Most of us have our favorite bistros, boîtes, bakeries, and pubs but patisseries? That seems a little precious, and maybe hard to pronounce. And fattening, since patisseries are all about pastries, and pastries are all about or largely about butter and eggs and sugar, with some flour and yeast thrown in, not to mention chocolate, more often than not. Boulangerie is tricky to pronounce too for unschooled Anglophones, but boulangeries are about bread, and bread isn’t really fattening unless it’s brioche, which is something you’d get at a patisserie, perhaps your favorite one.
Pâtisserie Philippe, which opened earlier this spring in a gigantic new building on the roundabout at the end of Eighth Street, is not a boulangerie, but it does have its boulangerie-esque elements. The handsome glass display cases are full of pastries, including tartes tatins and financiers, but they aren’t full of just pastries. There are panini too and baguette sandwiches and salads. If you said deli with a French accent, you would be striking near the heart of the matter. I don’t know how you say sports bar in French le sports bar? but there is one next door (not at all French), and it is loud. Pâtisserie Philippe, by contrast, is serene and civilized, and while you can’t get french fries with your panino, you won’t miss them, since you prefer a salad of mixed baby greens anyway.
The Philippe of Pâtisserie Philippe is Philippe Delarue, formerly of Bay Bread, the large and spreading consortium of bakeries and restaurants run by Pascal Rigo. Delarue’s place does resemble, a little, Rigolo, the Rigo restaurant in Laurel Village. The latter is bigger and has a more extensive menu (including wine), but while the food is good, it isn’t better than Pâtisserie Philippe’s. I was particularly taken by PP’s croque monsieur ($5.95), the classic grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich that here is caked with a béchamel sauce a bit on the rich side, yes, but the sandwich is European in scale. It’s not huge, in other words; five or six bites and you’re done, and you’re well satisfied. If the sandwich were built out to American standards, it would be two or three times as big and perhaps worthy of the sports bar next door. But … inelegant. Anyway, there are plenty of other savories to sample, and the panini are quite large.
This has much to do with their being assembled on ciabatta bread. The name means slipper in Italian and refers to the loaves’ long, flat shape; sandwiches made from ciabatta are particularly well-suited to the panini press. Pâtisserie Philippe’s versions ($5.95) feature ham or chicken along with melted mozzarella and provolone cheeses. I liked them both but preferred the ham, which was a little more deep-voiced and assertive in the face of all that white goo. If neither appeals, there is a fine spinach quiche ($3.75 for a not inconsiderable slice) a kind of open-face spanikopita, with a gorgeous flaky-tender, golden pastry crust.
Although the French aren’t known for their vegetarianism, Pâtisserie Philippe is surprisingly vegetarian-friendly. There is a vegetarian baguette sandwich, but even better is the wide array of salads and side dishes. You could make a nice little lunch out of these alone perhaps a picnic lunch, if you can find a swatch of grass in the neighborhood other than the little lawn in the middle of the roundabout. (The host building, which seems to be at least a block square, or triangular, fills up what was once the parking lot for the handsome old Baker and Hamilton edifice and its warren of eclectic furniture stores.)
We particularly liked a pair of salads ($3.25 each for half-servings of about a cup) made from shreddings of roots that don’t often attain headliner status: carrot and celery root. We noted in each a texture like that of cappellini cooked al dente, and a firm but gentle embrace of well-mellowed vinaigrette. The potato salad (also $3.25) was good too, though heavily dotted with tabs of ham. And at the end of this road we find the drastically unvegetarian pork rillettes ($4.50), a mash of slow-cooked meat mixed with fat to become a ropy paste you spread on rounds of baguette and enjoy with cornichons, the little pickles. The rillettes were slightly undersalted, I thought, but did not lack for satisfying lipidity.
No consideration of a patisserie would be complete without a discussion of the sweets on hand. Plenty of familiar faces here, from a chocolate éclair ($2.50) milk-chocolaty-ish to an elaborately layered, single-serve apple tart ($3.50) excellent pastry, mediocre apples to a fine bread pudding ($3.75), laced with large blackberries and pregnant with custard. The one standout we found was a bouchée caramel ($2.50), a disk of brioche with a shortcake-like depression in the middle that was filled with caramel. It was a bit like a crème caramel with brioche instead of custard and no ramekin to have to clean up afterward. Here, it seems to me, was the no-muss-no-fuss wisdom of the sugar cone as applied to pastry: the serving vessel was itself edible, and delectable.
Pâtisserie Philippe’s greatest liability could be its location, in the middle of a dark-faced building a long block long with not much to distinguish the storefronts. I can’t say I mourn the erstwhile parking lot, but the design district, of all districts, seems like an odd place to raise such a boring building. *
Mon.Fri., 8 a.m.6 p.m.;
Sat., 8 a.m.5 p.m.
655 Townsend, SF