There is nothing better when visiting Paris than getting up when most of the city is still asleep, finding a local bakery with its open sign on and ordering a pain au chocolat (albeit in broken French). I always leave the city feeling envious of all the bakeries that grace the street corners with aromas that beckon you to come inside.
While some neighborhoods in San Francisco like the Mission District are lucky enough to count Bar Tartine and Craftsman and Wolves among its neighborhood staples, for many other areas in the city like the Marina there is a dearth of true blue bakeries. The scene has instead been reduced to an overabundance of cupcakeries.
But the tide might finally be shifting with the opening of Le Marais Bakery on Chestnut Street. Under the purview of head pastry chef, Phil Ogiela, an alum of Fifth Floor, Aziza, Elisabeth Daniel and Dandelion Chocolate, and head baker Justin Brown, who worked at Bien Cuit Bakery and Roberta’s Restaurant in New York, the neighborhood is getting a much needed upgrade.
Open under two weeks, Le Marais is already commanding lines out the door. The bakery while well decorated has a very small sitting area, so both times I have been forced to take my items to go.
The menu is well balanced between savory and sweet treats and evolves as the day progresses. On the savory spectrum, I really enjoyed the open-faced croque monsieur that was served on thick-cut, house made bread. Another favorite is the ham and cheese volcan, which is a delicately fastened dome-like croissant with ham and cheese in the middle.
French desserts tend to be much less sweet than American ones, and it is something I detected when I tried the carrot cake. Its delicately whipped icing and almost savory cake is a stark contrast to the American version of the dessert. But the true test for me was trying the chocolate croissant. It has a rich golden color with a flaky crust that isn’t too greasy and had just the right amount of sweetness.
Le Marais is a step in the right direction for a neighborhood that had previously been lacking in the bakery department. And until I can head back to Paris again, I am glad I have a new place to enjoy a pain au chocolat.
Visit Le Marais Bakery at 2066 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123.