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Monday, September 27, 2010

Croissant Wars: Sandbox vs. Patisserie Philippe

Posted By on Mon, Sep 27, 2010 at 4:04 PM

Croissants: Patisserie Philippe (left) vs. Sandbox (right). - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Croissants: Patisserie Philippe (left) vs. Sandbox (right).

As ubiquitous as croissants are in San Francisco, a stellar one is still hard to find. For a time in the 1990s, La Boulangerie was putting out pastries so flaky you held your breath around them for fear a stray exhale would make them collapse, but they haven't been the same since the bakery launched its Boulange de... chain. After that, a man who couldn't make it across the bay to La Farine would have to content himself with the stalwart, though often overbaked, croissants at Tartine and Delessio.

Two newish pastry shops have shown real prowess with laminated doughs: Pâtisserie Philippe, on Townsend and Eighth, and Sandbox Bakery in Bernal Heights. They are both as fine, if not finer, than La Farine's croissants. Last week, I drove from one bakery to the other to compare croissants side by side.

Visually, there was no contest: the Patisserie Philippe pastry was a mess compared to the precisely formed Sandbox croissant, whose glossy layers were so clearly defined you could create a topical map of their heights. (I've bought Philippe Delarue's croissants before, and they have looked better.)

In terms of taste, the competition was much closer. Both pastry chefs have impeccable credentials: Delarue is a Paris-trained pastry chef who opened his own place in 2007. Sandbox Bakery's owner, Mutsumi Takehara, started off at La Farine, then served as the pastry chef at Slanted Door for a decade before opening her own place this winter.

The nutty scent of browning butter was a shade more prominent in Delarue's croissant, the crack of teeth breaking through the outer shell a decibel louder. But in the end, the care that Takehara expended on rolling her croissants affected the way they tasted, too. Both pastries contained a swirl of air bubbles with tissue-thin walls, but Sandbox croissant was a half-inch loftier, and I could sense the individual layers more distinctly. Hell, I could see them ― and feel them crackle and snap each time I bit into the croissant. It took a few seconds' more labor to brush the crumbs from Takehara's croissant off my lap. And for that reason, Sandbox gets the win.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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