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42 Pastry & Baking
North America
Bakery in Focus
I
In the case of Tartine Bakery & Cafe, their Yelp score is a
staggering 4.5 stars out of 5. For Yelp, that’s amazing. And, here’s
the kicker – their score is based upon 1,700 reviews! It’s not like
the owners of Tartine called up 20 of their friends and begged
for favorable comments. 1,700 people actually took the time to
go online and share their overwhelmingly positive observations
about a small bakery in San Francisco.
Even more unbelievable is that most of the negative reviews
embrace a reoccurring scenario in which the disgruntled critic
never got an opportunity to taste Tartine’s food. Either the line
was too long and they didn’t feel like waiting or they visited the
shop late in the day finding only sold out display cases. Hell hath
no fury as a sweet tooth scorned.
This begs the question: if patience and common sense were
more pervasive in our society, would Tartine Bakery & Café’s
Yelp score be a perfect 5 stars? This conundrum definitely
warranted a visit to the bakery in question.
Opened in 2002, Tartine Bakery & Café is located in San
Francisco’s Mission District. Also known as the city’s very first
neighborhood – it was here, in 1776, that Spanish padres founded
a mission, and it is here, today, that you will find the city’s most
exciting and surprising cultural mix. “The Mission” has become
a magnet for young people, painters, hipsters, dancers, and a
burgeoning culinary scene. At the center of this eclectic melting
pot sits Tartine Bakery & Café and the married couple whose
Ying-Yang skill sets complement each other like lasagna Bolognese
and Merlot.
Elisabeth Prueitt is the pastry chef and husband Chad
Robertson is the baker. Together, with their wonder twin powers
fully activated, these CIA trained culinarians have discovered
the recipe for business and marital success.
’m not as trusting as I used to be. No longer do I
believe the cable guy will arrive between 9:00am-
12:00pm. Nor do I think mailing my old, unwanted
gold jewelry to a nondescript PO Box is a good idea. 7 months
and still no check?
This new found cynicism interjects itself into every facet of
my day-to-day life, especially, when it comes to finding new
subjects to feature in Pastry & Baking North America. In the
past, I’ve relied on bloggers, foodies and critics to point me in
the right direction. But alas, even those once dependable sources
have started to disappoint. Magnolia Bakery NYC comes to
mind. So, from now on, I have a new credo: the proof is in the
people, and the people don’t lie.
Take Tartine Bakery & Café for example. Sure, if you get past
the 2 James Beard nominations – and the 2008 James Beard
Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef and Baker in America - what
real proof is there that Tartine actually delivers an “ethereal
gastronomic experience created through poetic imagination” as
one gushing customer proclaimed. Well, for me, the proof can
be found at Yelp.com.
For those unfamiliar, Yelp combines local reviews and social
networking functionality to create an online community. Adding
social web functionality to user reviews creates a de-facto
“Reputation system” reputation system, whereby site visitors
can see which contributing users are the most popular, respected,
and prolific, how long each has been a member, and which have
interests similar to theirs. Strong peer feedback mechanisms and
the featured placement of popular reviews on the site and in
local newsletters help motivate contributors. Basically, John Q.
Public now has a global platform where he can share his two-
cents. Good or bad.