Looking at my interview schedule I was a little bit sad – 8:00am until 4:30pm with three hospitals involved and scheduled trams/busses between each…a day in San Francisco and I wouldn’t be able to indulge my gastronomic desires for breakfast or dinner…or would I? Like a good foodie I quickly consulted the hitlist – egullet, chowhound, yelp, gayot, zagats, and the online version of the local newspaper – and within moments my distress was resolved because a virtual smorgasbord of unique options just so happened to lie on all sides of my path. Getting up at a healthy 4:30am I made my way to the hotel gym for some weights and cardio, showered, shaved, and tossed on the Versace suit…and a pair of Nike’s because walking 3.1 miles to UCSF in dress-shoes did not sound too pleasant. The morning was beautiful and the walk through Hayes Valley was great – albeit mostly uphill – and by 7:00 I found myself at my first destination – La Boulange de Cole.
Having had a relatively poor experience at Boulangerie on my previous trip I was somewhat hesistant to give the Boulange group another try, but at the same time the fact that this one had seats and good reviews made me take the risk – that and the fact that Pork Store didn’t look too appealing and Zazie didn’t open until 8. Walking up to La Boulange I was greeted by the familiar orange awning and a line of 2-3 people in front of me. Unlike my experience at Boulangerie I was also greeted with smiles and friendly service.
Checking out the samples on the counter while browsing the selections I was quite impressed by the density of the chocolate brownie and the wonderfully refined sweetness of the cassis and crème tarte. I was also impressed by the petite French Toast, but was told this would take ~20 minutes to prepare. After a short debate my decision was made and my order placed - $7.75 cents and 3 minutes later I was seated at my table with my options.
Choice one, after a superb almond croissant on my Boulangerie visit, was a Ham and Gruyere croissant that the server volunteered to warm up for me (something they told me they couldn’t do with my croque at Boulangerie.) While not quite as sublime as the version at Tartine, I will admit I was quite content with the buttery texture of the soft pastry and the substantial portion of salty ham within. Particularly attractive was the smoothness of the Gruyere which complemented the dish well without overwhelming or becoming lost in the butter or salt. A great savory.
Choice two was one of the excellent demi-baguettes. Not normally a fan of simply ordering “bread” I noticed that every single person preceding me ordered a baguette and once I saw the condiment selection I decided to try it for myself. Served piping hot from the oven the wonderfully crusty baguette had a refined and soft interior with hints of butter and perhaps even vanilla. When paired with Nutella, Strawberry and Apricot Preserves, two forms of salt, and Lavender Honey the bread was certainly a great choice and something I’d order again.
My final selection was at the advice of my server and certainly the best item I’ve yet tasted at either Boulange. Simply titled “fresh pear and cranberry tart” I was served a large slice of the buttery pastry with wonderfully sweet pears and tart/bitter cranberries that almost seemed to melt together and form a flavor that was neither pear nor cranberry but moreso like a Prickly Pear – whether this effect was intended or not I cannot be sure, but I would definitely order this again and actually wrote to the Boulange after my return to ask for the recipe – a request to which a friendly lady responded to within 24 hours and stated they would try to get the recipe for that dish (apparently not frequently on the menu at any of the Boluange restaurants) and send it my way.
All told I much preferred every aspect of my experience at La Boulange de Cole as compared to Boulangerie and would definitely make La Boulange a frequent quick-breakfast if I end up living in the San Francisco area.