07 April 2009

The Existential Muffin

I just typed the title to this post, and then wondered, has anyone else written on this topic? Yes, of course, and Pamplemousse makes some good points on the nature of muffiness. A muffin should be more than just a breakfast cupcake.

But this post is not really about muffins. It's about culinary disappointment.

So, I go to the dentist this morning and, on my way back to work, I notice a new eatery, the Paradise Bakery and Cafe. I love great pastry and, ever hopeful (and peckish), I have to stop. This is a big and beautiful cafe, with professional menus and a throng of smiling staff. I should have walked straight out over that fact alone. Unless you're eating haute (out? haute? eating out haute?), if a place looks great, the food is probably not.

The "bakery" section was a joke, about 6' of single-shelf counter. They had big signs about their "famous cookies," but the sample they gave me could have come from a Keebler box. Maybe did. The only thing with any promise was their muffins. I bought the Apple Cinnamon. It was ok, I guess. But just a breakfast cupcake.

This small dissappointment should not have put me in a funk, but as I've blogged before, I love great food. But it is so hard to find. Now, if I had the money, I'm fortunate to live just an hour's drive of many great restaraunts. During ski season, there are probably twenty that would not disappoint any reasonable foodie just in Park City and the resorts. We even have two hauts restaurants local (the Chef's Table in Provo and the Tree Room at Sundance). But these belong to an entirely different catagory of eateries. Dinner for two will cost you at least a Benjamin.

I love good eats on the cheap, but there is a reason why it is a commonplace for greasy spoons to advertise "home cooking." For a variety of reasons, restaurant food is rarely better than even modestly competent home cooking. I'm no cookie wizard, but I can certainly bake for myself a better cookie than those to which Paradise claims fame. In fact, that is the challenge I've set for myself—find affordable restaurants that can beat our home cooking. Sounds easy, but it's not.

Cookies and box-baking aside, real baking is a real challenge, and good commercial bakers can produce breads and pastries that only accomplished home cooks can match. We're very fortunate to have a couple of good bakeries local. Kneaders is spotty with pastries, but they have some great specialty breads. For your basic cinnamon rolls and such, I love Shirley's. If you get out to Midway, then B├Ąckerei & Eis at the Zermatt Resort is worth a visit. Their bleu cheese bread is unbelievable and their pastries fair to great (skip their Napoleons). If you're into it, they also have great gelato.

But I'd trade them all for Provo's only French patisserie, the Eliane French Bakery (sic). Eliane's is nothing to look at, but their pastries are the real thing. One reviewer complained they did not "taste as good as they appeared." I think that's because Americans expect a blast of sugar whenever they bite into something creamy. Sorry, in my very limited experience, that just is not French, who use sugar as a flavoring and not the main ingredient in pastry. Authentic or not, Eliane's is very good, and as close to real patisserie as you are going to get in Happy Valley.


Mister Fweem said...

Ooooohhhh. . .patisserie.

You're right on the sugar thing. We're way too oversugared in this nation. I grew up eating all those sugared cereals, then went cold turkey for a number of years. We get them for our kids now. I have a bowl once and a while and just can't stomach it any more.

You know what I miss about France? The bread. Now, the patisserie, as you mention, is fabulous there. But the bread. Fresh bread, crunchy bread, not this soggy sponge stuff we get here. If I ever get back to Perigueux, my first mission area, I'm going straight down this familiar little back alley to a little off-kilter bakery that sold the best bread in the world. And if you wanted it Fresh after hours, you could even buy it at their custom-made bread vending machine. A vending machine for bread.

It's not all good, of course. You have to be picky -- and it's my experience the stuff in the mid- to small-towns is better than the stuff in the big French cities. I had a brioche in Paris that tasted like the road dust I brought in on my shoes.

carl g said...

Any future posts like that I will be forced to censor. You've got me drooling like my yellow lab on pizza night.