In his 1989 novel The Great Fire of London, renowned french author Jacques Roubaud spends a rather large section expounding the features of the ideal Parisian croissant, told in the kind of deliberate detail you'd expect from a professor of both poetry and advanced mathematics:
[T]he croissant that might be labeled the archetypal butter croissant, presents the following features: a very elongated rhombus, rounded at the tips but with an almost straight body (only the plain croissant, and it alone, has a lunar, ottomanlike look)--golden--plump--not too well-done--nor too white or starchy--staining your fingers through the India paper that wraps or rather holds it together--still warm (from the oven it's only recently left: not yet cooled) [...] It has three principal components, and three interlocking meaty compartments protected by a tender shell that lends it certain similarities to a young lobster.
It wasn't long ago that finding a great croissant, one that essentially resembled a fine slab of French butter empowered with crunch, flake, and tenderness, was a exercise that ended in either disappointment or compromise. Times have changed, it seems. After sampling a host of croissants from some of the most serious bakeries in L.A., we narrowed in down to the top three bakeries, all of which opened within the past year. Did 2012 mark the coming of the croissant renaissance?
B1 Breadshop, which claims both an Abbot Kinney storefront and a larger, industrial location east of Downtown, has already garnered a great deal of attention for its decadent selection of organic pastries and breads since opening this past summer. The plain croissant ($3) is rather large and sweeter than the others -- not cloying, but just so. It's outer shell shatters like a glass when pierced, covering your lap in tiny golden shards.
Located just west of B1's Downtown location across the L.A. River, is Bread Lounge. If the hefty auburn-colored croissants resemble the ones at Tavern, it's probably because Bread Lounge owner Ran Zimon previously worked as the head baker for Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne's restaurants. The plain croissant ($2.50) has the slightest tang of fermented dairy, with an moist interior that stretches and pulls without being too gummy.
Maison Giraud, the lastest bistro from chef Alain Giraud, is nestled into an isolated shopping enclave in Pacific Palisades, where it specializes in his style of rustic French cooking. Arrive before noon, when most of the pastries sell out, and you'll find croissants au beurre ($3.25) from baker Noubar Yessayan, who's been with Giraud since his days at Bastide and through his time at Anisette in Santa Monica. His croissants were famous even then, formed out of confounding quantities of Normandy-sourced butter. They are at once both impeccably rich and light as air, each nibble dissolving on the tongue and leaving only a slight creamy sensation behind. These may be smaller and shaped differently then the one's described by Roubaud, but this is as close as you'll find to the perfect croissant in Los Angeles.
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Winner: Maison Giraud.
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