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Jan 22, 2014 09:58 AM

New Years Trip to SF Review - Underwhelmed by Tartine

A group of friends recently enjoyed a wonderful five days in San Francisco. Coming from the Northeast the wonderful weather was greatly appreciated. Below are some of the spots.

Before arriving in San Francisco we spent a night in Carmel and dined at Aubergine. We did the regular tasting menu with wine and added an incredible cheese plate which was more than worth the additional charge. The wines all paired beautifully, but we were surprised that they were all European. Not really a complaint, but given the location we expected to try some quality California wines. Overall it was a nice special occasion restaurant though there were some misses, particularly the chocolate dessert with wheat berries.

Our first night in San Francisco we had an impromptu dinner at Maven with local friends. Considering it was a group of seven with no reservations on a Saturday they were very accommodating. Food was decent thought nothing came to mind as outstanding. Fantastic drinks.

Sunday we met some friends for dim sum in Chinatown. I don't recall the name, but almost everything was fantastic. Especially the garlic noodles with shrimp.

That night we had reservations at Nopa. Given the hype surrounding this place I was surprised by how casual it was. We shared five small plates that were all excellent. Our group of five each ordered an entree which was a mistake. None of us were particularly blown away by our main dishes. I had a pasta with sausage in some sort of broth that was pretty bland. Would happily dine there again, but would stick to the small plates.

The next day we headed to the Mission for burritos. Given the hype surrounding San Francisco burritos on this board and the comparisons that come up whenever burritos are discussed in any other city my expectations were high. On a suggestion from a friend we went to El Farolito. I am happy to say the food did not disappoint. The al pastor was full of flavor and the ingredients and assembly were better than anything I've had on the East Coast. A perfect gut bomb after a night out.

After lunch we tried to stop by Tartine after numerous people mentioned their bread pudding and croissants. The line of course was insane so we continued on our way. A couple days later we had some time and went in the morning. The line was much shorter. Everything in the case looked gorgeous though it was a bit too early to be loading up on dessert. We purchased a croissant, a cup of the bread pudding, and a shitake mushroom croque monsieur.

The croissant was quite large, and I enjoyed the flakiness of the shell, but it did not blow me away as I was expecting. The croque monsieur looked fantastic and there was some good flavor, but for some reason they decided to keep the mushroom stems on. I think this may have been for appearance, but the stems were so tough we ended up having to spit them out which made eating it rather difficult. Finally, the bread pudding had some good texture, but was extremely lacking in any flavor. Maybe it would be better warmed or with some sort of sauce, but I really don't understand what all the fawning over this was about. It wasn't even worth finishing. I know Tartine gets a lot of love from a variety of sources, but after this one experience I'm not sure why. It seems like they may be more concerned with the aesthetics of the cafe and the food rather than the actual taste.

We also had a meal at Terzo which was able to fit a group of us in last minute one night. We had a wonderful server, and stuck to the various small plates.

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  1. Take what I say with a grain of salt as I too have only had Tartine once. It's hard to separate the signal from the noise with places like these.

    The croissants are nothing to write home about. They look stunning, but the flavor just isn't all that and has more in the way of salt than sweetness and butteriness. I've heard more positive remarks about their Morning Buns, which I haven't tried.

    The country levain on the other hand mostly lives up to the hype, especially if you pick it up when it's straight out of the oven and enjoy it at home the same day.

    13 Replies
    1. re: Jon914

      Tartine's bread is the best. I think the bread and the pastries are virtually separate businesses.

      1. re: Jon914

        Tartine's country loaf also holds up well if frozen and then toasted. I bought a loaf from Good Eggs last week I'm still enjoying today (I sliced it before freezing, so I thaw and toast a slice at a time).

        1. re: Jon914

          Croissants aren't supposed to be sweet. They should, however, be buttery.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            I'll clarify. Not literally sweet, but a little exterior glaze goes a long way to offset the saltiness and compliment the butteriness.

            1. re: Jon914

              The usual glaze on croissants is just an egg wash, no sugar.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                On some croissants, it's egg wash that's smooth and unsticky, but on others, it's an "apricot glaze" that will make it a little bit sticky.

                I recently had an exemplary croissant from Jean Phillipe Patisserie (not local) that does it like this.

