Saturday, December 10, 2011
In Search of a Paris-Worthy Baguette
I should have known better. In fact, I told myself months ago not to go there. But with Paris now 5+ months in the rear view mirror, I was craving a baguette and started asking around for recommendations from people who should know. Americans who'd lived in Paris. Even French folks living in DC. And the result? Well read on.
My first stop was the Saint Michel French Bakery. Their main store is in Rockville near the Twinbrook metro, way too far from where I live to even consider a visit. But it turns out, they have a stand in the Montgomery Farm Women's Cooperative Market in Bethesda that's open twice a week, a location considerably closer to me and even closer to my office. Their baguettes beat the supermarket variety (which to be honest are just barely a step up from the bread they "bake on the premises" at Subway) but not by much. I may go back someday to try the tarts which were both pretty and well-priced.
The next option was Paul in Georgetown, the newest offering of this bakery with outlets everywhere in Paris. There it was the kind of place I could count on for a reliably good quality baguette even if I usually preferred to buy from the independent boulangerie in my neighborhood. My kids were with me when we stopped in at Paul and my youngest was desperate to break off the top for a little snack. Taking the baguette from me, she stopped to take a deep whiff. Expecting yeasty goodness, she got nothing. On balance, the Paul baguette was better than the one from Saint Michel but still nothing to write home about.
After that, I tried La Madeleine in Bethesda, a restaurant and bakery that French friends living in DC used to love when they craved a little bit of home. In one word: horrible. We actually ended up throwing it out since no one wanted to eat it after the first try.
My final stop was Patisserie Poupon in upper Georgetown. Walking into the shop which was bustling with customers, I was optimistic. Glistening fruit tarts and viennoiserie were beckoning, and the buches de noel lovingly decorated with meringue mushrooms. We waited in line for a good 10 minutes (just like Paris!) and in the end, came home with a baguette like the one from Paul, no aroma and only moderately tasty.
Then last night, I stopped in at our local supermarket to pick up fixings for a last minute salad for dinner. Still craving good bread, I bought a loaf of what was labeled "Tuscan bread" from the store's specialty bakery. And you know what? It was better than any one of the baguettes we'd tested.
So I'm giving up on baguettes. Hearty whole grain and sourdough loaves will be my bread of choice while in Washington. Some day, I'll get the chance again to bite into a freshly baked Parisian baguette and I'm sure the experience will be all the sweeter for the wait.