4737 California Ave SW, Seattle 98116-4412 (206) 923-0534
It was a fine morning. Almost sunny in Seattle. Brisk. I was still looking for a good cheese danish. Maybe this would be the day. (Well, it wasn't, although I discovered some unexpected gastronomic surprises. The "sassy" comes later, so scroll down if that is what you're after).
We walked into Bakery Nouveau and were instantly surrounded by a palpable cloud of warm, fragrant croissant mist. A beautiful feeling. I systematically examined the long case of chocolates truffles, cakes, breads and flaky pastries, and then began my series of requests for recommendations to anyone who would listen to them. The nice hipster boy behind the counter provided me with his personal favorites in various categories.
In the flaky sweet pastry category, he suggested trying Bakery Nouveau's signature pastry: the twice baked chocolate-almond croissant. Dense with butter, but crunchy in all the right places, this creation reminded me of gnawing off the crispy, textured edges around the top of a muffin (aka muffin-tops) - always the best part.
What sets the twice-baked croissant apart from other almond croissants? This thing is filled with REAL ground almonds, not almond extract flavored pre-bought pasty gunk. I couldn't detect even a hint of that too-strong cheater's almond extract. Don't get me wrong. There isn't anything wrong with the frugal and diplomatic use of almond extract, but the copious amount used in some baked goods (local almond biscotti, case in point) often makes me literally nauseous. More good points: the chocolate in the twice-baked croissant is deep in flavor, ample, and not waxy or chunky. Note the generous ribbon of chocolate splayed over the croissant top (above). This was like a chocolate-almond-sugar-butter par-tay.
The helpful and patient man behind the counter went into a long explanation at my request, of what twice-baked actually means: already baked croissants - perhaps day-old, but he didn't say that - are literally opened up and stuffed with the necessary chocolate/almond combo and re-baked). He also recommended the plum danish. I was convinced to try the plum danish when he revealed that pastry cream was hiding beneath the fruit. The mauve, peeled, half-plum in the center was seductive, delicious, and sweetly sour.
What I didn't like was the hard crunchy sugar sprinkled on top of that lovely plum. My eating companion agreed that the sweet crunch did nothing to enhance the fruit, but instead distracted from its lovely texture and juicy flavor. The pastry cream underneath already provided plenty of sweetener. A bit more of that cream would have been nice... Perhaps it was a fluke, but the pastry itself was too dark for my taste - a few seconds over-baked. Too brown. I know. It's nit-picky, but Chef William Leary is supposed to be the best of the best, the creme de la creme of pastry baking with all kinds of accolades and awards. But awards shm-awards: product should speak for itself. I admit, at this point, I was having thoughts of Besalu's nectarine frangipan danish! You can see that important discussion here.
Besalu on the brain, I thought I should do a bit of comparison tasting. Here's the mini quiche Lorraine (also recommended by the cute guy behind the counter, and I went with it because it's a classic. Well, and also, because of the B-52's song, which you can listen to here. Quiche Lorraine is traditionally made of eggs, cream, smoked bacon and cheese. I really enjoyed this little quiche. There were no actually bits of bacon, but a nice bold bacon flavor permeated the filling, and the crust was GREAT. It was thin, and didn't flake all over my lap or detract me from what shoud be the focus of the quiche, the egg-cream-bacon-cheese filling. Besalu's crust got in the way of eating - it was too dense and super flaky. This crust was subtle - artful. Pleasant.
At this point, we were stuffed. As I was bussing our table, I walked by a kind-looking gentleman with a beautiful olive fougasse laying prostrate on his table. I said, "That looks delicious," and he said, "yes, it's great. Would you like a bite?" - just like that!
And, of course, I said "yes! Yes I would!" I broke off a piece of the beautiful flat, braided bread. Wow. I confess, I didn't expect to be as impressed as I was. It was crispy and chewy on the outside, and soft but substantive on the inside, with a nice olive-saltiness. A fougasse is traditionally made with baguette dough, and apparently Bakery Nouveau bakes two varieties: a laminated version (layers of buttered baguette dough) and a regular version.
I shook hands with Cliff and we said goodbye. Butter was oozing from my pores, but my dining companion and I grabbed a few items to go, so we could continue the taste testing later. I picked up a cheese danish, a mini caramel apple tart, a slice of chocolate cake, and an assortment of Parisian macarons (since they are all the rage and I have yet to try one I like).
The chocolate cake was good. A strong good. It was moist with a creamy, mousse filling that complements instead of battles with the rich chocolate cake.
here. She is truly an artist with the camera, and I don't doubt that her macarons taste pretty great as well.
Olive Fougasse Bread = great, especially broken with Cliff
Twice Baked Croissant = great if you are in the mood for super rich, heavy crusty chocolate-y almond-y pastry
Chocolate Cake = nice, rich, moist, and layered with mousse. good stuff.
Quiche Lorraine= good crust, pretty good but slightly too creamy filling
Plum Danish = ok ...or good, if you're hungry
Cheese Danish = not good
Apple Caramel Tart = yuck
Macarons = double yuck (and probably my problem - in my opinion these should just be used as decoration)