SF Bakeries: Vive La Tarte and Arsicault

Croissant Choices at Vive La Tarte

Croissant Choices at Vive La Tarte

I recently wrote a post about some of my favorite SF bakeries, but San Francisco is teeming with pastries that are just waiting to be eaten. One of my new favorite places is Vive La Tarte (1160 Howard St.) in SOMA. Filled in a light and airy warehouse, Vive La Tarte is a great space to hold a meeting or hunker down and work. They offer classic croissants, pain au chocolat and almond croissants, as well as filled ones like strawberry shortcake and banana ginger. If the croissants weren’t enough to tempt you, there’s slices of pizza, quiche, tarts and cheesecake!

VLT Spread

Vive La Tarte Spread

I stayed focused on the croissants and tried the strawberry shortcake, banana ginger, pain au chocolat and almond croissant. I’ll be honest and let you know that the filled croissants, while very Instagrammable, are not that good. I found that with the filling, the croissant becomes soggy. There also wasn’t enough strawberry or banana flavor. Stick with the classics like pain au chocolat. While I did enjoy the taste of the chocolate filling immensely, I wish there were two chocolate batons instead of one. The amount of pastry surrounding the chocolate is huge so there are many bites that are chocolate-less. Let’s face it; those are sad bites. I do highly recommend the almond croissant, which was completely filled from top to bottom with almond goodness (very impressive). It had that perfect marzipan taste and the filling oozes out with every bite. I’m quite confident that this is my favorite almond croissant.

Sightglass Coffee

Sightglass Coffee

Vive La Tarte Seating

Vive La Tarte Seating

If the pastries aren’t enough for you, grab a cup of the Sightglass Coffee. I love how cute the space at Vive La Tarte is with actual tables, bench and counter seating. I can’t wait to go back and work my way through some of the tarts and cheesecake.

Arsicault

Arsicault

I’m in the minority here, but I didn’t love Arsicault (397 Arguello Blvd.), which Bon Appétit crowned the best new bakery in America in 2016. Arsicault hosts a small menu with plain croissant, pain au chocolat, kouign amann, almond croissant, almond and chocolate croissant, ham and cheese croissant, morning bun and cookies. Everyone that works there is super friendly and helpful. I know the lines can be over an hour on the weekends.

I tried the croissant, kouign amann, almond croissant and almond + chocolate croissant. The plain croissant had plenty of butter but it was very dense, not light and airy, which I prefer. The almond croissant did not have the marzipan flavor that I adore so much and I didn’t find the almond flavor to be very strong (plenty of filling though). I did like the taste of the chocolate in the almond and chocolate croissant. I also greatly appreciated how the pain au chocolat come with two chocolate batons. My favorite was actually the kouign amann. It’s not quite as crispy as b. patisserie, but the outer edges are crispy while the inside is softer. There’s still the wonderful sugar crust on top. If I ever went back, that would be the one item for me!

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Battle of the SF Bakeries: Neighbor Bakehouse, Mr. Holmes Bakehouse and b. patisserie

Baked Goods at Neighbor Bakehouse | SF

Top Left (clockwise): Twice-Baked Pistachio & Blackberry Croissant, Ginger Pull Apart, Ham and Cheese Morning Bun and the Everything Croissant at Neighbor Bakehouse

San Francisco is full of amazing bakeries (hello, Tartine), but I wanted to write about three well-known ones: 1) Neighbor Bakehouse, 2) Mr. Holmes Bakehouse and 3) b. patisserie.

Hands down, Neighbor Bakehouse (2343 3rd St #100) wins for best croissant in SF. Located in the Dogpatch, Neighbor Bakehouse has the best croissant dough I’ve tasted outside of Paris. Their dough is buttery and flaky, not heavy or waxy. When you take a bite into a fresh croissant, there’s an audible crunch! It’s no wonder that practically all their pastries are made out of this dough. I’ve literally tried their entire menu and have ranked it for you.

  1. Everything Croissant. Their most famous croissant is a must order. Their croissant is filled with cream cheese and chives and the filling is generous, not a tiny sliver. They then top it with everything bagel seasoning: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, garlic and onion flakes. It’s the best of an everything bagel in a croissant.
  2. Sauerkraut Smoked Cheddar Peppadew Tart. Don’t get confused by the term “tart.” It’s basically a hand pie in croissant dough. While the thought of sauerkraut in a savory hand pie may turn you off, give it a chance. Their sauerkraut isn’t very sour and this tart is filled with cheese and piquanté peppers. I love the contrast of the sweetness of the peppers with the brine of the sauerkraut. This is one pastry not to miss.
  3. Cinnamon Almond Bostock. I didn’t know what a bostock was when I ordered it. Now, I know it’s day-old brioche topped with almond frangipane. I freaking love frangipane and all things marzipan and this cinnamon almond bostock tastes like custard French toast filled with almond paste. It’s one of the few items in the baked goods section that isn’t made out of croissant dough and I love it.
  4. Ginger Pull-Apart. Giant croissant dough ball brushed with a bright ginger syrup. Pull apart with your fingers and enjoy!

