Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cafe Besalu - In Search of Cheese Danish in Seattle

5909 24th Ave NW, Seattle, WA 98107
(206) 789-1463  Hours: Wed-Sun 7-3
I made the trip to Besalu in Ballard seeking cheese danish. When I think cheese danish, this is what I think of (courtesy of the lovely Pink Stripes blog). Sadly, I did not find my dream cheese danish at Besalu, but instead found a beautiful plum danish with frangipan. Not at all what I'd been craving, but heck, this was the dance of the sugar plum fairies on pastry. With a light dough and a moist center, this danish struck that difficult balance between dense and lusciously light and sweet. The almond padded plums were divine (see below, left corner).

While I was savoring my little bites of heaven and enjoying the very nice, almost-strong-enough espresso (Lighthouse Coffee), I eyed the two plates of  spinach quiche at the neighboring table.  I asked how the quiche was, and both ladies raved and raved and raved and raved ... not only about their spinach quiche, but about many of the pastries at Besalu. They introduced themselves as Kelly and Misty and explained that they make special trips, across opposite bodies of water, to meet up at Besalu for buttery bites together.

So....I tried Misty's quiche, and as I was attempting to delicately extract a bite with my clean spoon she insisted that I make my bite larger. She said something like, "you need to take a bigger bite, a REAL bite...get some crust too..."  Wow, I thought! OK! So, I enlarged my bite -  yes I did! And, indeed, it was very good spinach quiche. The crust was light, layered, flaky and buttery.  The filling was also light and fluffy but filled with spinach and topped lightly with cheese. This is not your average paperweight-style re-heated lump-of-egg and heavy-tasteless-cheese quiche. I have to admit that I wasn't dying over the bite. I like my savories less flaky, although I recognize that this quiche sets itself apart, texturally and aesthetically. It did look lovely. By now I had croissant-like flakes all over my lap.

Anyway...Misty and Kelly were kind, energetic, interesting, engaging, and extremely generous. They asked me not to take their photographs, but they did liberally share conversation, pastry recommendations and goddess cards. I picked Bast (I always knew of the Ancient Egyptian cat goddess as "Bestat"). The card read "Your independence is a foundation for your strength and success." The Bast entry in the accompanying booklet told me, more or less, to act more like a cat: to seek play, to act independently, to be self reliant now, to pursue projects on my own.

As I look into Bast/Bastet a bit more, I see, according to Wikipedia, that Bastet fittingly means female devourer (yeah, of pastries and other people's food...)! Perfect. Serendipitous, even.

Here is my grown-up (in human years )dining companion reading the booklet entry on Ishtar, the goddess he chose. Ishtar is all about boundaries. The quiche is in the background. I guess my independence is pushing me to cross boundaries and eat at other people's tables.

We tried many other pastries - some fantastic. Others,  less so.

The checkerboard shortbread was buttery and rich in chocolate, but a little grainy. To my great dismay, the hazelnut twist impressed me the least. Hazelnut and dark chocolate is a personal favorite pairing -a common combo in France and Germany, but little seen on US territory. This twist had me intrigued, but on first bite: I tasted only bread and orange. The flavor of hazelnut was lost under all that orange, and a certain amount of sugar-sweet brings out hazelnut flavors. This twist was almost savory and far too bread-y. Bummer.

We had to get a second checkerboard shortbread because my grown-up companion sampled the first checkerboard cookie before knowing that my littler companion had already laid claim to it. When she noticed the missing corner chunk she was mortified enough to spend 15 minutes standing in the out-the-door and growing, Sunday-morning, customer line for an unblemished cookie.

 Luckily other kind standers-in-line held her spot as she darted back and forth between our table and her place in line. Besalu is a little gem of a bakery - a friendly, wholesome, bread-baking-in the oven, neighborhood bakery, but of a world-class caliber. See, Besalu's pastry chef, James Miller, was nominated as a semi-finalist for the James Beard Outstanding Pastry Chef Award for 2009.

As I hovered in the back, asking celebrity pastry-maker James Martin a series of most likely annoying questions as he tried to work, he mentioned to me that he would soon be bringing apples from his orchard in to the cafe. So, let it be known that apple-quince pastries are in the works for the near future. As we were sipping the last of our coffee and dusting the flakes off our clothes, a tray of beautiful plum tarts came out of the oven. Here they are before they were even put out in the pastry case.

Other pastries we sampled: The Pear Galette was a big favorite. Light, uncomplicated by any distracting flavors, and truly amazing. The nectarine-cheese danish: lacking in creamy umph and a tangy bite. Boring.

I left Besalu wondering if really, this was one of the best pastry in the country? Could it really be? Well, I left with the resolve to continue my prowl around town for a decent cheese danish. But I may just have to return again for another plum-frangipan danish or a plum tart. At this rate, and based on reports, I may not find a better danish anywhere this side of the Mississippi.

Cafe Besalu on Urbanspoon


kristi @ sproutsinthekitchen said...

Mmmmmm... Besalu... Dangerously six blocks close to my house. Love your write-up, and your assessment of the quiche. The plum Danish is one of my favorites, and you HAVE to try the Ginger biscuits. They might just make you forget all about your Danish quest. And if you don't, have you tried that OTHER famous bakery in west Seattle at the junction?

Leela said...

Looks like such a fun place to visit. I have a feeling once I enter, I may never leave. Bet the smell is amazing.

David Lasky, Esq. said...

I used to work for the bakery nextdoor, Tall Grass (imho, Seattle's best bread bakery), and LOVE Besalu. For a while I was pretty much subsisting on ginger biscuits. After reading your write-up, I want to get back over there soon; it's been too long.

Anonymous said...

Wow, RB, you make me want to go there. Wonderful prose and I don't think i'd mind the dusting of quissant flakes. I think i'll have to buy my own... but you go, Sassy. I'm proud to be your friend! ETR

LaLa said...

Dear Sassy Food writer,
Please listen to us commenters. The GINGER BISCUITS are the way to go. By far they are my favorite. #2Fav is the spring strawberry danish. So frickin good.

Annnnnd. The leek quiche is way better than the spinach.