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Jan 28, 2007 03:06 PM

Mark Bittman's review of Tartine

In today's New York Times Travel section Mark Bittman states that Tartine is his "favorite bakery in the United States." His glowing review describes the exceptional scones, croissants (best he's had on the West Coast), and sandwiches. He also mentions that the sweets are right up there with the croissants and scones. Can't wait to see the lines in the coming weeks/months!

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  1. We went for the first time last week (found a time in the afternoon on a Tuesday when the line was reasonable). We had the pecorino & almond sandwich and the idiazabal & membrillo, both flavorful and unique (especially the pecorino and almond - the almonds are crushed with lemon, olive oil and sage) - a little too big, but we brought them home for leftovers.

    Also tried a couple of the pastries: the friand, the shortbread and the frangipane tart. I can't say that any of the pastries blew our socks off, but they were good. I bought some Elephant Heart Plum jam as a souvenir, and I'm enjoying that.

    I found the request to bus our own tables a little bizarre - we were not given a tray to put our food on, and when we tried to bring all of our various plates, glasses, cutlery, water bottles, etc. inside, we found no bus station, so we ended up leaving them on a counter.

    We'll definitely go back, but not when the line is halfway down the block. It's not THAT good.

    1. The original comment has been removed
      1. it's really not that great. They do a few things really well, the rest is ok.

        7 Replies
        1. re: Lori SF

          Can you go into any more detail? I've never heard anything negative about it, besides the long lines. What did you eat and how did it come up short? What's your favorite bakery that you would send people to before Tartine?

          1. re: Earl Grey

            I don't know Lori's experience but in my opinion, Bittman's rave about their scones is more of an indicator of the crappiness of commerical scones than about the quality of Tartine's scones. Scones are incrediably easy to make and there's so few ingredients its absurd that most places cut corners. Those super-sized sugar bombs with stabilizers at Starbucks are a prime example of a bad scone.

            In my view, Tartine's scones are are no better than any properly made scone.

            And their croissants are certainly good but, in my view, no better than Bay Bread's.

            Certainly, Tartine is a serious bakery that gets it right and they should be applauded for their work. But they don't walk on water and at this point the blind adoration and groveling at their feet is really too, too much. Especially since the atmosphere is so crappy and the service leaves a lot to be desired.

            1. re: larochelle

              Would you mind elaborating on what is wrong with the service at
              Tartine? I know several people who feel this way ... and the next
              time I hear it, I plan to ask them too ... but it's never been clear to me
              what the staff should be doing differently.

              Let's go into a few potential things:
              --lines are long: this could be a problem with resource level and that is
              a management problem, not a staff problem ... it's not like they run out
              of clean dishes because the staff is chatting instead of washing. also it's
              a small physical space, so it may not be as simple as "just hire another
              counter person". frankly i think a lot of the slow lines are due to customer
              dithering. i do agree the layout is not optimal at all ... when the line backsup
              along the display counter, people who dont know the product line, cant
              order efficiently ... but i think a lot of the customers spend time yammering
              inside their party rather than knowing what to order. yes, tartine is not the
              "croissant nazi".

              --it would be nice if the staff did "garbage collections" to free() up tables more
              frequently. however, this is a little tricky because when they are busy, a table
              is empty for about a nanosecond. it is much more "computationally expensive"
              to tell an occupied table needs to be cleaned, than an empty table with with a
              stack of dishes. while the staff could do better here, i primarily blame freeriding

              --are you saying the service is surly? in say 50 visits to tartine, nothing dramatically
              obnoxious sticks in my mind

              --are you saying the staff is ignorant about the product line? i dont ask
              questions about say the provenance of the pepper in the gougere, but i havent
              had any real problems in that arena.

              --somebody above expressed surprise at being ask to self-bus. maybe they did call
              in mckinsey and were correctly told that was the "efficient" solution [see above
              comment about it being expensive for the staff to constantly poll what needs to
              be garbage collected] . also mentioned being bewildered about where to put the
              stuff ... well maybe the the cafe was less crowded when i first went there, but it
              didnt seem *that* hard to figure out ... i mean it's not a large space.

              --ok, on reflection, they have been out of half-and-half or sugar or whatever
              "coffee personalization ingredients" but again it's not clear to me they are
              worse in this area than another busy cafe ... and this isnt brunch at the Ritz.

              anyway, i'll leave it at that for now. in summary:
              yes, there is are some victim-of-their-own-success issues, they probably could use
              a "management consultant", and there are a number of problems realating to the
              physical space but those are hard-to-solve and are management/owner issues.
              i think a certain fraction of the customer base is generally much more responsible
              for the problems with tartine [as i say to friends: tartine is an example of the
              failure of communism].

              in spite of all the tartine apologist comments, i thought the bittman review was a
              little over the top too. when it comes to sweets, i may give the edge to bay bread.

