Palo Alto Weekly

Eating Out - February 8, 2013

Shop Talk

CHOCOLATE TIMES THREE ... A high-end chocolate shop is scheduled to open this week in downtown Palo Alto in the former space of hair and makeup studio Mimi & Taylor Salon at 522 Bryant St. The decision to open Alegio Chocolate in Palo Alto came after its owners, who started their first chocolate shop in Berkeley seven years ago, noticed more customers coming from Silicon Valley. "We decided to open another store near them," said Panos Panagos, who co-owns Alegio with business partner Robbin Everson. Alegio sells truffles with ganache filling, and chocolate bars made by Italian-born tropical agronomist Claudio Corallo, a small cacao producer on a tiny island west of equatorial Africa. Alegio also offers a 45-minute chocolate-tasting tour, where customers learn about the company's own West African plantation. Participants hear how chocolate is grown and harvested, and are given an assortment of different chocolates to sample, said Panagos, a former director/producer for the European Broadcasting Commission.

The location of Alegio may raise a few eyebrows among chocolate-lovers. It is across the street from another gourmet chocolate shop, Monique's Chocolates, which opened three years ago at 539 Bryant. Recognizing the awkward proximity of the two shops, Panagos said: "It wasn't intentional. It just happened. But I don't see a competition." Monique's owner Mark West takes a different view. "Yes, it is competition. There's no way around it. It's going to be interesting. Fortunately, people love chocolate," West said, adding that there is a fundamental difference between the two shops. "At Monique's, we make all our own chocolate right here and we don't sell chocolate bars. Instead I do truffles, caramels, marshmallows and a lot of hot chocolate," he said.

And if that's not enough chocolate for Palo Alto, less than two blocks away at 654 Gilman St. is The Chocolate Garage. Owner Sunita de Tourreil offers 90-minute presentations in a small garage that has been converted into an intimate tasting room. The one-room business is decorated with dozens of chocolate-bar wrappers lining the walls. Furniture consists of a single couch, two chairs and a table. For the past few years, de Tourreil has been able to combine her love for chocolate and her desire for teaching into offering corporate events and parties. A former molecular biologist, de Tourreil averages three educational tastings a week. "That's definitely an increase from a year ago. Word is getting out," she said. She focuses on the educational component of making chocolate. "I show (customers) the actual cacao bean. The tastings range from the very whitest chocolate to the very darkest," she said. De Tourreil also concentrates on small-batch American chocolate producers. "When I teach about 'happy chocolate,' that means I screen chocolate for two criteria: It has to be really high quality and delicious, and I need to know how it is getting sourced. I want to make sure the cacao farmer is getting paid fairly," she said.

BOSTON MARKET CLOSES ... The comfort-food restaurant Boston Market closed its doors at 3375 El Camino Real in Palo Alto last month. White paper now covers all the windows of the former restaurant, with a short note thanking customers for their support and patronage. The note also advises customers that two nearby Boston Markets — one in Santa Clara, the other in Fremont — remain open.

Heard a rumor about your favorite store or business moving out, or in, down the block or across town? Daryl Savage will check it out. Email shoptalk@paweekly.com.

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