Sunday, January 6, 2008

Tartine Bakery, San Francisco

I am going out on a limb and pronouncing Tartine Bakery the finest bakery in the Western world. I freely admit that I base this opinion on only a few sampled items and on two visits that were separated by one year. I understand that Tartine only opened in 2002, lacks charm and comfortable seating and has long lines of insufferable San Franciscans. But I am also basing this opinion on visits to such celebrated establishments as Maison Kayser and the ever precious Gérard Mulot, as well as the inferior quality of bakeries in Los Angeles and New York. (When Bread Bar, the local branch of Maison Kayser, is properly managed--and it is a rare occurrence--it is the best bakery in L.A.)

I became hooked on Tartine in 2006 when its lusty croque monsieur ended a painful hangover. Not surprisingly, Tartine served its croque as a tartine, i.e., open faced. The bread was thick and crusty, the ham smoked, and the béchamel and gruyere in perfect, if slightly indulgent, proportions with thyme and pepper. Tartine’s accomplishment was that it made a sandwich that clearly benefited from its originators’ technique, experience and access to impeccable ingredients, but would not be out of place at a Philly cheesesteak tasting or on a taco tour of central Los Angeles. The sandwich is ultimately about pork and cheese and should cure a hangover, which it did.

In our recent trip to San Francisco, we had an hour to kill between having coffee at Ritual in the Mission and going to lunch at Zuni for my birthday, and so we wandered over to Tartine. As the line was not yet Soviet in scale though still out the door, we thought we'd try a few items, which restraint quickly dissipated under the pretext of birthday exuberance. We loved the ham and cheese croissant, which Tartine served warm, and also bridged (and negated) the false gap between food’s supposedly high and low bandwidths. The gougere with gruyere and fresh herbs was a revelation because of its ineffably addictive texture and peppery kick. On the sweet side of things, a thin and crunchy hazelnut biscotto with anise was a perfect complement to Tartine’s near perfect, restrained espresso that was not hyper-concentrated or over extracted, like at Intelligentsia. We could not resist the fresh “morning bun,” practically the Platonic form of a cinnamon roll. It was both light and substantial and had a thin layer of orange sugar to provide sweetness and balance.

We ended with the finest chocolate chip cookie this side of my mother’s. The thin and tasty cookie and had an undertone of saltiness and masterfully worked the classic salty/sweet combination. The cookie was like a cohesive, well-practiced quartet: the chocolate had the freedom to solo, but used its discretion to collaborate smartly with the dough’s tight rhythm section.

The upshot of eating before Zuni is that we were forced to order their venerable roasted chicken and bread salad and wait the hour, a period for which I otherwise would not had patience.

Tartine Bakery
600 Guerrero Street
San Francisco
(415) 487-2600

1 comment:

Brooke said...

I don't think it's going out on a limb to say such grand things about Tartine. (Just ask the James Beard review board, and they'll agree.)

They are, for certain, one of my must go to eateries in SF.

PS. not mentioned in an earlier note, I hate LA Mill with an unbridled ferocity.