Monday, July 10, 2017

City Baking Co. @ Caffe Bianco

Caffe Bianco is a cafe in the Financial District in SF that I desperately want to like.

It is a bit of a fixture on Sutter Street, located in a historic building, and has been in operation since the early 1980s.  It has elegant, old school decor.  You can tell the staff have been working there forever, the owner included, who is always around the front keeping an eye on things.

But, the thing is?  They aren't very friendly.  It is not welcoming, to those who aren't their regulars.  No warm welcome.  Barely any words spoken to me, actually.  Their regulars are treated remarkably differently from the rest of us though.  The woman in line behind me was spotted by the sandwich maker while we were still in line, and she leaned over to ask her if she wanted her regular, and it was ready before she even got to the register to order in the first place.  Same thing with a guy a few people back, the barista saw him, said, "Americano for ya?", and he had an Americano in hand before I even ordered.  This is fine, I get it.

But my issues are with more with customer service when things went wrong.  I don't need a warm greeting, but, when you charge me $500 instead of $5, it shouldn't take 6, yes 6,  follow-ups to get it resolved.  And that wasn't my only mispayment issue.  They have tried to embrace technology, but ... don't know what they were doing.

The first problem was with Paypal.  They accept Paypal payment, which I used for my coffee and pastry.  My total was $5.  I was charged $500, which I saw happen before my eyes.  I told them immediately  However ... they had already submitted the payment to Paypal.  They didn't know how to undo, but said they'd get it sorted out.  Days, a week, two weeks went by without it getting reversed.  I called once during that time to explain what had happened and ask for a status update.  Nothing.  I finally went to Paypal customer service to get THEM to help.  They needed to talk to the merchant.  Still nothing.  I finally went back to the cafe, and stayed there until they called Paypal and fixed it.  It was ridiculous.  It wasn't like they just slightly overcharged me, $500 is VERY different from $5.

The next was with  Another time I ordered online in advance, on, a pickup order.  I was in a rush, and had the time set for pickup so I could swing by to grab my order quickly.  It wasn't ready, and they had no record of it, even though I had my receipt from charged me.  I asked them to still fill my order, but they wanted more payment.  Sigh.

So, as cute as it is, in outward appearance, I don't think I'll be returning, even to try paying the traditional way.  It isn't worth it, when there are so many other places to visit instead.

The Setting

The building is a historic building from the early 1900s, the Chancery building.  The atmosphere is really cute, amazing really.
Curb Appeal.
From the street, Caffe Bianco looks quite regal, with lush plants in the windows, and even visible columns framing the door.  "Espresso & Fine Food", the sign welcomes.  It looks like a swanky place.
Ordering Counter.
Step inside to find a fairly classic cafe ordering setup, with baked goods on display, a sandwich/salad prep area, and espresso machine.  Bags of chips, whole fruit, and other grab and go items are available near the register where all orders are taken.
Downstairs Seating.
Seating on this level is a bit limited, but there is plenty more upstairs.  The curb appeal extends through this area, with more columns, more plants, faux marble tables, real wood chairs.

On the side is a station for sweeteners and milk for coffee.
Upstairs Seating.
Upstairs is even more seating, open and overlooking the downstairs.  Tables are bisto style.  It looks like a great place to spend time, slowly beginning your day over coffee an a newspaper.

The Food

Caffe Bianco serves breakfast all day (oatmeal, scrambled eggs, egg sandwiches), and offers up salads, sandwiches, and soups for lunch.  I however haven't investigated any of those things.  I've only opted for the baked goods, to go alongside my coffee.  They use City Baking Co. as the baked goods provider.

Many cafes around town carry products from City Baking, so I've tried a number of their offerings from time to time.  City Baking makes a large variety of baked goods, but most places only offer a very small selection, and somehow never seem to carry the goods I'm most interested in,(like Prima Cafe, which carried only the most boring varieties of muffins and scones, or Diller's, which always seemed to be out of better varieties ... if they ever have them).

I've never actually really cared for anything I've gotten from City Baking before, but also, I've never been able to pick something I really wanted at other establishments.  Cafe Bianco was the exception to this.  The spread was very impressive!  Tons of muffins, including crumb topped, or low fat, or even gluten-free.  Croissants, filled or plain, cinnamon rolls, danishes, bear claws, morning buns, etc, etc.

Finally!  I had my chance to try the items I was interested in, some of the more fun scone varieties.
City Baking Co. Apricot Scone.  $2.50.
“Filled with dried apricots and apricot preserve, this scone is then topped off with a brown sugar crumble.”

