If you know me, you know that I’m a croissant snob. I had originally conceived this blog post as a comprehensive review of “The Croissants of San Francisco.” But after going around tasting all the croissants of San Francisco, the verdict for the best croissant became so clear that I decided to devote my entire post into a love letter to my favorite bakery in the city, and possibly in the world: Arsicault Bakery, a tiny bakery in Inner Richmond that you probably have never heard of.
If you Google “best croissant in the US”, Arsicault Bakery is literally the first result that comes up. And I can’t agree more. I live a 20-minute drive away, but on many mornings I have Ubered there and back just to buy one chocolate croissant. During my last trip, I overheard that a customer had flown all the way from LA just to taste Arsicault’s croissants. Once a friend asked me what’s the first thing I would do if I became a millionaire tomorrow. I said: Hire someone to deliver a freshly baked croissant from Arsicault to my house every morning. If I ever move to Inner Richmond, you know why.
I first stumbled upon Arsicault when I was visiting a friend living nearby and felt hungry on the way there, so I looked on Yelp for the nearest bakery and was surprised to find a place with nearly 700 reviews, pretty much all five-stars. Throughout my life, I’ve had several life-changing food experiences. This was one of them. My first taste of an Arsicault croissant has forever altered my conception of what a croissant could be (even though I have been to France many times).
Arsicault usually only sells 8 types of pastries: regular croissant, chocolate croissant, almond croissant, chocolate-almond croissant, ham and cheese croissant, kouign-amann, morning bun, and cookies. This place is down-to-earth, unpretentious, and has no frills (in its owner’s words, no “cronut or cruffin or cro-something else”), just croissants baked to perfection with traditional a French family recipe passed down through generations.
There is usually a short, fast-moving line – not the kind of line at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse (which is filled with shrieking millennial girls with their selfie sticks and Instagram-ready cameras), but a line of neighborhood residents who are privy to the best-kept secret in town (I envy them for living close by), and the occasional tourist. Many customers buy more than 5 items at once.
Any croissant lover knows that the texture of the pastry can make or break the croissant. Arsicault’s croissant is crunchy on the outside, soft and airy on the inside, caramelized on the bottom, properly layered, buttery beyond words, and flaky like nothing I’ve ever seen, not even in Paris. When you break the croissant apart, you can feel a resistance as the layers stick to one another. In stark contrast, when you break a Starbucks croissant apart, it kind of just breaks with a disappointing little “thump.”
My favorite choice at Arsicault is the chocolate croissant, which is made with Valrhona chocolate that complements the buttery croissant so well that it literally melts in your mouth in a sweet mess, and the chocolate is so generous that it oozes out with each bite. The kouign-amann is a close second. When you eat an Arsicault pastry, you always make a mess, with chocolate stains on your mouth and flakes all over the table. It’s the kind of mess that makes you happy and want more. After tasting Arsicault’s croissants, the croissants at Starbucks or Peets feel like a waste of calories and money.
But the number one reason that I am in love with Arsicault is its attention to the one aspect of croissant-making that I consider to be the most important: temperature. Arsicault only sells fresh baked, warm croissants. I have been here over a dozen times. There has not been a single time that my croissant was not warm and fresh. This small detail moves me so much, because it’s so obvious that customers deserve warm croissants yet so few bakeries do it. They don’t even do that in many Parisian bakeries. And they certainly don’t do that in 99% of the bakeries in the US.
Another detail: the hot chocolate sold at Arsicault is rich, dark Valrhona chocolate, instead of the watered down version sold in most cafes. And mind you, this is a bakery, not a cafe. I am always touched by businesses that go the extra mile to provide the best possible product to its customers, instead of cutting corners to save costs. In this aspect, Arsicault reminds me of Japan – the only place in the world where I have seen such attention to detail and dedication to customer service.
Most people grab their pastries and leave, but the bakery does have a few tables. Sometimes I go there with friends and spend the whole morning there – but only girl friends who are as obsessed about croissants as me. To me, Arsicault is almost like a sanctuary for croissant lovers that must be properly appreciated.
For those of you who are thinking of other famous bakeries in San Francisco: Yes, I have been to Tartine, Mr. Holmes Bakehouse, Neighbor’s Bakehouse, B Patisserie, Les Gourmands, you name it. These are all good bakeries, but they are not life-changing.
To me, Arsicault symbolizes an attitude that is also my philosophy in life: If you deliver something to this world, you may as well make it perfect. And the world will reward you for that.