Thursday, February 5, 2009
A Macaron Guide to the Bay Area
It's amazing the sensations a photo can evoke: I just look over these photos, and I can feel the texture of the macarons in my mouth. Either I've eaten too many macarons recently, or the memory is too good to forget!
Consulting this now much-used list (thanks, M!), I made my way through all of the Bay Area macaron bakers and more. In the process, I also fell in love with San Francisco AND spread the good news of Parisian macaron tasting to a few more friends and family members, an outcome that only increases my enjoyment (food is meant to be shared, non?).
There were only 2 San Francisco bakeries on the list, and one in Napa Valley (hello, Thomas Keller!), but with a bit of help, I found one more place in SF to sample. Perhaps there are others, but this is what my first tasting of the Bay Area brought up.
I will start with the disappointments. Miette, bag pictured above, is a darling bakery shop in the Ferry Building whose super cute productions like the old-fashioned cupcake here certainly merit a taste. I bought this cupcake out of sheer admiration for its beauty! Miette's macarons, however, were not the best I've had. They were not the worst either; they were simply mediocre in texture. The grapefruit flavor macaron was good in flavor, even though it sounds odd, so try it if you're going for interesting flavor over texture. And any foodie will enjoy the Ferry Building's abundant mushroom, cookie, cheese, wine, chocolate, and meat shops, regardless of macarons.
Pâtisserie Phillipe was empty when I walked in, an ominous sign which was confirmed at my first bite. These meaty macarons were anything but the delicate love I hope for in a macaron, and the cassis (tart blackberry-ish flavor) was more unnaturally flavored than cassis-flavored. Sigh, in spite of the nice service.
But there is good news: San Francisco boasts a bakery for which I would move into the city. I loved it, and its atmosphere, and the French lady who served me so much that I went back a second time before leaving town. And did I mention the fact that their macarons had the best texture in the Bay Area? You must promise me to visit the Bay Bread Group's La Boulange the next time you are in SF.
The bakery on Pine Street has the feeling of a neighborhood bakery, where people walk with their dogs on Sunday morning or double park their cars while they run in for a pain au chocolat. The group also owns sit-down bakeries and restaurants, which I plan to try on my next visit. They definitely reminded me how lovely macarons look when well-packaged (cf. Paulette in Beverly Hills, whose macarons in their adorable box look MUCH, MUCH better than they taste). So, La Boulange wins the award for most delicately-textured macarons in the Bay Area.
The flavor award, however, goes to Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery in Napa Valley. Another cute box, too! The line at the small bakery was out the door on Sunday afternoon, but it moved quickly enough as we surveyed the goods. These macarons were meaty in texture, again, and big enough at $3 apiece (after $1.50 for each in the city) that I almost felt like I was eating a small hamburger. If I had not been looking for lightness in these delicacies, though, they would have been fabulous. The pistachio in particular blew the other bakeries out of the water with its natural and clean flavor.
I really would have to move to San Francisco if Thomas Keller would just have a conversation with La Boulange about macaron technique! Until then, Pierre Hermé has nothing to worry about.