Cold night, hot soup.
Today I get out of work early, home by four in the afternoon, too early for dinner. Too early to laze around on the sofa until bedtime. And I need chocolate. From Claudio Corallo. I drive to Ballard (which means getting lost and driving around Fremont before I find my way back, in the most circuitous of routes) and find the shop open. A. remembers me from last time, introduces me to K., who used to (or perhaps still does) produce espresso equipment and who is the business partner and main distributor of Claudio Corallo chocolate, which has an earthy smoothness, no, smoothness is the wrong word for it, because it has too much texture for that. It is intense, the unsweetened chocolate so complex I can still taste it hours later, but without a trace of bitterness. This time I buy the chocolate with nibs, the chocolate with sugar crystals that crunch as you eat it, and the chocolate with crystallized ginger.
Tonight is the Art Walk, and there will be hot chocolates and snacks later on, they tell me. I say that I'll go for a walk, and then come back, but when I head outside the cold air numbs my face and hands, and I think perhaps I should eat a little dinner before I freeze to death. I pass the Hi-Life, which serves comfort food in an old, renovated fire station. But there is no menu posted in the window, and besides, I have one thought in my head: Pho. Thanh Brothers is just down the street. I walk another block or two, shivering, and walk inside the restaurant filled with diners slurping away. Someone waves me towards a table by the window, and comes over to take my order. I hurriedly pick something - Pho Bo, beef soup with rice noodles, the version with just about every kind of beef they offer - and sit back with a book. A glass of water arrives, along with a plate heaped with cilantro and bean sprouts and lime wedges and weirdly, a cream puff, which I will save for dessert.
Soon, a steaming bowl of noodles arrives, crammed with slices of beef brisket, flank steak, eye-round steak, soft tendon, and tripe. Oh, and noodles. The hot soup warms me from inside out, all the way to the tips of my fingers to my toes. As I slurp away I wonder how anyone could eat something so warming in the steamy heat of Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia. All across Laos and in Hanoi we saw people eating pho for breakfast, sitting on low stools at sidewalk noodles stands, bent over equally low tables with their jars of condiments, their plates of sprouts and cilantro and lime wedges. It seems very far away, on a cold December night with the snow beginning to fall. I pay my bill - it is only $4.75, with tax, for a "small" bowl of noodles, a custard puff of a dessert included, the cheapest meal in town save for the $1.50 hot-dog-and-soda combo at Costco - and head back outside, no longer feeling the cold. I buy cupcake liners printed with dinosaurs at a tiny shop that is wall-to-wall cookie cutters and decorating kits and all sorts of baking accoutrements, and knee-high leather boots at a shoe store that I had never noticed before. And then I head back up the street for more chocolate.
At Claudio Corallo there is hot chocolate, made with their unsweetened chocolate and milk and sugar, stirred gently in a pot resting on one of those unnerving induction burners. L. has made snacks: some sort of chewy concoction involving dried cherries, coconut, and chocolate, caramel corn dipped in chocolate, and cacao-bean brittle. The first and last of those are tasty, if a little strange; the chocolate caramel corn is instantly addictive. Then there are two hot chocolates to try, one made with chocolate and sugar and milk, the other with chocolate and cream and a hint of chili pepper. It makes me think of the movie Chocolat, and it is so good I want more and more, but I am too full, too dizzy with good chocolate, the best chocolate I have ever had. And I have those bars of chocolate in my bag, and three truffles that are for my boss, K., and it is enough for now.