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!