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La Boulange -- what happened?

bgbc Aug 4, 2011 11:00 PM

I used to be such a La Boulange fan but lately every pastry I've had recently, as well as several restaurant experiences, have ranged from mediocre to awful. I'm convinced the quality of the food has dropped markedly as the store appears to have expanded widely over the past couple of years. In particular, the La Boulange pastries I can now buy at Whole Foods are really very, very ordinary compared with when I first noticed them in that store, maybe 8-10 months ago. What happened?

- The almond croissant used to be plump and soft with a generous, moist almond filling; the last couple I've had have been crumbly (= bad, not flaky = good) and hard, with barely a swipe of filling.
- The apples in the apple "pocket" I had today tasted moldy -- no kidding -- and whether that means the filling was old (stored a while before using), poorly prepared, or a poor choice of variety, it was enough to put me off for good.
- The custard raisin "snails" are also harder, crisper (not flaky), and the raisins taste like something approaching fermented rather than plump and sweet. None of these pastries taste buttery or fresh.

I find the service and food in the Market Street @ Third Street store to be consistently good, but had a tomato soup in Lafayette lately that was full of curled up tomato skins (!) and a hazelnut and chocolate croissant in Hayes Valley a little while back that I would have had NO idea had chocolate (or nuts) in it if it hadn't been labelled as such.

I can't believe my preferences have changed so much and La Boulange hasn't, so what's going on? Is it just a simple case of their opting for quantity over quality?

La Boulange
500 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Whole Foods Market
399 4th St, San Francisco, CA

La Boulange
685 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94105

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  1. jason carey RE: bgbc Aug 5, 2011 07:31 AM

    yes that hits the nail on the head.. They don't care anymore.

    1. k
      Kristine RE: bgbc Aug 5, 2011 08:26 AM

      I was about to post this same question!

      I always bought their Brioche Hot Dog/ Hamburger Buns from Whole Foods, but this past weekend I was shocked to see the packages were half the size they usually are. The number
      of buns per pack has decreased as well as the actual size of the bun itself, on top of that, they were frozen solid and all looked burnt.

      1. Robert Lauriston RE: bgbc Aug 5, 2011 08:50 AM

        The chain has expanded a lot, it's true. What is it now, 13 shops? plus the wholesale operation.

        All I've had from them recently is the Pain Pascal they sell through Trader Joe's, and it's consistently excellent.

        1. n
          NanPad RE: bgbc Aug 5, 2011 09:48 AM

          I've found the pastries in the La Boulange pastry shops are just the same as ever,--really good!-- but the ones sold through the grocery store chains or as part of one of their cafes are significantly worse.

          1. j
            jasonzach RE: bgbc Aug 5, 2011 01:39 PM

            I love La Boulange so I have to disagree -- I find all the pastries consistent and delicious. My daily stop in at the Pine Street location is always a highlight for me and the kids!

            2 Replies
            1. re: jasonzach
              bgbc RE: jasonzach Aug 5, 2011 05:50 PM

              Interesting -- I wonder if that's because it's one of the original stores. (The original?)

              (Oops -- just saw sugartoof's reply below)

              1. re: bgbc
                sugartoof RE: bgbc Aug 5, 2011 09:47 PM

                Pine is the original. It still has an open workshop/oven.
                The owner/baker lived in the building too.

            2. s
              sugartoof RE: bgbc Aug 5, 2011 02:06 PM

              The original Pine Street location is excellent, and superior to the others.

              It also seems certain locations are better for certain items - which makes no sense, since they're getting everything from Pine or the Bay Bread Warehouse, one would think. Maybe it's a freshness thing.

              In the past, when the quality dipped due to the expansion growing pains, they bounced back and even added new items... so let's hope.

              Bay Bread
              2325 Pine St, San Francisco, CA 94115

              6 Replies
              1. re: sugartoof
                Robert Lauriston RE: sugartoof Aug 5, 2011 04:08 PM

                If they're baking the same items at Pine Street and another location, then it could happen that the places supplied by Pine St. are better and Pine St. itself is best.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston
                  sugartoof RE: Robert Lauriston Aug 5, 2011 09:42 PM

                  It's my impression Pine still does the pastries, tarts, the bread pudding, canneles, some exclusive items, done in small batches, and prone to selling out at all the locations. The rest comes from the also expanded wholesaling/manufacturing plants.

                  It's probably true that the lower quality croissants (I've also had canneles that weren't up to par) are coming from the warehouses. Pine is a modest size shop, it couldn't provide for a dozen stores.

                  1. re: sugartoof
                    bgbc RE: sugartoof Aug 6, 2011 07:17 PM

                    If that's the case, then the product at Whole Foods is definitely the lower standard. Too bad; the pastries WF used to sell (Oakland; Fourth Street SF at least) weren't that great either and I was looking forward to the improvement...

                    1. re: bgbc
                      sugartoof RE: bgbc Aug 7, 2011 09:08 AM

                      I thought they just knocked off the packaging until recently. I couldn't imagine that was the real thing, and Boulange sounds generic enough.

                2. re: sugartoof
                  jman1 RE: sugartoof Aug 5, 2011 10:05 PM

                  I've been into the Pine store a fairly often recently. Mostly to buy salads, sandwiches and bread (but an occasional pastry too). Haven't noticed any problems and they do still seem to care.

                  Is this where they do all the baking?

                  I'm not a fan of all of their locations, but not due to the quality of their baked items.

                  1. re: jman1
                    sugartoof RE: jman1 Aug 6, 2011 07:34 AM

                    "Is this where they do all the baking?"

                    Not all of it, probably just the better product.

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