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Dec 15, 2009 10:14 AM

Sandbox Bakery - good things come in small packages [San Francisco]

Sandbox Bakery, a much anticipated and long delayed storefront on Cortland Ave in Bernal Heights, is open for business. And right from the start, this place is special. The storefront lives up to its name -- small, no seating, just one display case and some counters along the walls. And the pastries are the stars of the show. The space has a nice feel to it, with large glass sliding doors to the sidewalk, large windows, and the glass display cases countering the mass of a masonry wall made of some sort of layered field stone. Inside and out the colors are a subtle palate that give the space a beautiful, modern feel with a Japanese inflection that is mirrored in the pastries too. There is nothing run of the mill about this bakery. It is clearly the realization of a creative and original artist.

I started with a Valrhona pain au chocolate that was divine. The chocolate was still soft and warm, and the buttery croissant was flaky and indulgent. Might have been even better if it had cooled a bit more, but no matter -- I was in love. The morning bun that followed was a blur. I think I was drugged by the chocolate and would have loved anything. But the morning bun was great -- visually a dead ringer for the Tartine cousin. Next day I had some sort of chocolate cream in a spiral bread cone that would be every kid's dream pastry. They also offer pigs in a blanket, presumably for kids, but whoa -- looked pretty tempting. As good as that chocolate cone was, it was upstaged by the orange ginger scone that followed. I like to bake scones but I have no idea how she gets the crisp sugar and crystallized ginger crust with moist but the perfect scone crumb goodness inside. My 3rd visit started with a delicious, flaky almond croissant. Great flavor, but maybe a tad overdone and dense. The yuzu cheese danish that came next was flawless. I think the overly dense croissant may have been a fluke, since the plain croissant I had next time was sublime. I'm reminded of PEI's description of his Tartine croissant, except this one is not so huge. Or maybe they're still getting used to the new kitchen. I guess I'll just have to keep sampling.

Coffee is drip brewed to order using La Paz or Ritual beans and a very interesting drip system that brews each cup surprisingly quickly. Not sure if they grind the beans extra fine, or how they manage to fully brew the coffee with such a fast drip, maybe some aficionados can give us the scoop. Personally, I like my coffee dark, strong, and brutish and this cup did not hit those notes. Not bad at all, just not my crass style. Mighty Leaf teas also available.

I asked if they had a bread schedule and that seems to be unknown. I did try their challah which was delicious but tiny. It evoked images of the Stonehenge set in Spinal Tap - not 12x too small, but maybe 2x?. I need to dig a little deeper into their bread offerings. I did spy some Bernal sweet rolls that look amazing. But every time I've gone I get seduced by the pastries. And there are still so many kinds I have yet to try. What a problem.

I'm told that the storefront was to be bigger, but they've devoted more of the space to the bakery so they can handle more wholesale business. She's been supplying Nervous Dog Cafe and I imagine there will be other outlets as the business grows. But really, if you like pastries you should come to this new Cortland destination and check out the whole Sandbox package.

Sandbox Bakery
833 Cortland Ave, San Francisco, CA 94110

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  1. I got pastries there this weekend and they are quite good. Paticularly liked the scones -- one dill and one cheddar. But KC, isn't the name Sandbox? Did it change? Am I imagining that was the name?

    3 Replies
    1. re: Calvinist

      Oh snap! Me without an editor is a problem. And I can't edit this now. How does one go about requesting that a post be removed? I have a copy I could easily correct and re-post.

      1. re: BernalKC

        Use the "report" function and put the request in the comments.

        1. re: BernalKC

          We changed the Shoebox references to Sandbox for you.

        1. I continue to be blown away by this bakery. I'm surprised I'm the only hound barking!

          A work colleague, a Frenchman and former Parisian who lives in Bernal, confirmed for me that the pain au chocolate is superb -- as good or better than any he's had in France and way more affordable.

          I also love the pastry sizes which are smaller than, say, Tartine. Makes me feel less guilty and less porcine when I just have to get two pastries -- which is most of the time.

          5 Replies
          1. re: BernalKC

            stopped in a few weeks ago. It is definitely getting attention from neighborhood folks: it was quite busy when we were there. At just before 11 am on a Saturday, they were just pulling some very good looking scones out of the oven; blackberry IIRC. It looked like some offerings from early in the am were already gone.

            The pigs in blanket were made using full size sausages; I suspect not just for kids, though I didn't try them.

            I tried some not too memorable cookies: 75 cents each, and only ok; I think they were whole wheat chocolate chip (?) or something else that sounded moderately healthy but had too much sugar. They told me that I'd have to wait for the scones, since they were too hot to handle (although someone in front of me was given one by the same server. huh?). Unfortunately, I had an appointment and had already had to wait in line to order, so I went with a roll called a 'melon'. Not clear if it got it's name from its shape or if it had a melon component (plausible given their broad variety of ingredients, but if so, I certainly couldn't taste it. Anyway, it was yeasty and quite good.

            I wasn't blown away, but also didn't get to try much. I'd like to go back when I have more time, and earlier in the am.

            1. re: susancinsf

              Ouch. Now I feel responsible for your swing-and-a-miss experience. Next time stick to the pastries: the scones, croissants, and especially the pain au chocolat. Oh, and if you want to sample from the Asian influenced items or go fo one of their more unique items, the curry turnover is quite good.

              1. re: BernalKC

                oh no worries, I hadn't even seen your post at that point...was just wandering down Cortland checking out what was new since I left the neighborhood...and thanks for the tip on the curry turnover, I was tempted to try it!

              2. re: susancinsf

                Re: "melon" - I'm guessing you got the melon bun, which is a pastry that's extremely popular in Japan and other parts of Asia like Taipei and Hong Kong. It would make sense given the pastry chef's Japanese background.

                Here is more information:

                1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                  interesting, thanks. I don't recall a cookie dough layer as such, though yes, it did look similar to that: There is a variation of Mexican pan dulce that looks similar to the pictures in the link (could they have a common origin?) and I remember thinking that it reminded me of said pan dulce in appearance, though not taste. (the Mexican pan dulce isn't as yeasty)

            2. walked up here earlier this week. i wanted to try the pain au chocolat but they were out, so i opted for the almond croissant instead. also tried the an pan, the japanese style bun with sweet adzuki bean paste, and a yuzu marmalade and sage pastry. i'm very happy that there are freshly baked japanese style pastries in bernal, since i'm close by in the mission.

              the almond croissant was very good, flaky and rich. as you mentioned the croissant was smaller than tartine's, which i like very much but find way too large. the yuzu marmalade pastry was bright and interesting. the marmalade is, i suspect, a readily available korean product called yuja cha, which is thinly sliced yuzu with honey or sugar with a marmalade consistency that is mixed with boiled water to make a type of tea. the sage was an interesting touch. my favorite was the an pan. the bun itself was just sweet enough and the red bean paste wasn't overly so. i split the three pastries with a friend, and he liked the an pan the least. i find that a lot of westerners are puzzled by the widespread use of legumes in sweets in asian cuisines.

              i look forward to going back and trying the pain au chocolat and the other japanese-inspired items. not a huge fan of scones. and i might just nab that pig in a blanket.

              1. Tried it twice this week and loved the Curry Bun and Pain Au Chocolate. Ham and Cheese Croissant also very good. Great start for a new bakery!