Tartine Bakery & Cafe / 600 Guerrero St, San Francisco.
Highlight of the trip, nay, my entire life’s worth of dessert-demolishing experience!! This is the banana cream tart ($6.50) from Tartine bakery in The Mission district of San Francisco. It’s made up of a four inch flaky pastry cup that’s lined with thin layers of solid chocolate and caramel on the inside. Thick, plentiful banana slices are housed in pastry cream and a light, sweet banana custard, which are sloppily, but artfully piled onto the pastry base. Unapologetic chocolate shavings finish it off. The ingredients are pretty humble, but this is perfection. Fresh, fresh, perfection. The pastry is buttery and just firm enough to break into chunks instead of crumbling into flakes, and the chocolate on the inside of the tart helps to hold it together. The banana slices are the right size for eating whole, the cream is the most heavenly cream I’ve ever tasted. Everything hangs in a beautiful, fragile balance.
One thing I’ve come to appreciate is that truly good food is never in-your-face. The day before hitting Tartine, Andrea and I shared a Reese’s Peanut Butter cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory in San José. That cake was a masterpiece, layers of fudge cake, cheesecake, and peanut butter – sweet, salty and rich all at once – but all clamouring for room on your tongue. Whether it was this banana cream tart, or the cheese and pear sandwich from Cowgirl Creamery during my last visit, they all hit the spot because the satisfaction grows with every bite. You slowly realise that chefs are complete masters of the art of temptation. Their MO is to gently charm you with subtle but novel tastes, coaxing you into a second, third bite and beyond. Your fork keeps scooping up more, you want to replicate the same flavour burst you had in your previous mouthful, and you succeed because the food never disappoints. Reluctantly you put your fork down when it’s all gone and your legs carry you away from the table, but you know your tongue and heart have been smitten. That sweetness will be on your mind for a while.
On Sunday morning, Andrea and I got on a train from San José, into a cab and headed straight for Tartine for brunch. As with all the great food places I’ve come across so far, the shop looks completely unassuming and hushed, only a little larger than a hole in the wall. The line speaks for itself, but the food is worth the wait. The exterior is chic, polished black, while the walls on the inside are bare and white, only accented by two strings of fairy lights and white & green floral arrangements in the window. There are only a couple of tables inside that seat less than 20, but there is some standing room and also some tables set up on the 18th street side of the bakery.
We also had the Three Cheese Tasting pressed sandwiches for $12, which came with the most potent little spiced and pickled carrots. The cheeses were a delicious mix of creamy and sharp flavours, on thick sourdough slices that tasted fresh and homemade.