Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Pottery Barn-ization of Boulangerie

When I used to live in San Francisco (now I’m just across the bay in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood), I used to love going to the Boulangerie on Sunday mornings. I know. I’m crazy, because Sunday mornings are when this tiny French bakery on Pine Street is the busiest, with people double-parking outside waiting for their significant other inside maneuvering to get some fresh artisan bread, pastries or other delights. (My usual was a loaf of the kalamata olive bread.)

The person behind Boulangerie, Pascal Rigo, became the star baker in town, which led to a cookbook and a few restaurants. Now Rigo has created a baking empire known as The Bay Bread Group and has duplicated the Boulangerie concept into similar cafés or bakery/cafés all around town. Over the years he’s opened six of these La Boulangerie, and last month he opened his seventh in the trendy Hayes Valley neighborhood.

Every detail of Rigo’s La Boulangerie is carefully crafted to reflect the well-established brand of the original Boulangerie. That means a lot of French country influences and baking accoutrements. The brand has been extended to coffee and cake mixes, which is why I titled this post “The Pottery Barn-ization of Boulangerie.” Boulangerie’s success has made it close to a chain, which means on the flip side it may seem like it has lost some of its charm of being the local tiny bake shop.

Still, that didn’t keep me from checking out the new La Boulangerie at Hayes (at a very prime spot at Hayes and Octavia facing the new children’s park). No matter that La Boulangerie has become the food version of Pottery Barn, if they continue to serve up such quality, tasty treats, I’m there!

Here people are lined up one afternoon to get one of the many treats offered at La Boulangerie, including a full menu of soups, salads and sandwiches a long with all the various bread and pastries in the counter.

The artisan breads are all made with organic ingredients. But like most popular bakeries, you’re out of luck when you arrive in the afternoon, when much of the selection is gone. Here’s what they had left.

The bakers behind La Boulangerie make incredible tarts and stuff. Once I had this incredible peach and goat cheese tart during the summer from the original Pine Street location. I still dream of that.
This is something new that I see offered at La Boulangerie—these colorful madeleines (or at least I think they're called madeleines. I know the sign had something with an "m"). The colors are so pretty. I think next time I’m going to try that Black Currant flavor at the end.

Like I mentioned, throughout the café were various branded products, such as these La Boulangerie coffee beans near the checkout. You can get some really precious birthday or Christmas gifts the next time you come in for a sandwich.

I sat down for an afternoon snack with this luscious goat cheese quiche with chorizo ($4). It was a very nice individual size (I would say about 5 to 6 inch in diameter) and sooo tasty with just the right texture in the crust. They can warm it up for you, but be careful to not burn the roof of your mouth (speaking from first-hand experience).

Along with my individual-sized quiche, I got a cup of the day’s soup, which was this beautifully presented French Onion Carrot Soup ($3). I don’t know what kind of carrots they were using, but it gave the soup such a striking orange color and such a strong carrot taste that I was tempted to believe there must have been some food additives used to pump up the flavor. But I’m sure it’s just really fine carrots.

On the weekends, La Boulangeries around the city can be a real chaotic scene. But on this weekday afternoon, La Boulangerie can be a relaxing escape to Paris. Sit by the window counter to people watch.

The addition of La Boulangerie at Hayes has really made this neighborhood a growing food destination. Just a few doors away you’ll find True Sake, one of the city’s only premium sake store; Sebu, one of the best sushi restaurants; and the original Fritz Belgian Fries. Just a block down you’ll find the very first Blue Bottle permanent stand (unlike the carts at the farmers’ markets) in the city. With the park on Octavia, all you need is a visit to Blue Bottle and La Boulangerie and you’re set for a relaxing Sunday in San Francisco.


Caitlin said...

Not madeleines, macarons. Madeleines are the little cakey small, very buttery pound cakes. Loved by Proust.

Jeanne said...

Macarons can be ethereally delicious but they are very difficult to get right. Hope to see your review on those.
I saw your name in the Chronicle Thanksgiving contest article, so I wanted to wish you luck!

Chef Ben said...

Yes, macarons! Thanks Caitlin and Jeanne. I knew it started with an "M" and couldn't remember. I was wondering about Madeleines because I do remember them having that shell ripple look, and these didn't. Now I have to go try them!

BTW, thanks Jeanne for tracking me down. Yes, I'm excited about competing in the Chron's Turkey cook off. Of course, I'll be blogging about behind-the-scenes things but it won't be until after the Chron's special food section on Thanksgiving, which is Nov. 14. So mark the date! :)

dreamsicle said...

it's been a while since i've been there, but i LUV the macarons from boulangerie on pine! the blackcurrant is good, as are the lavender, lemon, raspberry ... u just gotta try them. and if u're into sweet things, the canneles and croissant aux amandes are awesome as well. good luck on ur turkey cookoff, and happy halloween! ;)

Chubbypanda said...

The eternal dilemma. We want our favorite mom & pops to do well, but not too well. Else they may try to open more branches and the food quality will deteriorate.