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Palo Alto Bakeries Disappoint, Not Worth Their Salt

(FRANCES GUO/Stanford Daily)

(FRANCES GUO/Stanford Daily)

As weekend lounging at cafes and bakeries seems to be one of the most popular pastimes for Palo Alto residents, it comes as a great surprise that Palo Alto bakeries are not the orgy of butter, fermented delight and quaint Palo Alto that you would come to expect from observing the local lifestyle. Bakeries, it turns out, are surprisingly out of line with the city’s bustling restaurant scene.

Still, a few gems do exist, though no bakery is better across the board. In several cases, I suggest buying bakery products from your local natural foods store, which are often of better quality than the offerings from Palo Alto bakeries.

Keep in mind that the ratings below are only for bread and pastries. Prepared foods are completely excluded.

(FRANCES GUO/Stanford Daily)

(FRANCES GUO/Stanford Daily)

Paris Baguette:  Price: $  Rating: 4/10  [383 University Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94301]

Its posh location on University, with high windows and upholstered cream-colored chairs, seems to be straight from New York City. The pastries receive high marks for their mellow flavors and excellently caramelized exteriors. The croissants are delicate but would still hold up as sandwiches. When buying the pastries, you place all of your selections on a stylish wooden tray before an employee packs them up in a cute little box.

The allure of this place shifts rather abruptly with the bread. Pre-cut and wrapped in plastic, the loaves appear off-putting in the context of a gourmet bakery, with one of my taste testers dubbing the eggy, soft-crusted wheat creations as “upscale Wonder bread.” Not helping matters is the bakery’s use of chemical bread softener.

To be fair, the pastries are some of the finest in Palo Alto. But the glamorously marketed Wonder bread is worth skipping, if possible.

(FRANCES GUO/Stanford Daily)

(FRANCES GUO/Stanford Daily)

La Baguette: Price: $$ Rating: 3/10 [170 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, CA 94304]

Tucked in the middle of the Stanford Shopping Center, La Baguette has a small yet cozy location that often forms long lines during the lunch hour for its paninis and baguette sandwiches. Most pastries come in at a steep $3.50, and while the croissants hit strong notes of butter, sweetness and glaze, the combination of these flavors left my tasters lamenting about the lingering fatty taste and soft crust.

When I asked for the percentage of whole-wheat flour in the store’s eight-grain bread, the female cashier blushed, admitting that the honey oat sandwich bread is significantly healthier. All told, the whole-grain options are not a highlight. In the healthier oat bread, the oats dominate the texture and flavor, leaving a taste that is quite one-dimensional. On the other hand, the white breads are much more tasteful, with the French loaf serving as an excellent pairing for tomato sauce or olive oil.

Mayfield Bakery: Price: $$ Rating: 5.5/10 [855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94301]

Adjacent to the neighborhood restaurant also bearing its name, the Mayfield Bakery is the most legitimate of its kind in Palo Alto. While small, the location is still comfortable, with exposed white wood and outside seating.

Some items, such as the $12 challah, are perplexingly pricey compared to counterparts at other bakeries, but on average, the costs are actually quite competitive. The $3.25 small levain boule is a particular steal.

While the pastries are only slightly above average for this list, the bread is a clear winner. The loaves have a well-developed crust, complex flavor and excellent crumb. The whole-wheat offerings are also singularly impressive.

(FRANCES GUO/Stanford Daily)

(FRANCES GUO/Stanford Daily)

Douce France: Price: $ Rating: 2.5/10 [855 El Camino Real #104, Palo Alto, CA 94301]

Douce France is often popular on weekends for its hot-made breakfast selection and inviting interior, which is complete with a collection of retro advertisements from France.

Regrettably, the baked goods are not on par with the décor. The croissants are uncharacteristically dense, and the baguettes — the only bread available for purchase — with their soft-crust unsubstantial feel, are unlikely to please the baking gods.

Although Douce France is a reasonable option for brunch, better options for baked goods exist just around the corner.

(FRANCES GUO/Stanford Daily)

(FRANCES GUO/Stanford Daily)

The Prolific Oven: Price: $$ Rating: 3/10 [550 Waverley St., Palo Alto, CA 94301]

A little distance from the foot traffic of University, The Prolific Oven reminds me, in a homey way, of a converted bagel shop. Indeed, the bakery does produce an extraordinary amount of baked goods, as its name would suggest, but to one surprise — the bread is not for sale!

Nonetheless, I acquired a baguette, which, while improved over that of Douce France, remained too light and soft to be considered authentic. The pastries, in contrast, are moist and flaky and generally regarded by my tasters to be right behind those of Paris Baguette in terms of preference.