clean, go elsewhere. But for some post-barhopping chop suey, served up with history and maybe some light abuse, there's nowhere better.

813 Washington, SF. (415) 982-0596

BEST CAFÉ THAT SAVES THE DAY

Lazy Saturday mornings in San Francisco haven't been the same since owner David Pinch peeled the Spiderman wrapping paper from Caffeinated Comics Company's windows this spring. Café culture has been heroically transformed. No longer must graphic novel geeks suffer the indignity of stares from those novel readers and crossword puzzle solvers, the coffee house elite whose imagined superiority is evident in every stripe of plaid on their cardigan. Here, Marvel fans can select their comics along with their Four Barrel coffee, browsing until they feel the rush of newfound superpowers — or maybe that's the espresso. Either way, we predict this volatile combination of coffee and comics will have more staying power than Joss Whedon has brilliant ideas.

3188 Mission, SF. (415) 829-7530, www.caffcom.com

BEST IT'S-IT ITERATION

It's hard to argue with the accessible, lowbrow perfection of an It's It — that delightful ice cream and cookie concoction invented in San Francisco in 1928. But if you're looking for an alternative a step or five higher on the culinary chart, look no further than Ici. This Berkeley shop features ice cream and cookies made from scratch with ingredients grown by local farmers, under the watchful eyes of former Chez Panisse pastry chef Mary Canales and her talented crew. Eleven flavors of creams, sorbets, and sherbets are available every day, featuring seasonal ingredients and available in cups, pints, or homemade organic cones — and topped with fresh toppings such as bittersweet hot fudge.