Friday, June 12, 2009

the three strikes bakery rule

When trying out a new bakery, I almost always follow the three strikes rule: no matter how I feel about something on the first visit, I'm not allowed to rule it out until I've made two more visits. There are so many variables that could affect the initial impression, ranging from my mood or the weather to an overly salty batch of dough the kitchen made or a slightly stale cookie.* I might visit with a friend and try a few items; in that case, I'll relax the rule a bit.

Last night in the Castro, I told my friend something vaguely upsetting as we were walking back from dinner. Surprising, no. Upsetting, yes. He clutched my arm and, rather than respond to what I'd been saying, demanded cake at that very moment. Let's Go Into Cafe Flore, he said, pointing at the Castro landmark.

image from aweigend.

I've been to Cafe Flore many times, and quite enjoy it for a lingering coffee with friends on a rare sunny-AND-warm San Francisco day, or for late-morning brunches. The eggs are always good, and I respect a tiny postage-stamp of a kitchen that can stay on top of their game. Over the years I've had a couple of their desserts and been lukewarm, most notably for the chocolate violet souffle cake that tastes nothing like violets. Chocolate cake does not need violets, no, not at all. So if you are going to create a violet-chocolate cake, please make sure it actually tastes like something? ok?

We skipped the cheesecake, considered the chocolate cake, and decided to share a slice of the banana foster pie.

What looked like a simple custardy confection ended up being a four-layer pie that, if slightly too sweet, was rich and creamy and perfect for sharing. Deep cookie-crumb crust got a layer of caramel, and another one of rum-vanilla custard. The pie finished with a banana cream and a caramel drizzle. The pie was one of those occasions something tastes better than it looks, the flavors rising above the ho-hum prissy bakery presentation that we all groan over. Lucky for Cafe Flore, this was my third visit.

I'm often considered a snob about food and other things, and I am, sure. That said, there's a place for the ok, the humble, the merely good. The pie was as good as some items I've had from places like Tartine and Citizen Cake. Sometimes we don't want to think that way. It helps, when paying Tartine prices, to believe you are getting the absolute best there can be. There are days when all you want is a sweet and uncomplicated piece of pie, a little sunshine, an outdoor table, and a dose of queers.

*Note to cooks and kitchenworkers: it's actually really important to taste everything you sell every day (sauces and such, maybe every 2 days, unless they're fruit-based). I've seen anglaise go bad in the squeeze bottle during a service. I've also worked at restaurants that serve, day in and out, horribly stale versions of Claudia Fleming's brownie cookies, which is not only gross but completely disrespectful.

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