In the hierarchy of dessert, French pastry is arguably king. There are few things lovelier than a well-made pain au chocolat
, so naturally, our hopes were high for dessert at French Grocery — as it turns out, maybe a little too high.
French Grocery has been open for two years as of this June, and somehow the interior still seems to feel only partially occupied. A wine bar to the left of the front doors looks lonely and aloof, and a small dining area is saved from looking like a cafeteria only by the floral arrangements that dot the tables. Even the grocery section of French Grocery feels lacking, with empty wine boxes stacked in corners and near the racks. Three separate, equally harried servers nearly crashed into us as we wandered around trying to pick out a bottle of wine, and not a single one of them stopped or apologized. It's lucky they carry such great wines, cheeses, and other goods because the atmosphere certainly isn't the main draw to French Grocery.
Pastries are located in a large display case to the left of the register which, like the grocery itself, is too big for the small amount of goods placed in it. On mostly empty trays, colorful macarons sat on their delicate sides, while other confections like fruit tarts, pots de creme, and genoise cakes sat in the back. We were a little put off by the creme brulee that was served unattractively in a tin pie pan, and ended up selecting a flourless chocolate cake, an eclair, and a small selection of macarons: chocolate, peach, and blueberry ginger per the recommendation of the server ringing us up.
While the bakers at French Grocery clearly took the easy route to filling their eclairs — i.e. cutting the choux pastry down the center like a sandwich instead of piping the cream into the hollow center - the eclair still managed to look delightfully elegant. Unfortunately, upon taking a bite, we were immediately let down by the flavorless, nearly stale choux and the bland whipped cream. It was clear that the eclair had been sitting in the cavernous pastry case for a while, but it's not certain that it would have had much more flavor if it had been fresh.
We moved on to the macarons. Stung by the let down of the eclair, we started noticing some problems with the macarons before we even tasted them. They were rather large by macaron standards, their feet — the little ridges that run around the edge of the cookies — were uneven, and their tops were a little bumpy. In the world of macarons, all these can all be considered cardinal sins, forgivable only if the cookie can carry its weight in the taste department. However, we must sadly report that these particular varieties did not. The peach macaron had no discernible peach flavor and left our mouths coated in buttercream; the blueberry ginger tasted only like funky, old ginger; and the chocolate like mouth-puckering, bitter cocoa powder. To be fair, if you like extremely bitter dark chocolate, chances are good that you'll like the chocolate macaron. We can only hope the other macarons we didn't try are better.
Finally, with a looming sense of disappointment and an oncoming sugar headache, we turned to the flourless chocolate cake. The 6" cake looked the least beautiful out of all the pastries we had selected, and after the stale choux pastry of the eclair, we assumed the cake would be dry as well. However, we were delighted to discover that the cake was absolutely delicious. The cake itself was moist, but still managed to be airier than most flourless cakes, which can sometimes be too rich and dense. The chocolate cream was light and silky, and there was a hint of cherry liqueur that added an unprecedented depth of flavor to the cake. What almost resulted in a third strike against French Grocery's pastry case ended up saving the entire dessert endeavor.
It's clear that French Grocery's strengths lie in its wine and cheese selections, and sometimes in their sandwiches and frites. In the future, one should probably steer clear of the pastry case, unless they are in dire need of a flourless chocolate cake.
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