                1. re: Jon914

                  I'm curious about this idea of apricot glaze on a croissant. I've never had one (and don't think I'd like it, I prefer the classic straight butter flavor of traditional croissants, where the quality of butter and care in layering distinguishes excellent laminated viennoiserie).

                  The only "apricot glaze" croissant I can find online is one prepared by Starbucks; do you remember where else you've had this other than the non-local Jean Philipe? Just curious to know if it's a widespread addition or just a spin.

                  1. re: pane

                    Locally? Mmm... This is based off my memory, since I haven't had either of their croissants in a while. If I do, I'll report back.

                    - Fleur de Cocoa (Los Gatos)
                    - Satura Cakes (Los Altos)

                    Overseas, a Joel Robuchon owned pastry shop I recently went to did it.

                    At the end of the day though, it's just a subtle brush of the top that could be mistaken for an egg wash. It's not an aspect that's ever advertised (in which case, it would indeed alter the flavor profile entirely like that Starbucks item).

                    As you say, distinct layering (versus breadiness) and buttery flavor make the foundation of a great croissant.

                    1. re: Jon914

                      while on a visit recently we passed on the lines at tartine to try the beautiful products at crafstman and wolves. while i thought the flavor combo (harissa-root veg) was a miss (and i LOVE harissa) the lamination and flakiness in the croissant itself was first rate.

                      the chocolate sourdough loaf was on its own plane - neither of those flavors are things i love but the combination was executed impeccably.

                      1. re: tex.s.toast

                        I've said it many times, but I have almost always enjoyed the breads at Craftsman and Wolves.

                        Also: my favorite croissant in SF is at Knead, as the ones at Tartine have always seemed to be cooked a little too long for my tastes. That said, I do love their ham and cheese version.

                        1. re: absc

                          My problem with Tartine croissants is that they are too large, so they end up overcooked on the outside and/or too gooey inside. To me its maddening that they super-size them. They could be so much better! I liked Kneads in terms of size and doneness, but I thought they came up short on the texture and layering - not as delicate and flaky as I want in a croissant. My go-to croissant is Sandbox's, though I need to check out some of the newcomers like B. Patisserie and Craftsman & Wolves.

                          Croissants sound like a great candidate for a wintery DOTM, eh?

                          1. re: BernalKC

                            At B. Patisserie, I'd suggest going for the filled croissant. They do a couple variations, and they're far superior to the plain butter.

                          2. re: absc

                            The Knead vs. Tartine comparison is interesting-- maybe we have different tastes. It's been a while since I've had a croissant at Tartine, but I 've consistently found Knead's croissant overcooked and the outer layer charred to the point of little flavor. I had the always amazing pomme d'amour there yesterday morning and saw a whole bunch of croissants with the standard blackened spots I find unappealing.

                            I'll have to try a plain croissant next time I'm at C&W's. I've had two of their croissant sandwich-things, and find it too fussy a preparation. The one croissant dough item I really like is their morning bun-- the shape is different than others in the Bay Area, but the inside is light and the outside not overly sticky or sweet. It lies horizontally rather than blossoming upward. Their gougeres, the one right now has a smoked cheddar that tricks you into thinking you're eating ham, is good but I prefer the ones at Tartine.

          2. They don't make the crappy croissant I usually like to eat. BooHoo

            Very consistent bakery....

            1 Reply
            1. re: donbonus

              Consistency's the keyword here. There will be some items which won't blow one away (esp if you come with high expections). Tartine's eclair is my fave item - best in the world!

            2. Most of these reports start with a skeptical tone, even the ones you enjoyed, so it might have been that your expectations were high, or you were already annoyed by the hype going in, and wanted to get won over.

              Nopa isn't flashy or overtly inventive. That's part of the appeal.

              Farolito has devotees, but it gained it's rep in large part because it was cheap, and open late. I think there's better options you'll like even more on return.

              Tartine is about the bread. I don't think the Croque is really a Croque, but the bread should have been stood out. I've never had the bread pudding when it was dry. It's one of the best things you can eat in the city - but they do change it up, including the amount of fruit juices, or cream. Their croissants are very good, and you could do worse, but they're not the best. They sell better items like the Gougeres, and I like the quiche a lot more than the Croque.