Sunday, November 11, 2012

Ouch!

Bakery Lorraine
511 East Grayson Street
(a short way east of Broadway)

The foodie community, which I reluctantly admit to being a less-than-fully-devoted groupie of, has been a-buzz lately with praise for this new venture in the fringe of the up-and-coming area around the Pearl Brewery. It was inevitable that I, who am helpless before a display of baked goods, would make my way there sooner rather than later. It all just sounded so good!

The two people behind the little business met while working together in northern California. One of them — her, I think, but I could be mis-remembering, and don't care enough to look it up, even though it would probably be only a matter of forty seconds and two, maybe three clicks of the mouse — anyway, one of them had the good taste, or good luck, to be from San Antonio, so they came here to dip their toes in the entrepreneurial waters. Well, 'cuz it's such a classy town and all. Or something like that.

Anyway. I first heard of them in connection with the Farmers' Market operating at the Quarry on Sundays, and read some excited puff-piece in (probably) the local disreputable weekly throwaway rag. Sounded good, it really did; but I have better things to do of a Sunday morning than go traipsing out to the Quarry when it would likely be crowded: the English Premier League is on TV on Sunday mornings. So I never actually got over there to experience the goodies that induced such undignified passion in the writer.

Then here comes news that they have a bricks-and-mortar location all their own, on Grayson Street. Closed Mondays, which is damned inconsiderate of them, but they're probably not soccer fans, and one must make allowances for such people. So it was a Tuesday, when I happened to be in the area anyway, that I finally encountered Bakery Lorraine.

A smell can be a powerful provacatrix. Some mornings, stepping out out into my back yard early in the morning, the whiff of a certain timbre of diesel fumes from the avenue instantly and unfailingly reminds me of Guanajuato, Mexico, one of my favourite places In The Whole World. (You know it's a magical place, when something as pungent as diesel fumes can evoke fond memories. But then, as my dog says, there are no good smells or bad smells; there are only smells.) Stepping into Bakery Lorraine, I was immediately and powerfully reminded of another place, a tiny boulangerie in a small town somewhere in Haute-Savoie. I haven't been there in decades, and haven't thought about it in nearly that long, but the aroma at Bakery Lorraine took me back there instantly.

Last city inspection: October 2012
3 demerits
It's not a particularly large variety of goodies on display in the fairly small double case that presents itself to the arriving customer. I'd say it has a capacity of less than a third of what you would find on offer at, say, the Bistro Bakery in Olmos Circle (which, however, lacks that evocative aroma of France, as well as the exceptional American pleasantry of the staff); and at that hour of the morning, around 10AM, it looked to have been pretty well picked over. But everything that survived the morning rush looked perfect, as though any croissant with slightly too much or too little golden brown crust, or any macaron with even the tiniest bulge or bump, would have been tossed in a bin out back.  There would, of course, be a thorough investigation to attribute responsibility, but that would take place in discreet privacy. Perfection, I'd say, is the watch-word here.

An admirable goal, but not one yet attained, in my estimation. I sampled three of the offerings that morning, and found one approaching perfection, one perfect in some ways, and one noticeably falling short.

The best of the buy was a morning bun, a spiral of dough with cinnamon and a generous sprinkling of sugar. The dough had a density to it that I found truly enjoyable, and the cinnamon-sugar that had pooled at the bottom during baking had cooled into a slightly chewy, slightly sticky ribbon that any child, even one as old as me, would love.

Next-best was the pain au chocolat, a traditional French pastry made from the same kind of buttery laminated dough as a croissant, but differently shaped (which only slightly affects the resulting texture). Normally, in making these pastries, the dough is rolled around a baton of chocolate; if that's the way Bakery Lorraine does it, something went wrong, as the chocolate was in three separate parts, as though two chocolate chips and half a baton had been used. I found the chocolate flavour rather ordinary, detracting from the overall experience.

The least pleasing of the three items I tried was, to my surprise, the tart. I chose an "Almond Joy" tart, made with chocolate filling in a roughly four-inch shell, topped with whipped cream, almonds and a sprinkle of shredded coconut. The shell was excellent: dense and firm, as it should be, with a clear buttery flavour. Other than that, though, the piece seemed unremarkable. The consistency of the chocolate filling struck me as being exactly that of the sugar-free instant pudding you get out of a Hill Country Foods box; and the whipped cream seemed to lack, oddly, creaminess.

If I had paid ordinary prices for these things, I'd have been reasonably satisfied with Bakery Lorraine, overall. But the pain au chocolat was four dollars, as was the morning bun. The tart, at $6, provokes the title of this post. This place is expensive. And for the kind of money you will spend at Bakery Lorraine, I think you have a right to expect better than I found there.

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