by Jeffrey Rindskopf
Café Besalu Review – Seattle’s Best Pastries
It’s hard to ruin a dish so delectable as a flaky French pastry, but it’s equally difficult to get it just right. I’m pleased to report that Café Besalu, the unassuming bakery and café in Seattle’s similarly unassuming Ballard neighborhood, is among the few to get it right.
I visited the acclaimed spot around ten to avoid the early morning rush of commuters. It’s a small storefront alongside the relatively busy 24th St NW, so it frequently draws in crowds lined up out the door. Inside, a chalkboard informs guests of the prices for tea and coffees—this is Seattle, after all—and a glass display case holds the day’s freshly baked pastries and quiches.
I’m not much of a coffee connoisseur, but I hold baked goods very near and dear to my heart, so I opted to forgo the beverage and focus on the sweets. My order began with the essential croissant. Its browned crust boasted a perfect, flaky yet crunchy texture and its pillowy insides were buttery without becoming too rich.
From there, my sweet tooth took over. The almond schnecken was the weakest of the three sweets I ordered, which is to say it was still delicious. Like the croissant, the spiral-shaped pastry had a tough exterior and a soft interior, just a touch too dry, with a melding of brown sugar and almond flavorings. I enjoyed a knotted sweet bread called the Stockholm bun even more. It’s hard not to be seduced by its consistency, dense and moist but never doughy, complemented by embedded pockets of walnut-y goodness.
Then, finally, there was the Blueberry Danish, my personal favorite, and a pastry as tasty as it is beautiful. The layered dough gives way to a moist center of fresh blueberries sitting in sweet glaze that just barely soaks through the dough to imbue its moisture throughout the bottom crust. It was easy to tell from the vibrant colors and tastes that everything in it was fresh, and that Café Besalu was making good use of the blueberry harvest season.
Due to its limited hours (they close at three on the five days a week they’re actually open) and its well-loved status among locals, Café Besalu’s few tables are frequently filled with guests savoring their croissants, coffee and conversations. It’s easier to snag a spot at the modest tables on the sidewalk outside, covered by overhanging green trees that distract from the passing cars.
Like most bakeries, the selection here rotates daily. Regrettably, I didn’t have the chance to sample some of their out-of-season concoctions like the pear galette, or even some of the staples like the pain au chocolat. My stomach can only sustain so much sweetness in one sitting, after all. There’s little doubt in my mind these pastries too will more than live up to the hype. The next time I visit—and there most certainly will be a next time—I’ll try one of these alongside a savory slice of quiche. The fact that I’m already eagerly anticipating and even planning for a future meal should give some indication as to how I feel about Café Besalu after only my first visit. In short, I loved it.