Seeing as how my last day on Voracious will be next Wednesday, December 23 (though reviews will appear in print for a few weeks afterward), over the coming week I'm making a list of the 10 foods, people, and aspects of the local food scene I'll miss most.
There is only one pastry that I have ever loved, and it's to the exclusion of all others: the plain butter croissant. In the late 1970s, an aspiring baker used to bring croissants to sell at the Elkhart, Indiana, food co-op my mother volunteered at, and when she was feeling especially indulgent she'd allow me to buy one. The smell of caramelized butter and yeast, the crackle of that shiny brown crust, the central spiral of tissue-like dough -- at 7, it was the best thing I could imagine putting into my mouth. Decades later, in every French bakery I visit, I still scan over the glorious pear chaussons, pains au chocolat, puffy brioche, and elaborately layered viennoiserie before asking for one plain butter croissant, no jam, no need to put it in a bag.For a city our size, Seattle is rich in bakeries, thanks in no small part to the influence of Gwen Bassetti, who founded Grand Central Bakery in 1972, and Leslie Mackie, who baked for Bassetti there and later founded Macrina in 1993. Just like we have done with coffee, beer, and fish, the more good bread we eat, the better we expect our bread to be. (The moment I tore into a Macrina loaf during my job-interview lunch at Matt's in the Market, I knew I would love eating in this town.)
When it comes to plain butter croissants, Seattle has three great bakeries: Bakery Nouveau, Columbia City Bakery, and Cafe Besalu. I'm most in awe of the texture of James Miller's croissant at Besalu. I haven't tasted its equal anywhere in the United States. You smell the butter even from an arm's length, of course, but by the time you bite into the pastry it seems to have transmuted into air. If you had the patience and self-control of a gem-cutter you could probably count the layers of dough forming the croissant's crisp golden shell -- there are dozens at least, each of them distinct. And once you've pulled off a shard of the exoskeleton, the translucent sheets underneath tear and crumple with each breath that brushes them. I've taken to eating my Besalu croissant in the car, because the temptation to brush off my shirt, walk back up to the counter, and order a second is too great.
Cafe Besalu, 5909 24th Ave. N.W., 789-1463.