Things I did not enjoy at Neighbor Bakehouse. Don’t waste your wallet or waistline on these because I’ve already done the work for you:

  • Twice-Baked Croissant. I’ve tried two flavors and have not been impressed with either. The pistachio and blackberry didn’t have much pistachio or blackberry flavoring and the croissant becomes denser and flat.
  • Doughp Buns. I’ve had both the chocolate and passionfruit doughp buns. The fillings were tasty, but the ratio of bun to filling was too high. These were also really dense and did nothing for me. I ended up scraping out the sweet nectar of the filling and tossing the buns.
  • Apple Hand Pie and Guava & Cheese Pastelito. Both are these are basically turnovers. Unfortunately, I don’t like the dough. Unlike the croissant dough, their turnover dough isn’t flaky and doesn’t have a ton of flavor. I was really disappointed that the apple hand pie didn’t have a stronger apple and cinnamon flavor.
  • Smoked Fish Cream Cheese Croissant. A croissant filled with salmon cream cheese and topped with sesame seeds. While not bad, the everything croissant is so much better. There’s not enough salmon in the filling and the everything croissant is more flavorful thanks to the garlic and onion flakes.
  • Ham and Cheese Morning Bun. Again, not a bad pastry, but it’s definitely very heavy between the ham, cheese and all the butter in the croissant dough. It’s very one-dimensional. You’re much better off getting the sauerkraut tart.
Pina Colada Cruffin at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse | SF

Pina Colada Cruffin at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse

I can wax on about Neighbor Bakehouse, but I think it’s only fair to compare it to Mr. Holmes Bakehouse (1042 Larkin St.), which is infamous for their cruffin. Marketed as a “croissant muffin,” the flavors change daily and are posted on their Instagram account. Mr. Holmes Bakehouse often runs out of cruffins by 10am and they limit how many each person can buy (2/person). The day that I went, I stood in line for the pina colada cruffin. I was impressed with how much cream was filled inside. However, the cruffin was a total letdown. While I actually really enjoyed the cream and could tell it was high quality, there was zero coconut or pina colada flavoring. The only coconut flavors came from the macaroon and it definitely wasn’t reminiscent of a pina colada. I’d be curious to try a different flavor because I think the cruffin has potential.

I did also order the churro croissant and it’s a croissant filled with dulce de leche cream and topped with cinnamon sugar. Considering how good their cream filling is and how much I love churros, this was quite delicious. I also enjoyed Mr. Holmes Bakehouse take on a savory croissant, the California croissant. This croissant is filled with smoked salmon, pickled ginger, wasabi and nori and then topped with more seaweed and sesame seeds. When I bit into it, I was not expecting a big piece of salmon and I loved the combination with the pickled ginger. It even comes with a packet of soy sauce, which I don’t think is needed.

I tried SO many pastries at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse. I really wanted to love them and I just couldn’t. The croissant dough at Neighbor Bakehouse is definitely superior. Items at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse that I do not recommend:

  • Matcha Croissant. How disappointing. I love green tea and this croissant has no green tea flavor. It’s dipped half in a white chocolate coating and so just tastes like waxy white chocolate.
  • Apple Pie Pull-Apart. This is not a pull-apart, people. This is similar to a dense bread pudding. While I actually enjoyed the apple, cinnamon flavors (and raisins), I think the ginger pull-apart at Neighbor Bakehouse is better.
  • Filled Donut. Bah, the fillings are good (again, they rock at that cream filling) but the donuts are oily and dense.
  • Cornflake Cookie. This is advertised as a brown butter toffee, cornflake cereal cookie. There is no brown butter taste and not enough toffee. The brown butter cookies at Bi-Rite are better.
Kouign Amann at b. patisserie | SF

Kouign Amann at b. patisserie

b. patisserie (2821 California St.) has been on my list forever because I’ve been dying to try their kouign amann. Kouign amann is a pastry originally hailing from Brittany. It’s basically a caramelized croissant with a beautiful sugar crust on top. I totally understand the hype at b. patisserie. When I cut into the kouign amann, it could hear the crunch of all the crispy flakiness. Even cut, I could see layers upon layers of beautiful buttery goodness. The sugar crust on top adds a perfect amount of sweetness. It is worth going to b. patisserie just for the kouign amann. The only other item that I tried was the passionfruit poppyseed madeleine, which I also really enjoyed. Their tarts look absolutely divine and I’ll definitely have to make another trip soon!

Paris Croissant Crawl

Croissant

My amazing friend Amy is visiting this week! Given that she loves food as much as I do, she was the perfect partner in crime for a croissant crawl. Ever since reading David Lebovitz’s “Paris’s Best Croissants” in Travel + Leisure, I have been wanting to judge all of those boulangeries for myself. Amy and I did even better by trying SEVEN croissants (take that, David!) from different bakeries across town with a very specific mission– find the best croissant in Paris.

