As you can well imagine, a good part of our San Francisco vacation was spent walking to and from various pastry and chocolate shops in order to find "the best of the Bay." I am notoriously picky when it comes to pastries. Since becoming a professional, I've become even pickier. [Case in point: I have no favourite pastry shop in Montreal. There really aren't any worth speaking of. Thankfully, this will soon change: see note below.] I was lucky that Anthony indulged me as much as he did. We went to some beautiful-looking-but-bad-tasting places, okay-looking-but-horrible-tasting places, and the double-whammy: bad-looking and bad-tasting. Horror of horrors, I was even disappointed by the desserts I got at a couple of the Bay Area's top restaurants. Maybe I just caught them on off nights. Then again, maybe not.
Anyway, over and over again, Anthony had to put up with my oftentimes catty comments about those desserts that didn't make the cut. In fact, it's quite possible that I have some kind of strange, pastry-related form of Tourette's. One place we went to gave me a sample of their chocolates and upon trying one, without thinking, I exclaimed: "These are terrible. Next!" You should have seen the look on poor Anthony's face.
Also on my hitlist were all those "olde tyme" confectionery shops that claimed to have handmade candies, but were all vintage show without any vintage substance. I'm not sure whether Wacky Packs were ever handmade, but I sure laughed when I saw a whole stack of them at one shop.
By far and away, the best chocolate shop we tried was Recchiuti's at the Ferry Terminal (and we did try many other SF mainstays). Their chocolate was the best, their fillings were subtle with great texture, and their vanilla marshmallow was the best I've ever had. Don't get me started on their chocolate-covered fleur de sel caramels. Let's just say they rated 100%. Maybe 110%. In fact, we even staged our own caramels taste-test while we were at the Ferry Terminal, and Recchiuti's caramels blew everyone else's out of the, uh, water.
My favourite pastry shop was Tartine. As far as I'm concerned, they knocked the competition out cold. At least once a day, I would say, "You know, we could go to Tartine..." Morning, noon, and night. We tried their amazing morning bun--candied orange peel and cinnamon-- and their excellent croissants, walnut bread, mexican wedding cakes, coconut macaroons, walnut cookies, chocolate croissants, and buttermilk scones, and, as pictured above, a lovely lemon tart. Perfect. Their cakes were the best-looking, and I can only assume best-tasting, since I didn't buy one. Their bread was amazing, and only available after 4:00 p.m. I respect businesses who call the shots. When you're making the kind of high-calibre loaves Tartine is making, the people listen. The line-ups are regularly down the block. I just wish we had something like Tartine in Montreal!*
Acme Bread Company's breads are the best I found in San Francisco, and they are availble all day(!). Many retail stores carry their bread, but it's always best to go to the source. The owner used to bake bread at Chez Panisse and it shows. It is truly exceptional bread.
Recchiuti's, One Ferry Building, shop 30, San Francisco, www.recchiuticonfections.com
Tartine, 600 Guerrero Street at 18th San Francisco, www.tartinebakery.com
Acme Bread Company, One Ferry Building, shop 15, San Francisco or 1601 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley
* Hope is on the horizon. My friend Reema is opening a cake shop this Sunday! Go and find out what we've all been missing:Cocoa Locale 4807 Parc Ave., Montreal, Tues-Sun, 11-6ish. Good luck, Reema!