Vandermeersch- is it worth another try?
So, after reading about this place from you and David Lebowitz, I decided to make the trek from my tiny hotel room in the 14eme to this sacred site early on Sunday morning to try it out for myself. Yes, you read correctly, EARLY on SUNDAY morning.
To my horror, I arrived to find the dreaded "je ne suis pas la. Je suis en vacances" sign on the door. They were on vacation until the day I was there "inclus". I was livid because I had scoured the web for any indication that they may be closed and I found a calender on this site which listed the days of August without commentary. I turned around and went back to my room and ended up spending the morning doing laundry. I comforted myself with a croissant and some other stuff from Au Bec Sucre which were very average. The croissant was definitely neither buttery or fresh. I vowed never to return to Vandermeersch but I have been toying with going out there again on my last day in Paris.
So my question, is:
Is it worth going out there again for their famous kougloff?
If your answer is "oui", can I expect to find any of the small ones if I go late morning on Sunday or will they all be gone? Any other item from their menu that is excellent?
Not prone to making pilgrimages to faraway temples of gastronomy unless they fit in with my other plans, I only stop off at Vandermeersch on my way to a sporting event or picnic in Vincennes. Usually around 11am on weekends and there always seems to be good supply of small kougelhopfs. I'm not a big of a fan of kougelhopf (aka kougloff in Vandermeersch-ese) as a species so tend to buy his other stuff (all very good indeed) on whim... and if going on a picnic, his roboliot bread (fab for cheese and gamey charcuterie). I sometimes make a second stop in the afternoon on my way home and usually buy some éclairs and/or (my fave) a few tartes aux framboise. Occasionally I'll wander up to the cafe-brasserie Les Cascades on the next corner to consume my pastries (after asking the serveur if it's ok) with coffee. But I have a car so I'm more likely to take the goodies back home. If I was using the bus or métro, I'd probably eat it all at Les Cascades rather than risk what always turns out to be pastry-wrecking trek.
He also sells Christine Ferber confitures. Mmmm-mmm. They are sold in other shops in Paris but as long as you're here, why not grab a few jars. I'm addicted to the cerises noire.
When it comes to sweets and pastries, tastes are very particular and personal. I'm not all that familiar with David Liebowitz but do have American friends who follow him religiously and occasionally oblige me to eat or buy at places he recommends. I've learned that, unfortunately, our tastes are sometimes very different.
Have you sampled the kougelhopfs at Pierre Hermé (admittedly, not always available) or Maison Gontier in Auteuil/ 16th ? Since you are staying in the 14th, have you tried Dominique Saibron on the place d'Alésia ?... no kougelhopfs but loads of excellent breads, pastries, etc that might make you forget about kougelhopfs and long trips to the ave Daumesnil. Or the excellent Laurent Duchêne on the rue Wurz in the 13th? Both heavenly boulangeries-pâtisseries that might be a bit more convenient for you if you decide that Vandermeersch kougelhopfs do not necessarily guarantee salvation.
Yes, of course I have gone to Dominique Saibron. I was there this morning. It is a few steps from me.
There are scores of patisseries everywhere. My question was about this particular item that I have never had. I want to try something new. If there is somewhere else that sells kougloff that is better than or as good as V's, please let me know.
Every arrondissment of Paris has, not one, not two, but several top boulangeries-pâtisserises.
Within a 10-minute walk from chez moi, among the small number of boulangeries open in August, there are 3 award-winning boulangeries, including two Meilleur-Baguette winners. Two of these three are actually a 3-minute walk.
Very few boulangeries-pâtisserises are worth the schlep across town.
But if you think you must, and in the middle of August, call ahead.
We made the trek to Vandermeersch last October, during the week - I forget which day, but by the time we arrived, it was early afternoon. By that time, only a few of each size kouglhoffs were left. We got a small one and a few different breads.
To answer your question: The kouglhoff was OK, but far from being the nec plus ultra we expected. It was just OK, the crumb was far too dry to be interesting.
The breads were better - but not worth a trip across town - and the very nice shopping bag is very handy.
Would we do it again? No.
Best kouglhoff in Paris: Pierre Herme, hands down.
Also, I wrote:
"They were on vacation until the day I was there "inclus". I was livid because I had scoured the web for any indication that they may be closed and I found a calender on this site which listed the days of August without commentary."
I checked their website. I am unable to make calls in Paris. I know that they are open now because they opened on Monday, according to the sign which I saw on their door on Sunday.
Lesson to learn is that the web is still not used so much in France so never reliable. Best to phone in August as things are unpredictably, business owners just change their minds, especially if you are making a special journey.
Ref making calls in Paris - we simply used to buy a pay as you go SIM card and put it in an old (untethered) handset - if you don't have an old one they are really cheap in lots of second hand shops and market stalls. Very useful if you travel a lot (although I now have capped roaming on my plan for data and calls which means its not expensive to use my normal phone).
It's been two years but we stayed in a hotel directly opposite the bakery (I loved that part of Paris, very much a normal area yet relatively convenient to the main sights). The kougloff was excellent as were all the other bakery goods. No complaints whatsoever. Since we were staying across the street we had breakfast from there every day as well as several treats saved for a late night snack.
Would I trek across Paris just for the kougloff and the rest of the baked goods? Hmm... depends on the other bakeries nearby. Because Paris has so many fabulous bakeries it's hard for me to say "you must go!" but if you do go you most likely won't be disappointed.