What: Classic grilled-cheese panini
Where: Macy's La Brea Bakery, corner of Third Ave. and Pine
Official Tasting Notes: Oh, I know it's not fair to compare this gruyere panini at Macy's new co-branded cafe to the one I tasted at La Brea Bakery founder Nancy Silverton's grilled-cheese nights at Campanile in Los Angeles. Silverton, one of the West Coast's pioneering artisanal bakers, used to be married to Campanile chef Mark Peel, and many years ago the two concocted a Thursday-night tradition that endures to this day (check the special menus section). Even the simplest of Silverton's cheese sandwiches could make you moan, and you weren't sure whether you were overcome by nostalgia or hedonism.
In 2001, Silverton sold the La Brea Bakery to IAWS Group, an Irish corporation that has brought her breads to supermarkets around the United States, UK, and Ireland. IGSW, which also owns Otis Spunkmeyer, has now partnered with Macy's to bring a La Brea (-esque) Bakery to downtown Seattle.
The "fresh-baked" bread comes from half-baked loaves that are finished off in what former Weekly food editor Roger Downey calls "a tin can" of an oven. My glamour shot above makes the panini look almost sexy, but it's nothing compared to the photo I ate it under, in which the butter on the bread glistened and flecks of whole-grain mustard marked the line where cheese and bread melded. Across the picture is a food-erotica quote from Silverton about how much she loves biting into a grilled cheese sandwich, with its "strange and stringy afterlife of melted cheese." She must not have been referring to the waxy, still half-solid slices of "gruyere" in mine, which seemed to only have ever existed in the afterlife. No butter on the bread = no nostalgia, hedonism, moaning, or, indeed, pleasure.
This ham and cheese sandwich, with arugula and a caramelized onion jam, was much, much tastier -- something I'd actually pay $6.50 for. I also picked up a fresh-baked baguette, which I'm pretty sure was more than a few hours old. Good compared to Safeway's, but in a town as blessed with great baguettes as ours, why shop for California bread at a department store?