Friday, October 30, 2009

Bakery Nouveau: Breaking Bread (and still in search of a Cheese Danish)
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.

Twice-Baked Chocolate Almond Croissant
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.

Plum Danish
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.

The "Sassy"
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.

Come to find out after we chatted for a while, I had just broken bread with a pastor! Cliff introduced himself as a "lay pastor" at a local West Seattle church. After explaining "sassy food" to him, he was tremendously receptive to my food-sharing efforts as a means to engage with and connect with other humans. In fact, Bakery Nouveau even suggests on their website that one of the purposes of  their bakery is "building community one bite at a time." I gave Cliff my card and he promised to email me, which he promptly did! He recently had some interesting adventures in Montenegro. His interest in food took him to a remote village where he discovered traditional prosciutto and cheese production there, and established relationships with people over food, much in the same way. He shared is pictures with me via email.  

To Go
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).

Cheese Danish: not so good. Tasted vaguely plastic-y, especially on the bottom. I'm disappointed.

Apple Tart was a BIG disappointment. Too sweet. Caramel was just goopy sugary stuff underneath the glazed apple slices.

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.
I have come to the conclusion that I just don't like Parisian macarons.

Maybe I just don't get them. I would be happy if someone could help me appreciate what they are all about. Yes, I think they are pretty. Usually macarons are displayed together as a pretty pastel palate of lavender, mint green, baby pink, light yellow, and chocolate brown. Occasionally they are bright, as in bright pink. Despite being very pretty, every macaron I have had thus far, including Nouveau's, are far too sweet. The interesting flavors (like espresso, quince, passion fruit) are lost to me through all that sweet.  Maybe if I tried the green tea adzuki macarons that use real butter blogger, Jen Yu, made, I'd feel differently. You can see her over-the-top-with-the-trend yet gorgeous efforts for the daring baker challenge here. She is truly an artist with the camera, and I don't doubt that her macarons taste pretty great as well.

Final Assessment
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)

Bakery Nouveau on Urbanspoon


Luise said...

Frankly, I liked the apple tart, and all the fruit tarts they make. Perhaps having previously nibbled a little over the top, you had lost the "taste? Occasionally a bakery may brown an item a few seconds longer, but that's no reason not to serve the item. One must also see it from the point of view of the business making the stuff. Not everything could be perfect, but some items stand out. And it is after all a personal perspective, this food choosing. I agree with the macarons, they have yet to impress me,as well. Perhaps they are table decorations?

Sassy Critic said...

I'm glad you like the tart. I had taken one home, so I actually tasted it with a fresh palate (and others shared my opinion). Granted, everyone has different taste and this is not designed to be a guide for what you should like, but rather, it is an account of my personal taste and experiences - including some narrative about social interactions with the staff and customers.

If you'll go back and read, I did regard the over-baking as a possible oversight. Who can be perfect all the time?

mrs. kleiner said...

Pastor Cliff has awesome taste and if invited over for dinner, I suggest you go. When he BBQ's, there are no Costco cardboard burgers on the grill...but juicy, tasty creations filled with surprises. Yum.

As far as the most delicious cheese danish....have you ventured down to the treasure in Burien known as the Danish Bakery?? My favorite is the Almond Roll, but the CD is fab. It's on 152nd just right of Ambaum.

Great blog!