For most of my life, breakfast was an afterthought. Slumber (especially at 6am in the morning), was is my preferred state over sitting at the table, begrudgingly consuming those few slices of toast with a mug of Milo for “the most important meal of the day”. Outside of school, however, I discovered that breakfast could actually be enjoyable, even before 9am in the morning. My breakfast of choice these days always involves an espresso or a cappucino (preferably topped with just a splash of foam) and a croissant. Alternating between flaky bites of the beloved French crescent and bitter sips of espresso that cleanse the palate, this is a classic pairing that I can never tire of.
It is this breakfast addiction that motivates my search for a “good” café/bakery whenever I’m in a new city, which essentially translates to: fresh, warm croissants and strong espressos with just the right balance of bitterness. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of decent cafés in San Francisco or in our neighborhood, but occasionally, we come across outstanding establishments like Tartine Bakery in San Francisco’s Mission district and I find myself wondering, “Why can’t all bakeries be like this?”.
The storefront, at the corner of 18th and Guerrero Streets, is unassuming and nondescript, often shrouded by a crowd of locals and visitors waiting in line to place their order and gawk at the countless desserts on display.
The space is at once a bakery, café and exhibition space for local artists; on a recent Saturday, the walls were decorated with drawings and a narration of some guy’s confrontation with monsters who eventually devoured him limb by limb. Not exactly the type of reading material I can appreciate but I was grateful for the distraction while waiting in line.
On our last visit, we finally settled on a double pain au chocolat – a super-sized chocolate croissant – and a morning bun after scouring through the one-page menu of breakfast pastries, hot sandwiches and dessert pastries. Succumbing to the memories of a previous visit, I snuck in an order for a Lemon Cream tart to round off the meal.
Now, I’ve had many croissants in the short amount of time that I’ve inducted them into my breakfast routine, but this pain au chocolat is by far, one of the best that I’ve come across. It would be an understatement to say that Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson, the chefs behind Tartine, are generous with butter in their croissant-making process. The crumb is soft and extremely light, colored with just a tinge of yellow to hint at the slabs of dairy goodness folded into its layers. Pair that with (just) a few big lumps of chocolate that come oozing through with each bite and you’ve got a breakfast pastry to write home (or a cookbook) about.
Compared with the pain au chocolat the morning bun seemed pretty ordinary, but no less delicious. I enjoyed its airy, croissant-like texture flecked with hints of cinnamon and orange zest to tease the palate, but I was already looking ahead to our dessert treat:
Pre-baked pâte sablé tartlet shells are filled with a silky smooth lemon cream, mounded with a quenelle of whipped cream and garnished with a delicate flower petal. The tart looks too good to eat, but eat we did, lapping up every drop of the thick, sweet and tart filling with its shell.
Apart from breakfast pastries and sweet endings, Tartine’s a worthwhile lunch spot with its 11 different pressed sandwiches. Served from noon everyday, these are veritable feasts featuring a host of artisan cheeses and/or cured meats on warm slices of levain bread with a side of freshly cooked vegetables.
Faced with menu items like Membrillo & Idiazabal (Quince jam with sheep’s milk cheese), grilled Humboldt Fog Goat Cheese on levain or Niman Ranch pastrami with Gruyére cheese, horseradish and Dijon mustard, I went for their Prosciutto and Provolone sandwich which came overflowing with enough cheese and meat for two. It was a tough decision to make, especially when it was right between a sandwich like Sopressata, Fontina and Broccoli Rabe Pesto on the menu and Jambon Royale & Gruyère, with Niman Ranch ham and Dijon mustard on country bread.
If you make it there for a late lunch between Wednesdays to Sundays, you should stay on until 5pm when the bakery’s famous bread loaves make their short appearance before being quickly whisked away under the arms of San Francisco’s bread lovers. I never seem to be in close proximity at that time of day, but one can hope, right?
Tartine Bakery & Café
600 Guerrero Street (at the corner with 18th Street)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Tel: (415) 487-2600