Last week when I spoke with James Alefantis, owner of Buck’s Fishing and Camping and Comet Ping Pong, he mentioned that his newly hired baker would not only work for his two restaurants but also for Modern Times Coffeehouse, the subterranean cafe at Politics and Prose, which he co-owns. Oh, and by the way, Alefantis told me, baker Farid Fellag produces “the best croissants in the city, by far.”
Big talk, I thought, particularly from an owner to a food writer.
The very next day, I stopped at Modern Times and picked up a croissant and a wedge of focaccia with caramelized onions and Kalamata olives. Because I wanted to take a picture of the baked goods back at the office — using the boss’ semi-crappy cell phone since I’m still without a digital camera — I was forced to tote Fellag’s handiwork half-way across town, by which time it was cold and in need of nuking. The microwave, I suspect, ruined the texture of his croissant, and without its twin delights of crustiness and air, the croissant was little more than a semi-deflated wad of buttery baked dough. Not that there’s anything wrong with a semi-deflated wad of buttery baked dough. It’s just not a gush-worthy croissant.
The focaccia, on the other hand, was superb. The yeasted flatbread was spongy, salty, and sweetened with dark swirls of caramelized onion; it also had the slightest elemental aftertaste of fire and smoke, since it was baked in the wood-burning oven at Comet — much like the original focaccia loaves of antiquity.
But because I, essentially, sabotaged Fellag’s croissants the first time around, I went back for another round yesterday — and ate one right there at the coffee shop. I stared, almost zombie-like, at the color and structure of the croissant. I noticed how Fellag’s version lacked the traditional crescent shape, favoring instead a coil that looks more like a rolled hay bale than a waxing moon. The pastry’s exterior had the appearance of good crusty bread, too, which my first bite confirmed. There was a solid toasty crackle to this croissant, which played off its airiness and butteriness. But once past the exterior, I also loved the interior structure of the pastry; it was moist and elastic and chewy in the best sense of the word.
In short, I have to say, it’s a fine, fine croissant. The best in the city, though? I’m not ready to make that pronouncement. I haven’t had enough croissants around town to say.
What say you, readers? Where is your go-to croissant? And have you tried the one at Modern Times yet?