The first time I went to Tartine Bakery I was with the man I thought I might marry someday.
I should’ve known the relationship was doomed when we shared Tartine’s famous big-as-your-face croissant, and he went right for the hard crust, devouring its dry and charred bits, while I opted for the only part I found edible: the soft center.
“See, this is why we make a great team,” he told me. “I like the crust, and you like the inside.”
At the time, his statement had pleased me, but looking back on it now it seems foreboding that the argument for our compatibility rested on such tenuous evidence.
The last time I went to Tartine Bakery I was with an Australian friend I had met through this blog.
Elishka has a healthy appreciation for food, as do I, so we came in with a game plan. “Don’t you let me walk out of there without the banana cream tart!” she entreated me. I told her I simply had to have the lemon cream tart.
We walked in on a rainy Wednesday morning at precisely 8:10 and witnessed something that apparently never happens in Tartine Bakery: no line.
Strolling right up to the counter, we ordered a lemon cream tart, pain au chocolat, morning bun, croissant, cappuccino, and cafe au lait. (The banana cream tarts, as it turned out, would not be ready until 9 a.m.)
We took a seat at a wooden table by the window and intended to share our spoils. I knew it was the start of a beautiful friendship when Elishka took one glance at my lemon tart and said, “I better get my own. I don’t want to regret anything.”
Lemon Cream Tart
The lemon cream tart is a piece of art, though I think I enjoyed feasting my eyes upon it more than feasting my mouth.
The crust is hard to break with a fork, so I had this internal battle between breaking off pieces of it with a fork like a dainty lady or shoving the whole thing in my mouth; I opted to be a lady. The filling is smooth and tangy, topped with a dollop of unsweetened cream that is a welcomed respite from the sharp sourness of the lemon. All in all, it is a great pastry. The part I didn’t like was the lemon filling had a strange aftertaste that I can’t quite put my finger on… Perhaps it’s the egg I was tasting?
To my surprise, the morning bun, not the lemon cream tart, ended up being my favorite item. I had judged it rashly, taking one glance at its sugar-coated exterior and assuming it would be heavy and cloyingly sweet like a cinnamon bun. I was wrong. It has all the buttery flakiness of a croissant, with the added bonus of a sweet, light coating of sugar, cinnamon, and orange zest on the outside. The inside is light and fluffy, while the outside is chewy and sweet. And because we had arrived early, the freshly-baked bun was still warm.
Just before heading out, Elishka asked me if I’d like to try the croissant. I hesitated, remembering the unimpressive pastry of yesteryear.
But maybe the first time was just a fluke?
Maybe things have changed?
“Oh no,” Elishka groaned as she pulled the croissant from the paper bag. “It’s burnt*.”
I sighed knowingly. But hey, I’m all for second chances. I took a knife and sawed off a piece for me to try, sending charred bits flying all over the table.
Now, I hate to be one of those snobs who says, “Well, I used to live in Paris, so I know what a good croissant tastes like,” but, well, I used to live in Paris, so I know what a good croissant tastes like, and it isn’t this. A good croissant, in my opinion, has a flaky, crusty, golden exterior and layers of pillowy, tender bread on the inside, and is made with so much butter my fingers have a slight sheen from tearing at it. The Tartine Bakery croissant, I’m afraid, falls short of my Dream Croissant checklist. It’s a bit too crusty and doesn’t have enough butter for my taste. But, to each his own.
Just as with the first time, I tried to salvage what was left of the croissant by eating its soft inside. This time, however, there was no one with me to eagerly devour the crust.
After nearly an hour and a half of chatting and stuffing our faces with pastries, Elishka and I decided to head home. Well, also the line had started snaking toward the door and there were two women breathing down my neck and as soon as I shifted my weight one of them grabbed my chair to claim the table. So I figured our time was up.
Though unimpressed by my first visit to Tartine Bakery, I must admit I was a different person back then. My second visit to this prized San Francisco bakery got me thinking a lot about second chances and fresh starts. I felt inspired walking out of there. My stomach filled with good coffee and fresh pastries in this new life blessed with a new friend, I felt hopeful about other things changing for the better too.
Well, except for Tartine Bakery’s croissants. Some things never change.
* To be fair, that “burnt” exterior is intentional, and is a result of a baking technique known as “burnishing” that is intended to bring out more intense flavor. I’m personally not a fan, but I will say most people love Tartine’s croissants so I don’t doubt their merit. Details on Tartine’s burnished croissants here: http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/12/tartine-bakery-what-to-order-best-pastry-san-francisco.html
Tips on Visiting Tartine Bakery in San Francisco
Location: 600 Guerrero St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Tuesday, Wednesday 730-7
Thursday, Friday 730-8
Saturday, Sunday 8-8
When to go: A weekday about 20 to 40 minutes after they open because you’ll get there before they run out of morning buns, and the buns will still be warm. We went on a Wednesday at 8:10 a.m. and there was no line and we easily found a place to sit indoors. Keep in mind though, if you want a baguette, baguettes are baked only in the afternoons.
What to get: Morning bun, coffee, baguette. Their baguettes are the best I’ve had in the U.S.
That afternoon, Elishka returned to Tartine Bakery to buy their baguettes and like the amazing person she is, walked to my place just to share some with me! I’m glad she did, as I was beginning to lose hope of ever finding a good baguette in the States. Definitely get a baguette from Tartine. Delicious! Crusty exterior, spongy tender interior with no tang (I actually prefer a bit of sourness, like the ones from Eric Kayser bakery, but it’s good nonetheless!).