              1. re: psb

                Wow! That is a lot of apologist remarks and questions.

                I have not had any particular problem with staff. I was categorizing complete lack of crowd management and lack of "floor staff" as a service issue (you considered them "management" issues).

                I find Tartine poorly designed and their crowd management a joke - see your comments above, you seem to have hit all the major points that I and others have made. Its just that I don't find those excuses acceptable, they've been in business long enough and had the same problems, many of which are solvable, the whole time.

                Since their food isn't that special to me, its a deal-breaker. But they're hardly missing my business and ultimately, I'd rather hordes continue to overwhelm Tartine since it means my places aren't.

                1. re: psb

                  Agree on the management consultant. Garbage, inside and out, constantly in need of attention. Tables, inside and outside, in need of bussing. Graffiti on exterior in need of repair.

                  When the bakery first opened, food quality and aesthetics were flawless. Both have lapsed.

                2. re: larochelle

                  I agree with you completely. The scones at Starbucks are a joke. I call them "Stones".

                3. re: Earl Grey

                  Earl Grey my reply below. I think Boulange de Cole Valley (this one is near my house) has better croissants, croque monsieur, breads and pastries in general and sandwiches.

              2. larochelle I could of not said it better. Bingo!

                I use to go there often and I have tried almost everything. I find their pastries to be ok, not great and too expensive for not being great. I have had better croissants theirs are too doughy on the inside and I just don't get the scone thing, why is it hard to find a really good one?

                Their pressed sandwiches tend to be greasy IMO. I do not care for their custard filling and the cakes are not as good as other places, theirs tend to be too sweet and on the dry side. They cannot make a proper eclair, the dough was bad and the custard was not good at all, over powered with chocolate.

                I do like the bread pudding and banana cream pie and few other items have been very good over the years. I think you need to know what to order go as early as possible.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Lori SF

                  I am a fan of Tartine but I am NOT impressed by their scones. Mission pie on 25th street has a perfect cranberry scone. It's not a baked on site but still worth trying. Nobody really mentioned Tartine's ham and cheese croissants.The hearty niman ranch ham with gruyere is surrounded by flakey and chewy texture. The key is getting pastries fresh out of the oven when there is less of a crowd (I don't know if that is possible anymore).

                  1. re: finchycocoa

                    The scones and muffins at Mission Pie are made at Destination Baking, and you can get the same scones and muffins there. I really wish the slices of pie were available at Destination (where they're baked) as well, because I'd rather hang out there (a more social and convivial atmosphere).

                2. It's good to see so many people realizing that Tartine is way overrated (finally).
                  You can indeed find much better croissants in the city (Arlequin, Boulange or Bay Bread). Tartine's croissants are actually quite bad, burned on the outside, undercooked inside, too big, too expensive, tasteless... The rest is just as forgettable, usually heavy and bland. Did I mention expensive? As for the staff, they are way too slow, hence the line outside not because of traffic. They do have descent coffee when you can get someone to make it.
                  The book is just as bad.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: ngardet

                    Tartine's bread is the best in the Bay Area.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      All their bread is the best or one specific kind?

                      We are blessed with so many good bread bakeries in the Bay Area, I only vaguely remember their bread being nice but the last time I got their bread was probably a year ago.

                      Personally, I love Acme's pain epi and Bay Bread's walnut bread & baguettes but don't have any particular favorites for other styles/loaves. If Tartine has something extraordinary, perhaps I can get my husband to go on a recon mission.

                      1. re: larochelle

                        They make only one kind of bread, a large, crusty, white loaf with a moist crumb. Of Acme's breads, it's closest in style to the levain.


                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          They make more than one bread, although I believe they're all based on the country French. The walnut is also wonderful. Not fond of the olive or date. Not sure if they're still making the sesame.

                          I love Acme levain and several of the Arizmendi breads, and find it preposterous to wait in line at Tartine for bread--but I do it anyway. They make a number of great items (anything with cream) as well as a number that are less exciting.

                          1. re: Windy

                            I dont know if it is out of date or not, but there is a BREAD section
                            at the bottom of:

                            1. re: Windy

                              Those are all minor variations of the one bread.

                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                          I agree. I particularly love the walnut. I've not had a problem with lines when I've picked up bread. I call in my order the morning I plan to pick up my loaf and then drop by at about 5:30 to buy it. Usually there isn't much of a line that late, and I have fresh from the oven bread for dinner.

                          1. re: ngardet

                            I completely agree about the croissants. The ones at Bay Bread are amazing - my favorite in the city.

                            But I did nibble on an amazing tart from Tartine. Someone brought it for a birthday party and I found myself going back for seconds.