September 15, 2016
You don’t have to know precisely where the shop is because the first thing you see as you turn from Divisidaro onto California Street is the line that’s there at almost any time but, of course, especially thickly on weekends.
The line is out the door and down the sidewalk where people wait very patiently, I must say. Finally still in line, customers pass slowly through the door and are hit with the powerful smell of butter baking.
It’s B Patisserie in San Francisco.
You may know that Bread Furst was nominated for a James Beard Foundation award this year and last year; but you might not have noticed that in both years B Patisserie was one of the other four nominees for “best baker in America.” It deserves that.
This bakery, classic in style, is three and a half years old and is the collaboration of two people, one of whom I have written about before.
Michel Suas, as I have written, has done more for baking in America than anyone else. That is to say he designed most American bakeries that make traditional breads and he created the San Francisco Baking Institute, the premier baking school in the country. His collaborator is less known and followed a classic career path.
Belinda Leong is 39 years old. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she began her pastry career at the age of 19. At first she taught herself. Then she worked for nine years at a fancy San Francisco restaurant and then treated herself to three years of stages (working to learn) in Europe – at Pierre Herme in Paris, at Bubo in Barcelona, and at Noma in Copenhagen. Then she returned to work at Manresa, the excellent restaurant south of San Francisco.
She wanted to open a pastry shop, but not to manage the business parts of a small business. That’s how she teamed up with Suas. He too used to be a pastry chef but here he manages business matters while she makes pastry – all the time – really all the time.
She allows herself one day off per month
As you must know by now, I don’t have a taste for refined pastries. I think that many pastry shops sacrifice flavor for appearance, making pastries with out-of-season fruits shiny with a thick layer of gelatin covering colors that don’t really appear in nature and making them far too sweet.
I prefer classic American desserts – pies and cakes, puddings, cookies and the like. But no one could resist what Leong does.
She stands at the back of the bakery next to the oven making what she calls “modernized French” pastries. The flavors are classics like chocolate, almond, and hazelnut. In texture many are caramelization for crunch and to add character to the sugar.
They are, like Bread Furst’s desserts, not very sweet and the flavors are sophisticated. “I am not as stuck on presentation as on flavor,” Loung says. “I don’t want to be trendy; I don’t want to do what other people are doing. But I don’t want to do only traditional things like almond and chocolate croissants. I’d rather do fruit croissants along with the traditionals.”
B Patisserie, like Bread Furst, is open seven days a week and serves 600 customers on weekdays and 1,000 customers on weekend days so as you might imagine, service is very slow.
But this is San Francisco where food customers are patient with long lines – lines like those at Tartine Bakery, at the great breakfast restaurants like Plow, at Bi-Rite’s ice cream shop, and Delfina’s pizza joint.
Patience is a virtue – not in Washington, of course.