Rave: Tartine Bakery

This post doesn’t need to be written. After all, it’s common knowledge that Tartine is the City’s best bakery. There were lines stretching down the block every morning, even before Mark Bittman, the New York Times’s food writer, called Tartine his favorite bakery in the whole country.

But it helps to know what to expect — aside from excellent French pastries — when visiting Tartine. It would be a real shame if, say, an unexpectedly long wait to get in the door deterred you.

When I hear the word “bakery”, I think of a cozy place to linger over a latte, or a place for a quick breakfast. Tartine offers neither.

Where you’ll linger is in line, of course. The line is practically unavoidable in the mornings. We’ve been at Tartine right when they open, thinking naively, “Who would be there at 8am on a Monday morning?” The answer? About half the City.

And I can’t blame them. They’re as obsessed as I am with Tartine’s Pain au Jambon (that’s a smoked ham and gruyere cheese croissant, for us non-French speakers), or the morning bun which comes with an unexpected and heavenly hint of orange blossom, or the rich bread pudding topped with whatever fruit is in season.

You are almost always asked for your order before you’ve had a chance to see anything in the glass cases, so either take my advice (above), or Bittman’s, or just scope the website.

If you aren’t enticed by the City’s — perhaps the country’s — best pastries, then you have real problems. But the plus side is that you can go to Tartine in the evenings when the lines diminish. And every evening except Mondays, you can get Tartine’s bread.

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The Bay Area has no shortage of bread bakers (off the top of my head, there’s Acme, Semifreddi, Arizmendi, La Farine, Della Fattoria, Grace Baking Co…I’m sure there’s more), but Tartine’s country loaf is head and shoulders above the rest.

Its bread could easily kick any other loaf’s ass on size alone. In fact, there’s probably a decent number of people who simply can’t fit the loaf in their apartment’s kitchen. A small dog will likely consider this loaf a threat.

It’s the size of our largest cutting board and it’s an absolute mess. Cutting this monstronsity produces an insane amount of crumbs. Our counters are freckled with bready bits when we have a loaf in the house, and our feet crunch crumbs into the floor.

But you’ll be happy to have this bread, even though it takes over your kitchen and litters crumbs on your floor. Because this bread is delicious, soft and spongy on the inside, with a crust that challenged all of our knives (and my arm strength) until we received an alarmingly sharp bread knife as a gift.

This bread is terrific plain or with butter, toasted or untoasted, and it transforms any sandwich into a tremendous meal. One of my very favorite lunches is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on Tartine’s country bread. A week ago, I made a sandwich out of the last sandwich-y bits in our fridge: a single slice of turkey, a bit of cheddar, some arugula. And yet on Tartine bread, it made for an excellent, memorable lunch.

Yet another reason to pick up some Tartine bread? When the bread is just out of the oven, it’s quite hot and works as a portable heater. So it’s a particularly good buy on those evenings when you didn’t bring a sweater with you and the fog has rolled in and brought with it a wicked wind.

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