Monday, February 16, 2009

Tartine Bakery, San Francisco CA

On my recent trip to San Francisco, the basic plan was as follows: Light bakery breakfast, small/moderate lunch, and fancy dinner. The first of these breakfasts was partaken at Tartine bakery and given the glowing reviews and Beard awards the expectations were admittedly high. Arriving at 8:15 on a rainy President’s Day morning there was no line and we actually drove right past the unmarked building on first pass. Once the venue was located, parking was a snap and a mere $1 at the meter.

Entering the bakery the smell is almost perfection defined; vanilla, cinnamon, coffee, and warm chocolate waft through the air as a light soundtrack plays in the background. Browsing the selections quickly it was easy to say what looked good – everything, but nearly impossible to decide what looked BEST. After a few moments my group decided to get a number of items to share around, 2 coffees, and an orange juice. Service was prompt, albeit a little aloof, and prices were on par with what one would expect in the Midwest – not California. Seating was readily available, though I can definitely see how this might become problematic as more people arrive, especially on weekends.

Dishes selected included a Ham and Gruyere Croissant, an Almond Croissant, Seasonal Nectarine Bread Pudding, Walnut Banana Bread, a Morning Bun, a Meringue cookie, a large Chocolate Chip and Walnut Cookie, and finally a Chocolate Pudding to go – each item was delicious and sizeable and it became obvious early on that we’d ordered to much.

The two croissants were each stunning examples and both served warm with a plethora of filling. Given its contents and flakey appearance, the ham and gruyere nearly represented a croquet monsieur moreso than a croissant and its buttery cheesy texture was divine. Similarly the Almond Croissant was stuffed with filling yet light and airy and covered with almonds and powdered sugar. While not quite as excellent as the version at The Butler and the Chef or Payard, quite wonderful none the less.

Despite the fanfare, the Morning Bun – served piping hot – was a tad bland for my taste and the orange essence seemed a bit overwhelming of the more subtle cinnamon/sugar texture. The Banana Bread that my aunt ordered with it, however, was a stunning example and absolutely crammed with Bananas and Walnuts to the point that I wondered how much flour was even there – the best Banana Bread I’ve yet encountered – Better than Bouchon.

The next dish, my favorite dessert by far, was a true treat to behold. Delicate layers of custard laden brioche, cinnamon, vanilla, and a slight hint of caramel buried beneath warmed and fresh nectarines was almost too much for breakfast – I say almost too much because the taste was so sublime that I devoured the dish and considered seconds before my belly caught up to my eyes. In a trip that included 6 Bread puddings, this was the champion amongst the fruit based options – and it wasn’t even close. An absolute must have.

Not quite stuffed (remember where I said “light Bakery breakfast” – oops) we opted for a small macaroon, a giant flat cookie, and a chocolate pudding to go. The macaroon, eaten immediately, was small and loaded with coconut, but nothing to write home about while the cookie was crisp yet piping hot, chewy yet textured, and large but light and airy – neither cookie made it to the car. The Chocolate Pudding, however, did make it to the car and was later consumed as a snack. While called a “pudding,” the flavor and texture more closely resembled a pot au crème in mass proportion. While truly delicious, I was glad my aunt liked this more than me because even for someone who loves chocolate, this was a bit much.

On the way out the door I stepped into the kitchen and watched four chefs prepare various treats and witnessed the finishing of an enormous lemon meringue cake, several chocolate éclairs, and a number of enormous gougeres – if I lived in San Francisco I’d be back to sample each, repeatedly.

All told, Tartine lives up to the hype and if one arrives early enough the wait isn’t even an issue. While I cannot speak to the quality of everything they produce, I can say that this bakery was the best of those visited during our trip in terms of selection, quality, and friendliness. Strongly recommended.

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