Spoiler warning: I am an admitted croissant snob. There are many bakeries in Seattle making croissants that you may like very much, even though I don't. I only want perfect or near perfect ones, not just good ones. So few places in Seattle or even Paris satisfy me.
First, a story: A cooking professor I know in Dijon, France, used to own three French bakeries in NYC. He made various French pastries there himself, as well as French bread. When I asked him for advice about making croissants using US ingredients, he said he had no idea. That was the one item he subcontracted out: "Croissants are too specialized." You'll see later why I mention this story.
I got back to Seattle last night after a month cross-country skiing in the Methow Valley. After all that excercise, it was time to make my customary visit to Cafe Besalu. I also wanted to revisit Fuji Bakery and try a new place, Le Rêve on Queen Anne. I headed first for Besalu. The line was out the door and I couldn't find any parking near by. I decided to head south and leave Besalu for tomorrow.
There was a crowd at Le Rêve, but not a line. I ordered a plain croissant, a pain au chocolat, and an unnamed bread that I would call a bâtard, which is a shorter, fatter baguette. They also had what they called baguettes, but a bit longer and fatter than the ones in France. The server called my shorter bread a baguette, also, but she couldn't seem to understand my question as to whether the short ones were the same preparations as the long ones.
I sat down with my treats. I started on the pain-choc. I ate less than half of it. It had a little crispiness on the very outside, but otherwise was much too bready. The croissant was much crisper when I pulled it apart. But my first taste impression was: "What kind of butter are they using?" It was definitely not a great choice. The texture was pretty good, but the butter killed it for me.
The bâtard (or baguette) was excellent, assuming you like the traditional French style of crunchy crust and a very white bread interior. It was probably the most authentic baguette I've found in a while, in terms of texture. I didn't try any of the beautiful looking fruit tarts and other pastry creations.
So, to return to the story of the cooking professor, maybe Le Rêve's bakers should stick to bread and pastries, and hire a specialist for the Viennoiseries (croissants and pains au chocolat).
I then headed south to Fuji Bakery. I got there just past the 11 am opening. They were still unloading the delivery of baked goods from their Bellevue bakery. Unfortunately, one of the employees had accidentally dropped the entire tray of plain croissants.
I had to settle for a pain au chocolat. One bite was all it took. It was as good as my first visit. (See http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/762135) Like Besalu, Fuji proves that a pain-choc can be just as flakey as a croissant, as it should be. The butter flavor was perfect and the amount correct, i.e., not greasy on the fingers.
The local manager supervising the setup said he used to be a chef, but now is a store manager. I commented on the pastry and mentioned the butter flavor. He said they had spent a lot of time finding the right butter. It was a European (or "European style?") cultured butter, although he couldn't remember the brand. Good choice.
Tomorrow I'll get to Cafe Besalu, although enough good things have been said on this board by me and others that I don't need to report again.
5909 24th Ave NW, Seattle, WA 98107
526 S King St, Seattle, WA 98104
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