Bread. Water, flour, salt and yeast. One of the constants of civilization's culinary history. Such a basic of human existence, a gift from our ancestors, a staple food present in most every culture around the world, an unifying element in many religions, symbolizing both life and salvation.
When I think about food items I am truly passionate about great bread comes to mind almost instantly. Whether a rustic country loaf, a sturdy rye, a sourdough boule, a golden brioche, a beautifully braided and eggy Challah or the smallest of dinner rolls to accompany a bowl of soup or green salad-- fresh bread, aromatic and crusty, still warm, just out of the oven, is a thing of beauty.
We are never without good bread at home and whenever we travel it is one of the first food items we seek out to explore, wherever it is we happen to find ourselves at, especially whenever that place happens to be Paris.
My love of everything bread is precisely the reason why I could never go on any of those horrid carb-phobic diets. How could anyone in their right mind give up this amazing aliment of the utmost importance in the food chain?
I grew up with wonderful bread at home. My father would go pick it up at the local bakery early in the morning and bring it home for us have with our coffee. Sunday breakfasts were never without it. In fact, I can't really think of a time when there wasn't some fresh bread around.
This bread, just baked, would arrive home still warm, sometimes even hot to the touch--one of the benefits of living a few blocks from the bakery-- in its plain white paper slip. The bread was so tender, the crust so soft and inviting that it just begged to be torn bit by bit without by hand without the need of a serrated knife.
On most days the loaf would arrive with one of the ends already missing and of course we always knew who the culprit was. It was just absolutely impossible for dad to wait until he got home to have some bread. And on days when I was up early enough to go with him to purchase the morning bread, I too would share in the early previews.
One loaf of bread would be enough for our family of four, two or more if we had friends or family over. If there was any left by noon it was quickly consumed with or as lunch. A fresh avocado or perhaps a banana would end up sandwiched between two slices of the morning's leftover bread.
Hot chocolate, dark and thick was prepared just as a vehicle to dunk chunks of bread that could not go to waste. In a hurry, a few tomato slices and some cheese would top a slice or two and broiled quickly in the small counter top toaster oven.
Over the years I've tried plenty of times to make bread at home. I've tried many good recipes and for the most part failed miserably at it. The loaves came out too hard, did not rise well, had too much of a yeasty smell, with a crust that was too hard and too crusty, the aspect of the bread uneven, too thin or too wide.
Which is why I decided a long time ago to leave the bread baking to the experts and support those making fabulous bread in Seattle but especially in our neighborhood.
It will come as no surprise to the regular readers of this blog that I've chosen to honor Dahlia Bakery's Ficelle--that beautiful loaf of the most delicious bread made every day at Tom Douglas's Dahlia Bakery here in our downtown Seattle neighborhood-- with the award to The Best Ficelle This Side of Paris.
I knew of Tom Douglas as a chef and restaurateur here in Seattle even before moving here from Chicago years ago, following his career-- on TV, radio and print-- along the way and dining at at all four of his restaurants many times over.
Funny enough, even when I've seen him many, many times around the neighborhood and while dining at his joints, I've never met the man. But oh, how thankful I am to him!
You see, we got really lucky when we moved downtown as Dahlia Bakery is only but a short walk up the street from our building, which means daily access to some of the best bread, pastries, salads, soups and sandwiches in the city.
Dahlia Bakery has got to be without a doubt the one food place in the city that I find myself most often at. On any given day we stop by for all kinds of delectable treats to be had for breakfast, lunch or a light early dinner. And those desserts! And their homemade ice cream! And the chocolate confections and those Lola spreads they offer daily! Ahh!
If you asked me which is my favorite eating place in the city I would tell you this is the one. However, it is their Ficelle what really got me hooked on the Bakery to begin with, creating what has become, over the past few years, a daily habit.
Dahlia Bakery's Ficelle ($1.75 each) is a sight to behold, appealing to all the senses, in a category all its own and unlike anything else offered by any other bakery in the city, not even at places such as Le Panier, The Essential Baking Company or Le Fournil.
The good people at Dahlia bake anywhere between 18 and 30 of these babies every day at the old Habit Cleaners location on Virginia Street. Skinnier than the traditional baguette, with a higher crust per crumb factor.
It is my favorite bread in the city and every time I have stop to pick up one or two of these beauties I feel as if I've just stepped out of one of my favorite Parisian Boulangeries, especially those around the Marais, like my all time favorite Au Levain du Marais at 32, rue de Turenne.
Ficelle is the bread we make crostini, mop the sauce of our pastas and Boeuf à la Bourguignonne with. The one we serve with cheese, along a hot bowl of homemade soup or help to help us wipe clean a humble plate of two fried eggs, Matouk and ketchup.
For spreading a little pâté de foie gras on to pair with a small glass of Sauternes or one of our great state of Washington's Late Harvest Rieslings.
With only but the schmear of whipped cream cheese or Brittany butter. The bread we crave for on Sunday mornings when Mr. C makes his famous breakfast of eggs, potatoes and thick peppered bacon.
The bread that makes up an impromptu and lazy meal, rubbed with garlic, topped with fresh tomatoes, Gruyère, quickly broiled until the cheese is melted, the edges crispy and golden with no other accompaniment than a glass--or two--of a favorite Bordeaux.
So thank you Mr. Douglas, Gwen Grande (head bread baker extraordinaire), Chris and the rest of the gang for offering us Seattleites this most delightful of treats.
Thank you for allowing me to live á la Française without any need to schlep my bags around Seatac or endure TSA's shoe removal inspections, enjoying such an amazing bread, any day of the week, right here in my Seattle neighborhood. This award is for you!
2001 4th Avenue
206. 441. 4540
*All photography by Mr.C.
**Big thanks go to Chris at the Bakery for all his help!