Thursday, September 25, 2008
Blissed out in Ballard
Oh so popular Café Besalu doesn’t really need another rave review. This foodie destination in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood is already jam-packed on the weekends, and the crowds ebb and flow during weekdays too. But I can’t resist.
As I sat sipping my spicy and not-too-sweet chai latte this morning, between bites of my buttery, crispy croissant, I thought about why I love this place. Each bite of the still warm pastry felt like a good morning hug. But I also come here during my disciplined gluten-free phases, when I go for jasmine tea straight up, sans milk and sugar.
About seven or eight years ago I first wandered into Besalu in search of the former bakery in its 24th Avenue Northwest location. Light pumpkin-colored walls and French bistro-style tile floors drew me in, cozy and inviting. And the immaculately clean pastry case full of fabulous-looking fruit tarts and Danishes, croissants, brioche, and quiches sealed the deal. Cheerful co-owner Meg—serving at the counter—welcomed everyone like a guest in her fun home. Her business partner and pastry wizard, lanky James—meticulously rolling out pastry dough behind the counter—seemed too focused to notice all the crushes he was spawning among the women customers. (Meg has since moved to Philadelphia, and owner James Miller is now married to his current baking partner Kaire Alvet.)
I started coming back every few weeks. Not since I ate my way through the finest patisseries in Paris during a semester abroad (and gained a few too many pounds in the process) have I enjoyed such lovely French-style pastries.
Maybe it’s such a nice place to linger because everyone is happy to be there, intoxicated by the delicious sweet and savory fare. But I also think it’s because of the calm but friendly James and his talented crew. And the quality touches like homemade jam, a house-blended chai, exquisite seasonal fruit pastries, the signature creamy ginger biscuits, and bright bouquets of flowers brought in by customers.
So I stop by when the schedule allows, take my journal and write while I sip, or catch up with other regulars with whom I’ve become friendly. This is not a place to park with your laptop, with too few tables for the sometimes long line of customers out the door. I now avoid going on weekends altogether. But I’ll keep coming back as long as James and Kaire maintain this charmed little slice of Ballard.