Chief among my many weaknesses is a plum dessert.
When I returned to Tartine Manufactory for the fourth time, the bakers had me at Plum Upsidedown Cake ($5.50), whose glossy plums looked as if the color violet had settled down inside of a cold fire. The cake itself was a revelation: a light, perfect sponge, the opposite of dry. The combination tasted like the last great bite from a late-summer harvest.
Since my first visit two weeks ago, the new-opening chaos has died down, but the electricity has not. The frenetic energy seemed to be the result of a hornet’s nest dropped inside an anthill. Workers and customers collided, unclear about where to stand (patrons) or which direction to buzz toward (staff). Today the mind of the hive was orderly, if not precise, and listening intently to its queen.
Tartine Manufactory is the latest venture from Liz Prueitt and Chad Robertson, the husband-and-wife founders of Tartine Bakery and Cafe. This industrial space (sharing walls with Heath Ceramics and a Blue Bottle Coffee) is painted a bright and glossy white, and no matter which table you find yourself at, the building is flooded with light from high windows that face outward. A hostess of sorts, closer to a guide, handed out long menus, each with a handwritten number on it, to peruse and tiny pencils to check our choices from categories like Pastry Case, Breakfast, Lunch, Beer and Wine, Cakes, Cookies Puddings, Manufactory Coffee, Rare Tea Company, and Beverages.
After you place your order with one of the two cashiers, you can sit at an empty table with your number on display. Or, if you want your food to go, you can try to find the least awkward place to sit or stand, by the bar or the giant baking platform that carries the great loaves of bread in and out of the ovens. One problem with this approach is that, as the gentlemen in line ahead of me pointed out, a hungry person likes to see their pastry before deciding it’s just the right one. Also, some items in the case don’t appear on the menu: the Brioche Jam Bun — a refined version of a cheese Danish with what must have been a black currant jam for $5 — was listed, while the savory brioche was not. With people crisscrossing every which way and the covetous eyes of those still in line staring you down, there’s a pressure to make a hasty decision about which pudding to pick.
My method has been to familiarize myself with the menu, to ask the cashier for a moment to inspect the nearby goods, and then to delay a few more seconds by reading the daily specials, which are also not on the menu. Nor is the bread, which is, a shame.
It’s the bread that made for the best Tomato, Mozzarella Sandwich ($13) I’ve ever had. The country loaves — sliced into thirds, or quarters — are such a fine balance of crunch and softness. Inside were thin slices of heirlooms and mozzarella with finely cut basil and the right amount of olive oil. The meat in the Salami, Tapenade Sandwich ($13) was of the pink and fatty variety, but was saved by the vegetables, which were pickled and spiced like a muffuletta.
I ended the meal as I began, with plums. This time in a Fruit Crisp ($6.50). It paired well with their Cold Brew Coffee ($4 and tasting of mild chicory, though the barista denied the suggestion). A buckwheat and black sesame streusel topped the crisp filled with gooey, delicious slices of that purple fruit. While a dollop of freshly whipped cream would have been heavenly, the fact that the Manufactory made two seasonal stone fruit desserts only confirmed the reason for the persistent queues: The atmosphere there is simply plummy.
Tartine Manufactory, 595 Alabama St. 415-487-2600 or tartinemanufactory.com