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Feb 28, 2009 06:47 AM

Boulangerie Review - Below Average Food and Bad Service.

Full review with pics here:

Text Below:

“No picture, no picture, pictures not allowed” stated the small oriental lady behind the counter. Really – of bread? Get over yourself. After a night of the most gracious and unpretentious service ever at The French Laundry I find it rather humorous that Boulangerie holds itself to such a high standard – especially when Tartine sells a cookbook to teach you how to exactly reproduce many of their favorites! Despite the quality of many of their items, in a trip that contained a number of fantastic breakfasts, Boulangerie was the worst of them all and the service left a whole lot to be desired.

Arriving shortly after opening and securing a meter with no trouble at all, we entered Boulangerie and were instantly struck by the small shop size and lack of tables, yet mesmerized by the wonderful smell and wide open preparation area in the back. Browsing the selections we were more or less accosted by the pair of salespeople who glared like hawks from behind the counter – while samples of the chocolate and vanilla poundcake as well as the bread pudding were available I was almost hesitant to take any given their glares. Realize I said almost – sample I did and while all three were good, none were mindblowing and the bread pudding was actually very bland and wet.

After another few moments and 2 customers passed (perhaps regulars as they were treated with respect and even a smile) we made our selections which were taken to the street and/or car to consume.

For myself, after a stellar Croque Monsieur at Bouchon and a great Ham and Gruyere Croissant at Tartine I decided to sample Boulangerie’s example which, unfortunately, was served cold and the server refused to warm stating “we have no microwave.” Seeing that we arrived literally 20 minutes after opening I do wonder when this was actually made since it was not even warm. While well flavored and loaded with cheese, the bread seemed soggy and the ham was skimpy – I ended up discarding about half.

My other selection, fortunately, fared much better than the Croque – another Almond Croissant. Perfectly flaky and absolutely loaded with almonds, this dish was actually still warm at purchase and the filling was delicious – perhaps as good as the version at Payard in Vegas and perhaps a reason to actually return to Boulangerie…or at least I thought so until the following day when I tasted the version at The Butler and the Chef.

My Aunt’s two selections, an Apple Torte and Cream Napoleon, were certainly not anything to write home about. The cream in the Napoleon was actually quite flavorful and may have even had a rosewater component to it, but the pastry itself once again seemed soggy – as though it had been prepared much earlier in the day than one would guess from our arrival time. The torte – bad. A soggy and buttery crust topped with what very well may have been canned apples was vastly too sweet and uninspired – very disappointing.

My mother, a big fan of the Macaroon and inspired by my Pistachio citrus brioche at Bouchon the day before opted for a sugared Brioche and five bite-sized Macaroons. Like the croissant, the brioche was served still warm and was actually pretty good, though mostly sugar and butter flavored without much undertone or nuance and certainly not as good as that at Bouchon or Aqua.

The Macaroons – okay, I’ll give Boulangerie some credit here, they were pretty darn good. While much smaller than those at Bouchon, the crispy outside yielded to an incredibly soft cookie with wonderful flavoring and the prices were certainly more appropriate than those at Miette. Selections made included cherry, currant, raspberry, pistachio, and lemon with particular favorites being the Currant and the Cherry, both of which were every bit as good as the Macaroons at Pistachia Vera in Columbus (my all time favorite.) The award for best Pistachio macaroon, however, still goes to Bouchon.

All told, I found Boulangerie to be very disappointing and the fact that there are so many in the city surprises me. Perhaps I simply arrived on a bad day, perhaps I chose a bad location, perhaps my standards are too high, or perhaps something else was at play but in my opinion the food was mostly average with a few impressive highlights and the service/attitude left a lot to be desired. By the way, I took a lot of pictures since I’ll not be back; might as well preserve the memories of that croissant and those two macaroons since the wonderful city of San Francisco simply has too many better options to explore.

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  1. Which Boulangerie location are you reviewing here?

    1 Reply
    1. Well I've never had anything but above average food at reasonable prices from multiple Boulangerie locations that I have visited. I find the complaint of the small shop size and lack of tables to be inconsequential... it is what it is. As to the service it's a French establishment what do you expect? (I will add I've never had a bad experience with the servers there)

      4 Replies
      1. re: virtualguthrie

        I expect good there something else I should expect???

        1. re: uhockey

          I guess it depends on what you mean by "good service." I don't go to an Italian deli and expect to be pandered to. It just sounds like a mis-characterization when you say they "refused" to heat up your Croque Monsieur when they obviously just didn't have the facilities to do so.

          1. re: virtualguthrie

            They had a toaster, a grill, and ovens - I'd have waited. Given that they'd just opened, I additionally wonder when it was cooked that it was at or below room temp.

            I'm not trying to start a fight here by knocking a place you like - simply offereing an objective view like I did of all the other places I visited.

        2. re: virtualguthrie

          I think you've hit upon what hounds are reacting to here. It's not defense of Boulangerie so much as surprise that it is anything other than it is -- fairly average with some standouts (quiche comes to mind) and some really ho-hum bakes. For me, it;s the sort of establishment that will do in a pinch, depending on my wants at the time (I will say you can find decent size brioche loaf there) -- but certainly fairly far down the list for most things.

        3. No excuse for what you experienced, but Boulangerie has an actual cafe (with more tables and an oven) right around the corner (on Fillmore btw California and Pine). You visited their bakery location...not intended for sit down.

          1 Reply
          1. re: jcormac

            That is fine - eating on the street was quaint in that French way and I didn't really mind that - I find it odd that people seem to think that is my "main complaint" when the food and service were so crummy.

          2. Unless they have changed, The Butler and the Chef sells Boulangerie almond croissants. Perhaps the better service made your stomach happier.

            This was the original location and as others have mentioned, their other restaurants have cafes or places to sit.

            This bakery was on my regular migration route for years and I stopped there at least once a week. There are good items and average items ... all of which you seem to have glommed onto.

            IMO, they make the best ... the best ... quiche lorraine in the Bay Area. They use thick cubes of ham and the crust is buttery and if they are just out of the oven ... in the morning ... there is nothing I like better. The other quiches ... pizza and salmon are only ok. I think I may have had their croque years ago and I would agree it is not their finest item.

            They make fabulous lemon tarts. That is my second favorite thing there. They make nice little Paresian-style sandwiches with similar French prices for a sliver of ham and cheese with a cornichon.

            I'm blanking on what else I like. They make some of the worst buche de Noel I have ever had. The attitude at almost all the Boulangerie's is what many Americans think of as stero-typical French ... not warm and buddy-buddy usually.

            A lot of people like their canelles, but I have yet to have one that matches the board description. They are fine, but not my thing. IMO, Mission Beach Cafe has the best canneles I've tried to date.

            I think their existance is justified just for the quiche.

            Bay Bread
            2325 Pine St, San Francisco, CA 94115

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