For some reason, I was really, really craving a scone.  It was funny, because Caffe Bianco had every single type of muffin that I wanted to try, but instead, I went for a scone, even when I've tried several of City Baking's scones before in the past, and didn't care for them them, like the dry, crumbly, flavorless, round berry one I got at Diller's.  Or the equally flavorless triangle shaped blueberry scone from Prima Cafe.  And Caffe Bianco had only one type available on this visit, not a flavor I'd normally pick.

The label at Caffe Bianco just said "whole wheat apricot scone", so I didn't have any indication that this would have any interesting components.  And yet I still went for it.  I really wanted a scone!

And, I'm glad I did.  This was actually quite delicious.

The top was covered in cinnamon and brown sugar, sweet and delicious, along with a scattering of oats.  It reminded me of a dessert crisp or crumble topping.  There was just the right amount of it, not as heavy of a layer as you'd get on a coffee cake, but plenty to sweeten up the entire thing.

Inside were plentiful little bits of dried apricot, cut up into a tiny size just right for adding a fun little chew here and there, but never being annoying to eat.  The layer of apricot preserves added a ton more flavor and moistness.

I'm not entirely sure what the base was, since City Baking didn't claim it to be anything special, but Caffe Bianco said it was whole wheat.  It didn't seem particularly wheat-y to me.

The scone itself wasn't quite the style I normally prefer, as it was a bit cakey.  A tiny bit more moist than I would normally go for in a scone, but still quite good.  It was a bit crumbly, but not enough to make a mess at all.  I think I'd prefer it just a tiny bit drier, with a bit more crumb.

This was nothing like any of the other scones I've had from City Baking, and I honestly can't believe that the same bakery produces these.  This one had so much flavor, from the apricot and from the topping.  It was sweet, but not too sweet.  Never a flavor I'd really think of choosing, but quite enjoyable in the end.  I'd get another, and now I am excited to try more City Baking products in the future!

The $2.50 price tag was right in line with what other cafes serve City Baking's scones for, and was fine for such a large scone.  And large it was; if you paired it with a cappuccino, you could easily split it with a friend for a nice snack.  Or, just devour it yourself, as I did.
City Baking Co Apricot Scone.  $3.75.
A few visits later, I couldn't resist getting the apricot scone again.

It looked pretty much the same, but, alas, it was quite different.

The topping was the same, a nice sprinkle of brown sugar and oats, not too heavy, adding a slight sweetness and fun texture.

The scone itself was nicely cooked, not too dry, not a single burnt edge to be found.  It had a great tang to it, plus a heartiness from the whole wheat.

This was all good.  As were the little bits of apricot inside the base, adding a pleasant chew and sweetness.  But, alas, there were no preserves in this scone!  I wonder if someone just forgot to fill it?  Literally, no preserves.  They had added so much before!

Overall, it was fine, although a bit boring.  If I had never known it was supposed to have the preserves, I probably would have just thought it was a healthy, not quite sweet or interesting enough scone.  But I knew better.  It was supposed to have preserves!


Also, Caffe Bianco increased their prices.  When I got the scone the first time, it was $2.50, a reasonable price.  This time, it was $3.75, a significant increase, and, I don't think City Baking products are remarkable enough to justify this price.
City Baking Co. Raspberry Almond Scone.  $2.50.
"Almonds and a sweet crumb topping give this raspberry-filled muffin the perfect finishing touch."

On my next visit, I had a very hard time resisting getting the apricot scone again.  It had been such a success, particularly compared to any of the other City Baking offerings.  But, I really love trying new things.  My other scone options were strawberry, or raspberry almond.  The strawberry scones looked exactly like the blueberry one I'd had at Prima Cafe, that is, very plain, with a few berries inside.  The raspberry at least had almonds on top, and, I recalled that I thought one thing missing from the blueberry scone was a topping.

The scone was again large, same somewhat cakey-style as the others, triangle shaped.  It had a decent crumble to it.  The base flavor was again very boring, I really wish they'd give it a tang of some sort.  Inside was raspberries, a bit seedy for my liking.  I like having jam with my scones, and the berries inside almost provided a similar experience as eating a scone with jam, but, there wasn't quite enough berries to go around.

The topping was the part I was most interested in, as the City Baking website says that "almonds and a sweet crumb topping give this ... the perfect finishing touch".  Precisely what I thought was lacking from the other City Baking berry scones.  The slivered almonds did give a good crunch, and there was a tiny bit of sweet topping, but I certainly wouldn't call it a "sweet crumb topping".  Still, better than nothing.

Overall, this scone was fine. It wasn't remarkable, and there isn't really a reason to get it again, unless I was really craving a scone and had no other options.  It would of course be much better if served warm, with jam, and obviously some clotted cream.
Caffe Bianco Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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