Monday, September 09, 2013

La Boulange Breakfast Catering

When I moved to San Francisco, La Boulange was just a small local chain of bakeries.  I think they had maybe 3 stores.  It was there that I first had creamy greek yogurt with fruit, honey, and granola, and got totally hooked.  Then they started expanding.  Their growth was astounding.  It seemed like every couple months a new store was popping up.  And then Starbucks bought them a year or so ago.  And now, Starbucks is rolling out La Boulange baked goods in all of their locations, replacing the products they used to have.  Really an incredible accomplishment.

I've reviewed pretty much all of their baked goods before.  For the most part, I haven't been that impressed.  I can't say I really understand their success.  I've also reviewed an event catered by La Boulange.  Again, not super impressed.  Nothing is ever bad, but nothing is ever that good either.  Except that yogurt and granola.  I have such amazing memories of that dish!

My apartment complex holds an impressive number of events each year.  A couple times per month we have simple wine and cheese receptions, but we also have larger evening events every few months.  The food has ranged from really impressive to just ok, usually catered by JJardine Catering or 
Delessio, which I've reviewed preciously.  This time however, our "Resident Services Manager" did something a bit different, and hosted a "Back to School" Sunday Brunch.  I love brunch, and he promised delicious baked goods, so even though I had no kids of my own going back to school, I eagerly rushed down.

I was curious where he was going to source the goods from, and was a bit disappointed when I saw the La Boulange napkins.  As I've said, their stuff is never bad, but, it isn't that good.  Oh well, I was still excited, as all I had to do was go downstairs and there was a huge brunch spread waiting for me!

He ordered the "Grand Breakfast" package, featuring bread and pastry baskets, fruit salad, quiche, orange juice, and coffee.  Each 10 person package is $125.  Of course, we had several sets, since our building is huge.  My opinion on La Boulange remains unchanged after this event.  I'm curious how people feel about the Starbucks offerings, as they are all actually baked off-site in large baking centers and then distributed throughout the region, so they are even less fresh, and likely less tasty, than those products in the actual La Boulange stores.  Have you had the Starbucks, or La Boulange products lately?
Salmon and Dill Quiche.
The breakfast catering package starts with large quiches, cut into pie slices: "Traditional pastry crust filled with egg and savory ingredients."  Ours came with three different quiches, and of course, I tried them all.

I tried several of the quiches previously in mini form at the last La Boulange catered event I attended, and didn't really like them.  Then again, I actually really dislike quiche.  There have been very few quiches that I have ever even tolerated, let alone liked.

All of the quiches had the same pastry crust.  I really didn't like it.  I love pastry, so this wasn't just me not liking pastry.  It was oily rather than buttery, felt greasy yet dried out, and had no real flavor.  Meh.  But it was better than the mini tart shells the mini versions are served on.  The quiches all had a standard egg base, which is the aspect of quiche I don't like, and it didn't seem seasoned at all.  Meh.

I started with one that I hadn't tried before: Bacon and Pea.  I like bacon, I like peas, so I hoped this would be good.  The "bacon" seemed more like ham to me, flabby.  Tiny chunks.  I didn't find anything redeeming about the quiche.

I moved on to the Salmon and Dill.  I like salmon, and remembered that I had quasi-liked this one when I tried it before.  It had large chunks of salmon, and tons of greens.  I was confused by the amount of greens.  "Salmon and dill" it said, yet there was no way the massive amount of greens was all dill.  It turned out to be spinach, a strange pairing with the salmon.  The only good thing about this was the size of the chunks of salmon, impressively large, and well distributed throughout.

Finally, I tried the vegetable quiche.  This one sounded the most boring, as it had no star ingredient like bacon or salmon, but actually turned out to be the most delicious.  Once I had a few bites, I remembered that I had it in mini-form at the last event and didn't like it, and that I also had it in a larger form at the bakery once.  The vegetables are a mix of leeks, mushrooms, and tomatoes, and all were quite flavorful.  The pastry crust was still really dry, oily, and flavorless however.  But a bite of mostly leeks and tomato was tasty enough.

A quiche was part of each package, but you can also purchase a full quiche of 10 slices of this size for $30.
Almond Croissant.
I mostly ate quiche to make sure I had some protein, and then quickly moved on to the good stuff: the baked goods!

Next was a basket of assorted croissants: plain croissants, chocolate croissants, and almond croissants.  Now, I've tried all of their croissants before.  Multiple times.  I've never liked them.  But still, I wanted to give them another chance.

I went for the most interesting of the croissants, the almond croissant.  This thing was loaded up.  The inside was an incredibly thick layer of almond paste.  I think there was actually just too much of it, as it overwhelmed the croissant.  The filling was ok, had slight almond flavor, a nice consistency, but somehow didn't quite do it for me.  The croissant was then topped with even more of the almond paste, which really seemed like overkill, then topped with powdered sugar, and tons of sliced almonds.  They really just overdid it with everything on this croissant.  Too much filling, too much extra almond paste on top, and even too many sliced almonds.  I wanted to taste almond, but even with all of these almond components, I didn't realize taste almonds.  The crunch from the sliced almonds was nice.