Ronde Des Pains: Croissant for 1 euro

Ronde Des Pains: Croissant for 1 euro

We started at my local bakery on Rue Cler, Ronde Des Pains (45 Rue Cler). We hungrily ate our first croissant of the day. I noticed that the croissant was not very dark, but it was still crispy and doughy inside without feeling too heavy.

Pain et Chocolat

Pain et Chocolat

Pain et Chocolat: Croissant for 1.20 euro

Pain et Chocolat: Croissant for 1.20 euro

Next, we walked a couple blocks to Pain et Chocolat (16 Avenue de La Motte Picquet). I always loved the name of the café – Bread and Chocolate – but I had never actually stepped inside.We were lured inside by the croissants on display in the window, which were significantly darker than the one we devoured at Ronde Des Pains. After talking with a staff member, we learned that they roll all the dough overnight and bake it in their ovens downstairs. It’s good to know that even a café is willing to bake their own pastries (one would hope with the “bread” being in the name). Pain et Chocolat’s croissant was definitely crispier (probably due to the longer baking) and less doughy, but I thought it was really buttery and heavy. I had butter all over my hand as I ripped the croissant into pieces.

Blé Sucré

Blé Sucré: Croissant for 1.2 euro; Four Madeleines for 3.4 euro

We took the Métro all the way across town to Blé Sucré (7 Rue Antoine Vollon). I was a little embarrassed to admit to Amy that I had never really explored the 12th arrondissement of Paris before. We found an adorable store front overlooking the Square Armand Trousseau. These croissants were massive, much wider and taller than I had ever seen before. I had read all the online reviews that raved about their madeleines (people, I take my food research seriously) and so we also bought a four-pack of those petite cakes. Blé Sucré’s croissants were impressive. Out of all of the croissants, it was the flakiest and surprisingly had a sweet hint to it. We tried to decipher if some sugar was lightly coating the croissant or if the batter itself was sweet.

I know this is a croissant review, but I have to take a brief moment to review their madeleines. Those bad boys are the most delicious madeleines that I have ever tasted in my entire life. They are very light and fluffy and don’t have an almond taste (unlike the ones you normally find in the U.S.). The absolute clincher was the layer of sugar coating one side of the madeleine. I’m guessing that it has to be some sort of diluted sugar frosting because it actually wasn’t that sweet. BUT, that little bit of frosting added an audible crunch to the madeleine, giving some delightful texture to the moist and soft cake. The madeleines are only sold in a four pack, but you should just buy them. Trust me. You will eat them all.

La Pâtisserie by Cyril Lignac: Croissant for 1 euro

La Pâtisserie by Cyril Lignac: Croissant for 1 euro

After Blé Sucré, Amy and I walked ten minutes to La Pâtisserie by Cyril Lignac (24 Rue Paul Bert). His store has some beautiful pastries and I especially loved the presentation of his lemon meringue tart. Cyril Lignac’s croissant seemed like the best croissant that was well-rounded. The ends were super crispy and the middle section was not too doughy. It was buttery but still very light at the same time. I wish I had some fleur de sel in my back pocket because just a sprinkling of fresh sea salt would have made it the perfect croissant.

28 Boulangerie: Croissant for 1 euro

28 Boulangerie: Croissant for 1 euro

Amy and I were suffering from a croissant coma, but we powered through because I wanted to go to Le Moulin de Rosa (32 Rue de Turenne). Christophe had taken me to that boulangerie before and I remember thinking the croissant was good. In dire need of some digestion help, we happily walked the 30 minutes to the Marais. While walking to Le Moulin de Rosa, we passed by 28 Boulangerie (28 Boulevard Beaumarchais) and smelled the most amazing baked bread. Our pit stop did not lead to any viennoiserie revelations. It was a solid croissant but really nothing to write home about.

Le Moulin de Rosa: Croissant for 1.1 euro; Financier for 1.2 euro

Le Moulin de Rosa: Croissant for 1.1 euro; Financier for 1.2 euro

Finally, we arrived at our last stop, Le Moulin de Rosa. It was flaky, buttery and much better than 28 Boulangerie, but it definitely was not the best. I had to also order a financier because they make the best financiers. You can actually taste the almonds and there are trace amounts of ground almond and vanilla bean baked in.

Final Verdict: For me, it was a tie between La Pâtisserie by Cyril Lignac and Blé Sucré. I think Cyril Lignac has the best classic croissant. It seemed like the perfect combination of all of the seven croissants we tried. It had fantastic crispiness and flakiness while not being too overwhelming and heavy. If you want to try a croissant with a slight twist, Blé Sucré’s croissants really have a certain sweetness to them. Amy’s favorite croissant of the day was from Blé Sucré. The journey to Blé Sucré would be worth it just for the madeleines. I’m already plotting my next trip to the 12th arrondissement.

Do you have a favorite croissant in Paris? Please do share! I’d love to discover more boulangeries!