Francophiles Will Find Rewards at Redwood City's Pamplemousse
Like anyone who's spent time in Paris, I'm particularly vehement when discussing the nuances of French pastries -- whether Ladurée or Pierre makes the superior macarons (Hermé), the right amount of flakiness for a buttery croissant, and the correct custard softness of a cannelé's interior.
The promise of some of the Peninsula's premier macarons brought me to the eight-year-old Pamplemousse Patisserie & Café, a few blocks removed from the heart of downtown Redwood City. You won't hear much French spoken by the office workers dining inside the café, but the chef/owner Kelli Manukyan is from Québec so you know the place will take its baking seriously.
Immediately the display of artistic desserts and rows of colorful medium-sized macarons dominates your attention. Quality wavered from decent to flawless (well, not exactly Pierre Hermé masterpieces, but it's important to be reasonable here).
A salted caramel macaron ($1.95 each) had a beautiful filling, but its cookie portion was hollow and bordered on stale. Fortunately, a cinnamon-heavy Mayan chocolate macaron clicked on all components, as a Mexican hot chocolate transformed into a meltingly soft meringue-and-buttercream treat. Paris would not complain. Pamplemousse has 35 flavors in total, though choosing is slightly easier on site since only ten or so are available at a time.
I would've liked a little more buttery flakiness to the pain au chocolat ($3.20), but I did like the more-than-Parisian amount of frosting-like dark chocolate, which led to several bouts of embarrassing finger licking.
The powerhouse desserts are the elegant works of art (most are $6.25) including a beautiful combination of caramel, apple, and cheesecake that trumps any caramel apple by miles. For the Nutella addicts out there, the Noisette (hazelnut) cake is tops. A chocolate chiffon cake base is topped with a milk chocolate and hazelnut mousse, then coated with a dark chocolate glaze, all crowned with actual hazelnuts. For the holidays, that Pamplemousse is an excellent choice to order a celebratory bûche de noel log.
It's hard to look past the sweets, but the superb ham and gruyere quiche and the panini-like sandwiches on baked in-house baguette or wheat ciabatta are just as impressive, especially the beet and goat cheese one that gives the tired duo exciting life again. The quiche would be the must-order, with a good sturdy crust, a custard that isn't too cheesy or watery, and then the flourish of larger-than-usual slices of salty Serrano ham.
These are French café-portioned sandwiches, as in just the right size to finish lunch with some dessert. That's a good thing at Pamplemousse because c'est impossible to skip a macaron or canelé.
2401 Broadway St., Redwood City; (650) 599-9714.