Thursday, December 11, 2008

tartine bakery

Ooof. That was the sound of my heart sinking. Perhaps I had such lofty expectations of this beloved bakery, famous for its trays of doughy, chocolaty treats. I fell in love with Tartine even before I had ever set food inside. I remember flipping through the pages of the cookbook, from my tiny kitchen in Baltimore, mesmerized at the pictures of gooey brownies, which I made right away and were honestly, daaaaamn good. Mr. S will TESTIFY to that.

So a few weekends ago, we made our way over to the Mission, stomachs growling for some croissants and Tartine's famous quiche. We saw the line first. A line of fellow hungry morningers, literally around the block. I get grumpy in the AM on an empty stomach, and now a crowd of people, stood between me and a flaky croissant. Not even sure we were going to get a table, I started to "hover" over other people's. Oh I'm sure I was annoying as hell.

The cakes and morning pastries looked fantastic, so naturally I wanted one of everything, but we finally settled on a sticky bun, a plain croissant, ham quiche, vegetarian quiche, a pain au chocolat for the road, and a cappuccino and fresh squeezed grapefruit juice. Sounds like a lot, but we were running on empty.

First thing I noticed is Tartine has a tendency to overbake everything to a dark golden brown. Which is alright if a crunchy buttery flake is what you prefer, rather than a softer golden, more pliable dough. All technicalities aside, both the croissant and the morning bun were quite finger-licking good. There also happens to be a generous drop of almond extract in everything. The morning bun was fine, nothing to write home to mama about, but Mr.S sure was not a fan of the orange flavoring.

One of the only shining moments of the morning was my cup of cappuccino. The perfect ratio of foam to espresso to steamed milk, and a beautiful finish of foam art to boot. The espresso machine is set separate from all the food, a way smart idea, so the barista can actually focus on making drinks instead of being barked at by the hungry sugar-crazed morning crowd. Which definitely was apparent in her mood, as she was certainly the cheeriest of the staff that day.

Quiche is everything I love all in one bite. Buttery crust, eggy custard, cheese, and BACON. I don't want to sound like a Debbie Downer here by seemingly berating everything on the menu, but I'll just say that I've had better. Tartine's version is made with creme fraiche rather than a savory, salty Gruyere, so it turns out bland and slightly runny. The crust is made using a puff pastry dough, instead of a crispy short pastry dough, which gave it a chewiness that was rather unpleasant, despite the amount of butter used.

There are 2 daily selections, one veggie, and one with slivers of Niman Ranch smoked ham. My veggie that day was sparsely dotted with mushrooms and artichoke, lost in a sea of wet custard. There was no depth of flavor that a strong and ripe cheese would have imparted, had one been used. Sigh. Because it was so rich and heavy, I only managed to make it halfway through my slice while Mr.S picked at his.

Lastly, on to the scene. A word to the wise, if you want to fit in, throw on a pair of super-skinny jeans, a flannel shirt, and wait 3 days without washing your hair before you go. Having worked for many years in a similar-type bakery and cafe, I am usually appalled when I see the staff handling my soon-to-be-ingested goodies, sans wax paper, gloves, aprons, hats, or even a bandana. Alright, so it's ok to have a 'tude and all, but would it be such an unreasonable burden to run a comb through your hair and hide half of it under a hat? Seriously, it's common courtesy, and really, personal hygiene is pretty hip these days.

Our experience could have been more pleasant, had there not been other customers breathing down our necks, eyeing our table and food, asking us if they could steal a chair or have us scooch our table over an inch. We certainly could have done without the loud indie rock as well, and the waitress who harassed us for our receipt over a pain au chocolat. All in all, I felt a little battered and bruised upon leaving, with a heavy stomach.

I tore into the pain au chocolat later that afternoon. The dark Valrohna chocolate was fantastic, but the rest was too doughy and soft. Yes, the flavor was rich and buttery, but the mouth feel was worlds away from the light, airy croissants I remember from Parisian boulangeries.

I always try to give a business the benefit of the doubt because I truly believe a one-time visit is never enough for a basis of final judgment. For this reason, and for the fact that I have a sweet tooth that leads me through much of my decision-making, I will most likely revisit Tartine, on an off-day, maybe for a loaf of their daily fresh-baked bread, and a brownie or two. The optimist in me would like to believe that it's gotten so many rave reviews for a reason....

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