Tuesday, November 20, 2012

San Francisco: La Boulange

When I first went to San Francisco a couple of years ago, a stumbled upon a bakery in the Cole Valley area called La Boulange. I was mesmerized by the desserts on display: croissants, macarons, quiches, tarts, breads... Then I tried the Fantastic French Toast and I knew I'd be eating at La Boulange again!

Skip to the present, and I have been to San Francisco two more times and I have eaten at La Boulange several more times. It turns out La Boulange is a local chain with stores all over the city. This past month I was staying only a block away from a location on Sutter Street in downtown. It was hard to resist its pull, so I went there several times over three weeks. The first time I had the French toast that I love so much. It's not a simple French toast! It somehow has a layer of custard on the bottom, and then the custard-soaked toast. It tastes like eating creme brulee in a cake form. How can you not love that? :) The toast itself is fluffy inside, but crispy on the outside. And it's served with fresh fruit. If I was ever on that show "Best Thing I Ever Ate," I would talk about this French toast :)

This year I decided to branch out and try some of the non-dessert things at La Boulange. They also make sandwiches using bread made in-house. I've had the hummus sandwich and the smoked salmon sandwich, both with a side of quinoa salad. Both of them were delicious. The hummus sandwich was topped with avocados and cucumbers, so overall it had a very refreshing taste. It would have been perfect for a warm summer day, but it tasted just as great on a cool fall morning :) The sprouts were too bitter for my taste, but I pushed them off the sandwich and ate them with the quinoa to cancel out the bitterness. As to the quinoa salad, it was too salty both times I had it :( Well, at least I got a good amount of fiber and protein from it...

The salmon sandwich came with cucumbers, creme fraiche and capers. The capers were well-washed and weren't too briny. I need to wash my capers when I cook with them that well, haha ;) Other than that, it was a solid sandwich with nothing too special about it, but I enjoyed every single bite.

My last time at La Boulange I ordered half of the goat cheese sandwich and a cup of French onion soup. The sandwich was very disappointing. It barely had any cheese on it. And it was toasted to the point where the bread was burned and the cheese was completely dried out. I hope this mispreparation is not the norm for this sandwich. Even the portobello and the roasted red peppers couldn't rescue the sandwich. The soup, on the other hand, saved the meal. This was actually my very first time having French onion soup, so I have nothing to compare it to, but I liked the one at La Boulange. The onions were caramelized well and sweet. And there was a crouton in the cup that nicely mopped up all the flavors.

I've had so many good experiences at La Boulange that I'm willing to overlook this last negative one. At the end I want to mention that all of the prepackaged desserts are also amazing. I've tried pretty much all types of shortbread cookies. Surprisingly, I'm not a huge fan of the chocolate ones, but love all the others. La Boulange is also known for their French-style macarons. They are always fresh and have the perfect texture. Now they even have a delicious pumpkin macaron :) They also sell so-call San Francisco-style macarons, which are single cookies of almond-hazelnut flour; these might be my favorites so far. Finally, the almond-chocolate croissants are a must-have. Honestly, I wish I could have every single meal at La Boulange, I love it that much!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

San Francisco: Cafe Tiramisu

I'm in San Francisco again, for yet another extended stay. This time I'm staying right in between Union Square and Chinatown. Even though I can't afford to buy anything right now, this is a great location :) Hey, window shopping is free :) But the other reason I like this area is the many dining options. There are several restaurants on every single street for the few blocks around me. Honestly, it's quite overwhelming! I wish I could try them all...

One place that I did try is Cafe Tiramisu. It's an Italian restaurant that specializes in seafood, which combines two things I love. I went there with several people from IBM who are here for training. Some of them are staying at the same hotel as me and invited me to go with them :) So we ended up being a big group. This worked out great because the menu looked amazing and there were sooo many things I wanted to try. But being in a big group, we ordered everything family-style :)

We started by sharing the grilled calamari and the mussels in spicy chile sauce for appetizers. The mussels were pretty similar to what you can get at any good restaurant. Don't get me wrong, though, they were delicious, just nothing too special. However, I loooved the calamari. I have to admit that this was the first time I had grilled calamari; I've always had them battered and fried or poached in soups/stews. The grilling preserved their real taste and softened the texture just a little bit. Plus, they looked so pretty with their tentacles still on :) I think that was my favorite thing abut the dish...

For entrees we ordered the pumpkin and ricotta gnocchi, Dungenese crab tortellini, pappardelle with Bolognese sauce, and the oricciette with pork ragout. Again, all the dishes were delicious. All the pastas were hand-made and fresh. The tortellini contained huge chunks of crabmeat and came in a nice creamy sauce. I'm usually not a fan of Bolognese-style meat sauces, but I loved the one here. The pork ragout was also amazing. But my favorite dish were the pumpkin gnocchi. Honestly, I didn't expect to detect much pumpkin flavor, but I was very pleasantly surprised. And even better, the gnocchi were still savory and not sweet. I guess the addition of ricotta was able to cancel out the sweetness of the pumpkin. I definitely had several helpings from that plate :)

And we couldn't go to a place called Cafe Tiramisu without ordering tiramisu! It was delicious, but again similar to most other tiramisus I've had. We also got the bomboloni, Tuscan-style donuts. I can't believe I spent a whole week in Tuscany and never heard about them! They were really delicious. They were filled with cream inside and came with a chocolate sauce for dipping. They reminded me of beignets in terms of texture, of Boston Creme donuts because of the sauce, and of churros because of the chocolate sauce. Well, combine all of these goodies and you have a great finish to a great meal :)