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Carolyn Tillie

Carolyn's Quest for the Quintessential Croissant

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Encouraged by Melkor's discovery of Thomas Keller's new bakery, Model, next to his Bouchon restaurant in Yountville, an unexpected day off seemed the perfect excuse for a Croissant excursion! Now you have to understand some of the distances involved in this journey. I live just outside the valley, a decent 40 miles south from Yountville. But near me (10 miles east), is a town called Vacaville, is a chain grocery store from which I have been obtaining pretty decent Croissant. Napa essentially lies in the middle, a 20-mile or so trip (don't get me wrong - I work in Napa so it is a drive I make every day).

It is well known amongst the valley residents (these people include residents of Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, Calistoga, Oakville, and Sonoma) that there exist some exceptional artisinal bakeries. Even so, many restaurants and wineries are still known to *import* bread from the Acme Bread Company in Berkeley because it is so good. But already having a penchant for Nugget's Croissants, I arbitrarily decided to include their's in the tasting. Inasmuch, I cheated a bit by purchasing Nugget's Croissant in the evening on Monday, leaving the Tuesday open for valley travel. I would take into account that I knew it would be "day old."

At 6:00 a.m., Tuesday morning the 15th, the alarm went off as I dragged myself from bed, wondering why I was subjecting myself to this sort of ordeal, knowing I could sleep in... Ah, the things I won't do in the continuing search for perfect food... By 7:00 a.m., Shawn and I were driving up Jameson Canyon, on the way to the Napa Farmer's Market to meet Melkor (thanks for the suggestion!). It was all too perfect that the market was the same morning as this culinary trial.

Before the market, we stopped at Sweetie Pies; 520 Main Street.

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They have a very impressive display of morning pastries as well as beautiful, after-dinner desserts. Shawn couldn't contain himself and wait for the Croissant challenege and purchased a Cream Cheese Apple Braid ($2.25). Yeah, it was exceptional, as was their latte.

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Fortunately for us, at the Farmer's Market stop, Melkor informed us that Thomas Keller's bakery, Model, was represented by a large Market bakery display. According to Melkor (and others I have spoken with), Keller's new bakery already has a reputation of not having all their product out and for sale for some time in the morning. I was happy to not have to drive half way up the valley and picked up a Croissant here.

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After spending a bit too much on other fresh-grown goodies, we shook hands and parted ways with Melkor to continue the pilgrimage of obtaining more flaky hunks of joy. Our next stop was another bakery in downtown Napa that has been a favorite of mine: Sweet Finale Patisserie at 1146 Main Street. Guess what? They are not open on Mondays and Tuesday, hence not part of this experiment. Up around the corner on Third, we stopped at another well-known establishment, ABC - also known as Alexis Baking Company. I was not encouraged by the general diginess of the appearance and moreso by being told by their counterperson that they don't make Croissant. I didn't bother with a picture, but suffice to say their coffers left a great deal to be desired.

Our last stop then, was at Vallergas Market. Vallergas is a small chain that exists within Napa (three stores? four? I'm not exactly sure) which provides a nice olive bar, a decent cheese selection, and otherwise all the other groceries one would find at a standard market. Heading home with booty in hand, now on to the tasting:

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I would like to state that the Croissants were tasted by Shawn and I two different ways. They were all broken in half to observe the layers and interior. We both had an intial, cold taste. Then I toasted half, preferring them a bit warm and slightly refreshed.

NUGGET: $1.49

The most golden brown of the four. Ultra butter in taste. Great flake. An exceptional Croissant.

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MODEL: $2.25 (Thomas Keller's offering)

Initial (cold) pasty taste of flour. Great detail in the flake. Nice texture and crunch.

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SWEETIE PIE: $2.25

Beautiful stair-step to their shape. Great initial butter flavor - no pastiness in the mouth.

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VALLERGAS: $1.39

Perfectly hideous. It *looked* pretty enough, but had little or no butter flavor and actually SMELLED of bad oil.

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The recap: It was really a tough call. In order of their butter-flavor content, #1 is Nugget, #2 is Sweetie Pie, #3 is Model, and #4 is Vallergas. (Actually, after we realized how oily Vallergas was, we didn't bother to even toast it for the second round of eating). The final, heads-up winner was Sweetie Pie in Shawn's opinion. All three of the final contenders had exceptional flake and tender, layered interiors.

