Bernalites sure eat well there up on the hill. Dawdling along a rolling 8-block strip of commerce, you could go from Avedano’s killer Cuban sandwich (and impressive local/sustainable meat selection) to Moki’s sushi or Vino Rosso’s salume. Or you could nibble Peruvian bolitas de yuca at Piqueo’s or momo at Little Nepal, then finish up with ice cream at Maggie Mudd (including non-dairy versions made with soy or coconut milk). There’s coffee and bagels at Martha’s, eggs and toast at Moonshine, iced tea and wraps on the shady back deck at Progressive Grounds.
All good, but where, where were our Paris-perfect pains au chocolat? Our savory swirls of fluffy bread filled with miso, scallion, and sesame seeds? The Ritual Roasters coffee painstakingly dripped cup by cup? We Hill dwellers may be very busy walking our dogs or itsy-bitsy-spidering our charming offspring, but we have our standards, and our needs. (As well as no patience for schlepping down to the Mission to make our antsy toddlers wait in that endless Tartine line.)
Which makes the arrival of Sandbox Bakery, after months of window-peering, a reason for rejoicing up here. Chowhound buzz promised a summer opening; permit processes being what they are, the bakery opened on Cortland on December 7. Charcoal-walled without, white-tiled within, the bakery is sleek, almost a little stark for now, with no seating. But all the better to focus on the pastries, arranged in a glass-fronted case facing the whooshing automatic doors.
Prices, for now, are very reasonable: croissants $2 to $2.50, scones $2, filled buns $2.25 to $3, cookies .75 cents, muffins $2. Warm pastries come out of the oven in waves. Longing for something flaky and croissant-ish mid-morning, we were sorry to see only rolls, muffins, and scones on offer. But no worries: a few minutes later, owner/pastry chef Mutsumi Takehara emerged from the back with a platter of oven-hot raisin swirls and sweet cheese croissants.
It’s worth hanging around for these; the raisin swirl we tried was ethereally light and barely sweet, shards of a dream that disappeared like snowflakes. A strawberry scone was more earthbound but still light and easy to crumble into mouthfuls, and well larded with sweet fruit.
Beyond croissants, scones, and muffins, Takehara’s workhorse is a light, eggy yeast dough, like an airy challah, that she uses to make her version of kashi-pan, the filled buns popular in Japanese bakeries. On the savory side, the dough is rounded into a fat doughnut shape and filled with corn kernels and a splash of creamy bechamel, creating a perfect accompaniment to tomato soup. (You’ll have to make your own soup, though, since Sandbox does only pastries for now.) It’s braided around an unexpected but rewarding (for you savory-breakfast types) smear of miso and sesame. It’s flattened and topped with a tangy, bittersweet gloss of yuzu marmalade.
Takehara has the deft touch of a pro, one who’s happy to being doing her own thing at last after years of working around town. Her impressive pastry resume includes stints at La Farine, Chez Panisse, Rubicon, and, for the past 10 years, Slanted Door. These are pastries of delicacy and light, subtle rather than sweet. And for all you groggy new parents starting the day at dawn (they don’t call this Maternal Hill for nothing), Sandbox opens at 6am on weekdays, 7am on Saturdays.
Photos copyright Sandbox Bakery