But the real problem was the croissant dough itself.  It just wasn't good.  I've felt that way every single time I've tried any of their croissants.  It isn't moist.  It isn't flaky. It isn't buttery.  It always seems stale, no matter how fresh they appear to be.

Starbucks now carries all of their croissants, although they come in a smaller size, and are more shelf stable.  The La Boulange ones at least look good and only disappoint once you eat them, the Starbucks-La Boulange ones don't even look appealing in the case.  I'm curious, has anyone tried them yet?

I forgot to take a photo before I broke into my croissant, so here I just have a mutilated corner.  This was about 1/4 of a croissant.  The things are huge, you do get a lot for your money I guess.  I ate 3/4 of it at room temperature, and slathered on some jam, which really helped it a lot.  Paired with a coffee, I almost even enjoyed it that way.  I brought home this remaining 1/4 and tried heating it up in the toaster oven, hoping to make it a bit moister, but it actually just got worse.  The filling turned gummy and strange, so I certainly don't recommend that move!

The croissants are normally $2.25 for plain, $2.50 for chocolate, and $2.75 for almond, or an assorted catering basket is $35.
Orange cinnamon morning bun.
Along with the trio of croissants, the pastry basket also contained orange cinnamon morning buns, and fruit danishes.

The danishes didn't even look good.  The dough looked like the same croissant dough that I never like, and they were filled with a gummy looking cheese, and some soggy looking fruit.  They were also huge.  Perhaps if they'd been cut in half I would have tried one, but a full one was way too much, and I didn't want to waste.  Normally $2.75.

Instead I went for the morning bun.  San Francisco has some very good morning buns (yes, I'm looking at you totally-hyped-but-ridiculously-good Tartine morning bun!), and I've been craving them lately.  I hoped it would have a slightly caramelized exterior, a bit crispy outer layer, yet be moist inside, with a doughy center.  Loaded with cinnamon and sugar.  A total indulgence, perfect with a black coffee.  That is what I wanted.

I knew it wouldn't be quite that, as I could see there was some orange marmalade in it too, but that didn't bother me.  What bothered me is that there was no caramelized exterior. There was no moist interior.  Instead, there was just more of their very mediocre, somewhat stale tasting croissant dough base.  Sigh.  Yes, it had tons of cinnamon and sugar, but how come it didn't caramelize at all?  And the orange marmalade was fine, but, sigh.

Starbucks now carries these too, and I imagine they are even MORE dried out and stale there.  Normally $2.50 each, a decent size, but not worth getting.
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Organic Bread Basket with homemade jams.

Next to the pastries was a far inferior looking basket: assorted breads.  Sliced baguette, apricot apple hazelnut bread & multigrain boulot.  I didn't try any of them.  If I had realized one was apricot apple hazelnut, I would have tried it, but I thought they were all plain.  I'm still not sure one really was that variety, but that is what their online catering menu advertises.  I'm not sure I saw anyone touch the bread baskets.  Who goes for bread when there are pastries?

The bread was served with a bowl of butter, raspberry violet jam, and apricot vanilla jam.

The jams are where La Boulange shines.  I've always really liked their jams, and it is one unique thing about their stores: they have a very impressive condiment station!  Sure, they have ketchup, mustard, cornichons for the savory items.  But they also always have house made jams and nutella!  And they don't charge extra to slather as much of this stuff as you want on your baked goods.

As always, I loved both the raspberry violet and the apricot vanilla jam.  Both were very sweet jams, but they went really well with almond croissant.  The apricot vanilla had a complex flavor from the addition of the vanilla, and was my favorite of the pairing, although I'd gladly eat either again.

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Fruit Salad.

The brunch spread also included fresh cut fruit: pineapple, grapes, cantaloupe, honeydew, and strawberries.  This is the same mix of fruit that they use in those greek yogurt and granola parfaits that I so fondly remember.  The fruit was never the highlight of the parfaits (it was the amazingly creamy greek yogurt, seriously, I wish I knew what brand they used!) and of course their house-made granola.  But the fruit was always good.  Ojan and I used to always split a parfait, and since I'm allergic to melon, he'd get all the melon, and a few pieces of other fruit that I spared, but I'd mostly get the grapes, pineapple, and strawberries.  I tried a few pieces just for old time's sake, and it seemed about how I remembered.  I kinda think they sweeten the fruit.
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Coffee and orange juice.

And finally, the beverages.

The coffee was actually quite good.  Very strong.  Served with a variety of sweeteners (Sugar! Sugar in the Raw! Splenda! Equal! Sweet N Low! Pick your poison!), along with half and half.  I'm pretty sure they have NOT started serving Starbucks coffee, although I imagine that day is coming.  I can't stand Starbucks coffee!

They also provided orange juice, Evolution Fresh brand of course, since it is a subsidy of Starbucks.  It didn't seem particularly interesting.
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