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San Francisco, CA: Butter + art

Tartine Bakery and Cafe

Ask most any San Franciscan and they'll say the same thing about Tartine: "Oh, Tartine. The best. There's a stick of butter in everything."

Apocryphal, yet how to explain the line that invariably snakes from inside the small shop out the door and south down Guerrero? The fact is, Elisabeth Prueitt and husband Chad Robertson, pastry chef and baker respectively, have few peers between the Pacific and the Atlantic.

Many think Mr. Robertson's bread is the best in San Francisco (and some will go further and say quietly, 'or anywhere'). Given the flavor of the dough and the perfection of the crust, it's unquestionably a hot item. But don't count on tasting any without some advance work. (The rules are here.)

In some places, elusive bread would be a strategy to gin up demand. The explanation at Tartine is simpler: bread gets baked in the afternoon, mornings are given over to Ms. Prueitt's pastries.

That works for us since we love anything she does: the morning buns are fabulous and go quickly, but you wouldn't be the least bit sorry with the croissants or the seasonal bread pudding or the croque monsieur at lunch. Yes, they're all rich and mind-blowingly tasty, but there's far more art than oleo here.

When the weather is fine, you can sit at one of the half dozen or so tables outside. Otherwise, join one of the few communal tables inside or take your haul to go. Be careful, though; this is, in a sense, a dangerous neighborhood. The superb Delphina restaurant, their pizzeria, Bi-Rite Creamery and Bi-Rite market are all steps away. The danger is entirely to your self-control.


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