In any new city, I ask for bakery recommendations. And then, perversely, avoid going to the place everyone is talking about. When I got to San Francisco, the first place anyone mentioned was Tartine Bakery. I put it on the top of my list and finally, over a year after I did, I went.
Like so many places in big high-rent cities, Tartine is small. The line outside the door, at 3pm on a Saturday, was about 20 people (and was just as long when I left). It was so packed I ordered to go, without much time to review the full range or the atmos.
Chocolate Sea Salt Rye Cookie: The rye was just too intriguing, what would that sourness do with a cookie? Delicious. Dark with a few grains of sea salt on top. Texturally, similar to a macaron, with a bit of a crust and a super chewy inside. At first it’s all about the depth of the chocolate. Then the rye comes in and I can’t lie, it’s a surprise. And you do have a second where you think this may go wrong, but then it all smooths out and the rest is divine and gone too soon. Invokes dreams of a partnership with Blue Bottle Coffee Gelato (Gelateria Naia).
Cocoa Nib Rocher: Petite mountains of meringue speckled with cocoa nibs. Perfection. Not too sweet, exquisitely chewy, generous with the nibs. Did I say perfection?
Eclair: Full disclosure — I’m a big eclair fan, but I’m all about the cream and usually don’t care for the glaze, so I tend to slice off the top and spoon out the cream (because let’s face it, pate a choux doesn’t hold up). Tartine’s eclair featured fresh pastry, the “glaze” is a thick layer of Valhrona ganache (a nice surprise and a bit of a treat). The filling is a light vanilla cream, very smooth. The caliber of the ingredients beg this eclair be eaten all together, in bites, not dissected. Only note: I prefer a custardy cream filling, Tartine’s has less body.
Gougere: I have eaten these choux and gruyere balls hot, bite-sized, with drinks. Tartine offers a softball-size version. Larger is not necessarily better so I balked, but in the end I had to. Pillowy, cheesy, chewy and pully, delicious even when sampled in the car. I think it would be improved when warmed up, but that’s a small complaint. It was seriously good, even without a cocktail.
The revelation — Cocoa Nib Cream Tart: I’ve got a bit of a thing for cocoa nibs. When I ordered the tart, I thought I was buying a lovely chocolate coated cake affair, but when I opened the box, it was a tart shell mounded with cream studded with nibs and covered with small, frais de bois-like strawberries. I appreciate fruit tarts but don’t gravitate to them. I was a bit disappointed. Until the first bite. More than whipped cream, but I don’t know why, full-bodied; tart-sweet berries; and a pastry crust that was so buttery it was almost caramelly. I never eat more than a bite of anything I buy when cruising bakeries. I ate every bit of this. Slowly and with relish.
Tartine Bakery, 600 Guerrero St., San Francisco, CA 94110; (415) 487-2600
Or at home: Tartine Bakery cookbook.