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Cathy had an explanation: "We like to pamper ourselves." And what better way than with the best baked goods in the city, made with organic flour, sugar, local eggs, Niman Ranch meat, and, as often as possible, organic produce? This stuff is good for you, and it tastes good. In addition to the rich sandwich of creamy liver pâté and fruity jam (I decided I'd prefer its delicate flavors on the less assertive country bread, rather than the chunky, salty walnut bread it comes on), we shared one of Tartine's trademark croque monsieurs, not the classic grilled sandwich of ham, cheese, and béchamel between two slices of bread, but massive open-faced ones, with ham, Gruyère, and other good things (caramelized onions, perhaps, or sliced red and yellow tomatoes fresh from the farmers' market, or mushrooms) layered atop a thick slice of béchamel-slicked bread and sprinkled with fresh thyme. Most days the place also presents a tray of vegetarian versions made with mushrooms and cheese, or leeks. Alongside every croque come a few vinegary pickled green beans, for crunch and contrast.
If I'm on my own, I order a savory (a sandwich, a croque, or a slice of towering quiche, at least 4 inches tall, the eggy custard encasing chunks of ham or shreds of smoked salmon or other tasty morsels, in a daily-changing variety) and a sweet (an éclair stuffed with heady vanilla-bean custard and glazed with dark chocolate; a bowl of moist bread pudding jeweled with fresh seasonal fruit, raspberries, or tart cranberries; or my favorite, a banana cream tart that gilds the lily with a chocolate-coated flaky tart shell and caramel as well as the expected bananas, custard, and whipped cream). And I ask for a couple of to-go boxes at the same time, because I know I'll be taking half of each course home. (Well, if it's the éclair, it'll be just a sweet memory. Unless I've bought a second one for the road.)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Region: Mission/ Bernal Heights
Cake aux olives $3.50
Croque monsieur $7
Coppa sandwich $7
Foie gras and fig jam sandwich $12
Bread pudding $3.50
Banana cream tart $5
Open Monday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Noise level: moderate
Finally, I order treats -- pastries created by Robertson's wife and partner, Elizabeth Prueitt -- to bring back to the house. Next day, I'll breakfast on a hefty gougère, a puff pastry dome filled with Gruyère and herbs, or a thick slice of the cake aux olives, a witty loaf that looks like a fruitcake but is made with ham and olives instead of candied fruits and enlivened with white wine and vermouth in lieu of brandy.
Two flaws with my Xanadu: I wanted an enlivening glass of white wine myself, with my quiche or croque on my first visits chez Tartine, but all the place offers is coffee, fresh-squeezed juices, and bottled fizzy lemonade. And it was a gloomy Monday when I scored an excellent parking place only to find the bakery dark and shuttered.
But a couple of weeks ago my father and I walked past after a Monday lunch in the neighborhood and Tartine's door was wide open. "Are you open on Mondays now?" The answer was yes. It turns out that I'm not the only one drugged by the baked goods; neighbors, walking by and seeing the bakers hard at work, would rap on the windows and beg to be allowed in to buy just a few things. Monday's hours are shorter (maddeningly, my father and I got there just as the shop shut at 2), and there are no tarts, cakes, or loaves of bread available, but if ever there was a "by popular demand," this is it.
The very next Monday found me there, in possession of a table all to myself, with a ham-and-tomato croque monsieur and a bowl of bread pudding. I had plenty to read, but I cast an idle glance at the printed list of baked goods ("choice of breakfast pastry, cakes, and tarts will vary according to season, availability of produce, and the whims of the pastry chefs"), just in case there was a new creation I didn't know about.
I caught my breath. There was a list of wines! Two dozen! By the glass! (Or bottle, but that way madness lies. I was by myself, after all.) "How long have you been serving wine?" I asked, with a catch in my voice. "A few months," I was told.
It's not fair. I'd been planning to cut back. I swear.
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