In this post-holiday period of New Year’s resolutions, the last thing you might be thinking about is more sweets. But a Quebec-based bistro is interested in helping Vancouverites to reframe their consideration of chocolate in a new way.
Cacao 70 (which is unrelated to the progressive Latin cuisine restaurant Cacao that opened last fall in Kitsilano) opened its doors to its 2,200 square foot, 44 seat location in Vancouver at 1047 Denman Street on December 27.
In an interview with the Georgia Straight, Cacao 70 general director Samy Kadoch, who hails from Quebec, originally launched the company's first chocolate bistro in Montreal with three other owners. They now have locations in Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Ottawa, Kingston, and Toronto—and this new West End spot is their first foray into western Canada.
The bistro concept, Kadoch says, is something that many people may not realize is distinct from other types of eateries. It inhabits the gap between coffee shops (which are often turned into office spaces by laptop users), restaurants, and bars. Bistros, he explains, offer a relaxed, social atmosphere while providing table service with everything made in-house (as opposed to cafés, which usually bring in food items).
While bistros are popular in Europe, Kadoch says that theirs is distinctly Canadian with an emphasis on Canadian ingredients (and, yes, they do serve items with Canadian maple syrup). In fact, it's one of the few Vancouver places to offer bilingual menus in both English et en français.
Cacao 70 also helps to fill in another gaping social chasm in Vancouver. An unfortunate aspect about Vancouver's food scene is that most eateries and food-oriented hangouts don't have late-night hours, particularly those specializing in desserts. Leave it to an import from the Canadian city that knows best about having a vibrant nightlife to help solve that problem.
Cacao 70's late night hours (open until 11 p.m. from Sunday to Thursday and until midnight on Friday and Saturday) offer an option for those uninterested in going to a bar, and something to consider after most restaurants and cafés have closed.
And then, bien sûr, there’s the chocolate. Oh, the chocolate!
This isn't the mass-market chocolate that has dominated the North American market. Kadoch explains that the chocolate most commonly available in stores has corrupted true appreciation of and understanding about what real chocolate is about.
“Chocolate has unfortunately been destroyed by the commercialization of it so we are trying to bring back that idea that chocolate is not that bad,” he says. “It was our mission to bring that word out on the market and the best way to do it is by creating a bistro that specializes in it.”
Kadoch emphasizes the health benefits of dark chocolate, including its protein content and antioxidants. Even the U.S. Army, he points out, has used chocolate as a ration bar for a high-energy, emergency food source since 1937.
While there are three types of cocoa beans—forastero, criollo, and trinitario—Kadoch says they don’t use forastero.
“Forastero is a commercial chocolate that most people when they try dark chocolate, they didn’t like their experience because there was that chalky, bitter flavour that comes out of it,” he says.
The lower the percentage, he explains, the less natural oils and butters it has, which contributes to an often unappealing taste.
Also unlike mass-market chocolate with percentages usually under 4 percent, Cacao 70’s lowest dark chocolate percentage is 38 percent. Even their French cream white chocolate is at 31 percent, which is higher than most commercial white chocolate bars.
Cacao 70 offers chocolate sourced from countries as diverse as Ghana, Ecuador, Belgium, Peru, Saint-Domingue, and Tanzania. Customers can purchase the chocolate to take home (300 grams for $12.95) or enjoy it in-house as a specialty hot chocolate ($9.25).
Unlike most North American hot chocolate, this Spanish-style version is the real deal with a rich, full-bodied flavour to savour. Patrons select which percentage of dark chocolate they want (from 31 to 76 percent), and it's served as melted liquid chocolate alongside a glass snifter containing a chocolate base. Drinkers can pour the melted chocolate into the glass, enabling them to adjust the amount to their preferences.
And that's only the beginning. There’s all manner of chocolate-based edibles imaginable on the wide-ranging menu: shakes, fondues, cakes, ice cream cups, smoothies, iced coffees, and even chocolate pizzas. (Good news: there are also gluten-free and lactose-free options available.)
But there’s more than just chocolate.
Kadoch says they were careful to balance the menu with a variety of options, including sweet and savoury selections as well as chocolate and non-chocolate items.
“A lot of times, you go out with friends and there’s always that one person who doesn’t find something on the menu, right?” he says. If that happens, he points out, often eateries can lose whole groups in search of somewhere else to go.
That’s why Cacao 70's menu includes a brunch menu available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with offerings such as open-faced sandwiches, grilled sandwiches, salads, frittatas, omelettes, waffles, oatmeal, and granola. There are even pressed crepe sandwiches, which are stuffed French crepes pressed in a panini grill (served with a side salad).
As the bistro strives to be as health-oriented as possible, no frying is involved in any of their food. All items are oven-baked and that includes potatoes, frittatas, and even bacon.
While the spot has been already attracting interested customers, there's more in store in the near future. Kadoch says a second location is under construction in North Vancouver near the SeaBus terminal. Instead of a bistro, this new spot with feature a casual grab ’n’ go concept with an opening sometime this spring.
In the meantime, Cacao 70 is part of a wave of new eateries opening up on Denman Street, such as the Australian pie shop Peaked Pies, Taiwanese coffee shop 3 Quarters Full, and the Quebec-based Yeh! Frozen Yogurt, that are helping to revitalize the West End street as a foodie destination. While a chocolate specialty spot may at first seem the most indulgent, Cacao 70's efforts to raise awareness about real dark chocolate will challenge misconceptions in the most delectable way possible.