Wed 4 Mar 2009
Let’s face facts: DC is a bakery wasteland. Yes, there are some cake specialty shops. There are some phenomenal pastry chefs whipping up amazing desserts in restaurants like Hook and Tabard Inn. And you can’t walk a block in a trendy neighborhood these days without running into a cupcake shop. But what about a tried and true bakery? Someplace you can run into and grab a scone and strong coffee to go? Where the croissants aren’t a day old and delivered from a factory – or worse – Costco?
DC’s dearth of bakery options is what had Mike and me walking down a wet, barren, early morning sidewalk in the Mission district of San Francisco during our visit. We were heading to Tartine. Tartine is an honest to God, no screwing around bakery. City dwellers line up for Tartine on weekend mornings, engaging sharp elbows for a seat – any seat please! – but especially a seat at the family table in front. We had the advantage (ahem) of being tourists so a leisurely 9 am weekday breakfast was perfectly acceptable for our schedules.
I’d been told that Tartine is near several Mission district foodie destinations but damned if I could see any under the cover of my umbrella. When I did occassionally look up, it was to see boarded up taquerias and closed bars that I kind of remember visiting in college. (Mike: “Ha! Blondie’s bar and NO grill.” Me: “Oh yeah… I think I got kicked out of there once.”) Finally, after walking a few blocks that felt like miles, we made it to Tartine. Okay, hold up. This place doesn’t even have a sign out front. Seriously?
What we ordered, pictures and our experience after the jump!
Two steps before we were inside we knew this was the right place. The smell of rising bread and general baked awesomeness was overpowering even on the wrong side of the front door. I have walked into heaven. We queued up at the counter, gazing at chocolate eclairs, cakes, pudding, Mexican wedding cookies, shortbread… how in the world does a person ever decide on what to order? Oh, never mind. One look at their croissants had me sold. A second look at the day’s special, brioche with baked seasonal fruit had me sold again.
I looked at Mike. “What are you thinking?” I ask.
“The muesli with fresh yogurt,” he answered. ”Ooooh, are those giant gougeres?”
Clearly there would be no overlapping order here. There was only one solution: gorge. We ate for four that morning, with each of us ordering exactly what we wanted: two breakfast items. While we were at it, I opted to caffeinate for two; my latte came in a bowl more appropriate for matzo ball soup than coffee.
We found two seats at the long, farm-style table near the front windows. Our coffee arrived momentarily and we dug in. That brioche fruit concoction? Probably the closest thing you can find to walking on sunshine without a dealer. The fruit was roasted to a perfect sweetness – not too mushy, it held onto a tiny bit of bite and was cooked just enough to draw out the natural sugars. The brioche was warm and almost-but-not-too-soggy. It was perfection. My croissant nearly rivaled it. Baked to a slight crispness on the outside (perhaps even a little too brown for my liking) it was the picture of buttery and flaky and divine. Who makes these croissants and will they please open a shop in our neighborhood in DC?
On his side of the farmhouse table, Mike was no less disappointed. His muesli was rich and creamy – a healthy-ish option that didn’t feel like a sacrifice. Of course, Mike wasn’t sacrificing. He also picked up a gougere the size of two fists. While it didn’t have the creamy, cheesey center we’ve grown accustomed to from Central it was still heavenly. It was flaky, layered and with a surprising kick of pepper (was that pepperjack cheese they mixed into the dough?). It was airty but still rich and full of flavor from even the smallest bite.
We spent the rest of the morning nibbling our breakfast pastries, watching the rain fall outside, sipping strong organic coffee and trading sections of the New York Times. When people daydream about moving to a cosmopolitan city to write the great American novel, I’m pretty sure this is actually the lifestyle they have in mind.
600 Guerrero St
San Francisco, CA 94110