Valentine's Day, no matter what it means, is a day for confections, and I took on the arduous task of sampling goodies from a handful of proprietors. Whether you're thinking of sweets as a gift or to enjoy on your own, my picks include everything from classic candies to caramel sauce.
At Little Italy Mercato (Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.), confectioners abound with a variety of interesting choices. The Salty Sisters dispense toffee, my favorite being the Claim to Fame. Salty with almonds and sea salt and sweet with chocolate and toffee, a quarter-pound bag is plenty to share. They also offer the Island Style (white chocolate and macadamia nuts) and, for the purists, Pure Toffee Bliss, a classic toffee. A few booths down, Praline Patisserie (also at La Jolla Open Aire Market) offers jars of freshly made caramel sauce. Caramel is addictive on its own, and Praline offers flavors like Espresso, Sea Salt and Lavender. Espresso, a recent addition to the line, is the perfect combination of darkly cooked sugar and sharp coffee.
For a more traditional gift, there are chocolate truffles from The Elegant Truffle (1111 Scott St. in Point Loma). Choose from a basic milk- or dark-chocolate truffle or try one of the boozy varieties, like Baileys or Zinfandel. I was told that for the latter, the wine was chosen for its very close flavor profile to the chocolate. The wine finished last in the truffle and was a nice and subtle touch. The Elegant Truffle also offers a dense chocolate cheesecake called the Oh, My God cake. The name is self-explanatory.
For everything from boozy to exotically flavored chocolates, there's Eclipse Chocolat (2121 El Cajon Blvd. in North Park), which offers everything from candy bars to caramels and truffles. Expect flavors like pomegranate, chili and peanut butter, with a selection of candies and boxed sets to choose from. For a truly sweet confection, take a look a their rococo, clusters of marshmallow dipped in chocolate and nuts.
Candy is the saving grace to what's otherwise be a commercialized holiday, so forget the flowers and dinner at a crowded restaurant and go for something sweet.