If a really, really buttery flavor is desired, than Nugget is the choice. While tasting several, Nugget's butter flavor actually became a bit too-predominate (although it still might be a winner for me as I liked that it was baked a bit more golden). Could my taste buds have been deceived by an addition of butter flavor in the dough? Hmmm, unknown. Sweetie Pie compared to Model was just plain richer as though they used a better quality butter. Model's had a fabulous flake but was lighter in flavor, like a French horn pastry (I know, same dough). I guess when I want a Croissant, I want it to be rich and I want it warm or toasted.

So... for me, now that Napa is much more convenient, I'll be frequenting Sweetie Pie and anxious to try their other pastries. When passing Vacaville, I'll always stop at Nugget. And I am still very anxious to head up to Yountville to try Melkor's suggestion of Model Bakery's Lemon Tart...


Edited by Carolyn Tillie (log)

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Well... Melkor notified me that I screwed up! I thought when he pointed out Model Bakery's croissants at the Market that he said those were the same as Thomas Keller's. Apparently Model Bakery is yet another one so I have to amend my report by heading back to Yountville - at another time...

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When you are in a traveling mood, you should get yourself to Montreal to sample the croissants at Duc de Lorraine, Patisserie Francaise, 5002 Cote des Neiges Rd., (near Queen Mary) (514) 731-4128, 514-731-8081, www.ducdelorraine.com

They are among the best in the world. Crust golden brown, buttery start and finish, light flaky dough. Can't remember the price, but I believe it was less than what you are paying up in Napa -- even without the exchange differential.

Their brioche is rich and flavorful enough to be a day's meal in itself.

You should also sample their very rummy, moist baba au rhum, if your sweet tooth is so inclined.

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Not much is reasonably priced around here. The croissants at Bouchon Bakery are 3/4 the size of normal croissants and cost $2 each.

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I believe Artisan Bakery in Sonoma might be worth including in the ongoing experiment as well. Their croissants are delicious.

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In the SF Bay Area there are consistently good croissants produced by "Bakers of Paris."

These are even flakier than some of the colorful folks posting notes on this web site, with the possible exception of myself. :wacko:

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Does Model Bakery still make that fantastic lemon tart?? Last time I was in there, I spotted Eleanor Coppola noshing on some goodies.

Nugget Market -- wonderful place. My spouse loves the salsa bar. Sweetie Pie's is about 2 blocks away from my office; we had some ambrosial cupcakes from there recently for a bridal shower. ABC used to be the only game in town; they still have decent bran muffins but Sweetie Pie's has 3-4x the amount of sweet offerings.

And I have yet to go to Bouchon - it's over the fence from the place where I get my hair(s) done in Yountville, and the most wonderful aromas come wafting through the windows. Add bread to that equation and it sounds like I can no longer avoid the place.

(Vallerga's = 3 stores. )

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Does Model Bakery still make that fantastic lemon tart??  Last time I was in there, I spotted Eleanor Coppola noshing on some goodies.

And I have yet to go to Bouchon - it's over the fence from the place where I get my hair(s) done in Yountville, and the most wonderful aromas come wafting through the windows.  Add bread to that equation and it sounds like I can no longer avoid the place.

I don't remember seeing lemon tarts at Model the last time I was there.

Bouchon really is worth the visit, everything I've eaten there has been great, especially the onion soup. Their wine list is very nice and has a surprisingly reasonable mark up. The bakery is next door, and no one within 50 miles has an excuse not to go there at least once.

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Model Bakery used to have a lemon curd tart, in several sizes, that was ambrosial. It was the first place where I tasted a Morning Bun. I just talked to someone in my office about the MB, and she thinks it's gone downhill. Maybe it's just familiarity, as is the case with ABC...we've become jaded.

I need to find someone with whom to go to Bouchon; mabe I can con my spouse into going. I've heard raves about their steak frites - the fries done in duck fat?

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I need to find someone with whom to go to Bouchon; mabe I can con my spouse into going.  I've heard raves about their steak frites - the fries done in duck fat?

I had the steak frites ate at bouchon Sunday night, the steak is good but not amazing, the fries are worth raving about. When are you interested in going to Bouchon, I'm up for another visit if the scheduling works out.

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I was at Bouchon last week and the waitress confirmed the use of duck fat with the fries. They also had a delicious special of trotters with Keller's gribiche sauce, and the beautifully crisped sea bass. Also the lemon curd tart is a dead ringer for the one he put in the French Laundry cookbook. I enjoyed Bouchon, although the menu is tough to read (brown text on thin brown tissue) and the tables are really tight. We got to know our neighbors so well, they shared a half a bottle of 99 Patz & Hall pinot noir with us, so I guess its not too bad sitting that close to others. :wink:

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