Today's Special: Five Star Truffles and Coffee
Bonnie Wach Published 4:00 am, Sunday, July 22, 2007 On a recent backpacking trip to the Sierra, which without going into detail I will merely describe as "adventurous," I was reminded of two things: One is that exposing one's hindquarters in the woods is no laughing matter, especially after an active mosquito hatch. Another is that, no matter how much of a wilderness experience you crave, no matter how badly you desire to get back to nature, you should never, ever let yourself be convinced that you can do without good coffee and good chocolate.
These two items, I believe, are more crucial for survival of the species than freeze-dried turkey tetrazzini, trail mix and Therm-a-Rest mats combined. Most certainly they are essential for survival of the husband, who risks life and limb by putting even the most innocuous of questions to the decaffeinated, cacao-less wife. He will not make that mistake again.
Anyway, not long after this revelation, I was driving down Divisadero Street when I spied a sign that completely summed up my core belief system. A no-nonsense marquee that read simply: Five Star Truffles and Coffee, Made by Hand. I screeched to a stop and pulled a U-turn.
Inside the shop, I found a deceptively bare-bones operation - a few perfunctory tables and chairs and a large glass case filled with decadent-looking bite-size chocolate morsels. A handwritten menu posted on the wall listed more than a dozen varieties of truffles at prices (50 cents each; $7.50 for a box of 20) that seemed downright ridiculous, considering that we live in the rarefied world of artisan chocolate, where 3-ounce bars go for upward of $5.
The shop is the love child of Santos Euan, a genial and tireless man who immigrated to San Francisco 10 years ago from Oxkutzcab in the mountains of Yucatan, Mexico. After a couple of years working in various restaurants, Euan landed a job at XOX Truffles in North Beach, apprenticing for seven years under well-known trufflemaker Jean-Marc Gorce. In November, he decided to strike out on his own, and with the help of partner Julio Quintanilla, he opened Five Star.
Fans of XOX will recognize Gorce's style here - truffles no bigger than the tip of your thumb, covered in dark chocolate and dusted in cocoa powder or hazelnuts or coconut. But (aside from the prices) there are also a few distinct differences.
"I tried to put my original touch on these. I tried a lot of different recipes and methods to bring out the flavors," Euan says. "It takes a long time to make truffles - two days to make one batch, and everything has to be perfect."
Euan's most popular truffle, caramel, takes nine hours just to cook the caramel, which must be cooled at room temperature. If the conditions are too hot, too cold or too humid, the consistency is ruined.
One bite, and you understand why this consistency is so important. Under a sprinkling of cocoa powder and a delicate jacket of Cacao Barry dark chocolate, the caramel is so intensely creamy and soft, so rich and smooth, you wonder if you've ever really tasted caramel before.
Other marvelous flavors include strawberry (made with a fruity ganache infused with strawberry liqueur), espresso, blackberry, cognac, citron lemon, coconut and the subtly smoky Earl Grey. Like XOX, Five Star also offers a few vegan choices, including soy orange and dark chocolate.
As for the other half of the menu, the coffee, it's fresh-roasted Graffeo, which Euan brews with as much care as he crafts his truffles. He also makes a truly sublime cup of cocoa - heavy on the chocolate and with steamed milk - that has developed a following all its own.
Euan hopes to expand his business soon with a Web site and the addition of Mitchell's ice cream. In the meantime, he can be found behind the counter greeting customers, rolling chocolates, pouring good, strong coffee - and upholding my belief system.
Five Star Truffles and Coffee: 411 Divisadero St., San Francisco; (415) 552-5128.
Hours: 7:00 a.m.-8 p.m. daily.
Prices: Truffles are 95 . cents each, $16.50 for 20, $30 for 40, $60 for 80. Free coffee with box of chocolates; free truffle with order of coffee.