Washington can never have too many bakeries as far as some of us are concerned, so I was stoked to see that Maison Kayser, the French import from baking sensation Eric Kayser, opened two branches in the District last month, one near the White House followed by another in Penn Quarter.
I recently made a beeline for the debut bakery, easy to spot given the signature orange banners out front and reassuringly stocked inside with handsome loaves of bread, running from baguettes cut to resemble wheat stalks to football-shaped loaves made with spelt, raisins and walnuts. There were pastries, too, everything from caramelized apricot-pistachio tarts to finger-long eclairs.
A cold winter night drove me to the downtown establishment, which includes a mirrored, 45-seat side cafe, for the culinary equivalent of French quilts — onion soup, beef bourguignon — and something red to chase them back. Alas, Maison Kayser does not serve alcohol (none of the U.S. stores do), which disappointed the stranger seated across from me, who was also unhappy to learn the bakery-cafe doesn’t offer gluten-free bread. “They do in Paris!” she told her server.
Wine would have been a nice distraction to the first half of the meal. French onion soup suffered from being anemic and too sweet, while duck rillettes were served so cold, it took until the end of dinner for them to warm up in their little jar, served against a fortress of crusty fingers of bread. Bigger — as in entrees — proved better. The crab tartine delivered a generous amount of sweet seafood on a barge of toasted sourdough, dressed as if for Mexico with buttery slices of avocado, fresh cilantro and cherry tomatoes. And winy short ribs, tucked into a black casserole with carrots and onions, revealed a homey quality, although the best part of the dish was the stellar whipped potatoes.
Return visits to the bakery did not endear me to the designer label. Midday, I’ve encountered spinach quiche that tasted mostly of nutmeg, croissants that smack of raw dough inside and a smoked salmon sandwich, from a refrigerated display, that would be a better fit at Wawa. Late afternoon, I’ve experienced flat-tasting madeleines (sold by the bag), coffee eclairs filled with what resembles espresso cement and a porridge-like parfait of chia seeds and almond milk with a jammy blueberry base.
We tend to share here in the Post Food pod, but a bite or two of much of what I brought back to the office from Maison Kayser was so dispiriting, I saved my colleagues the waste of calories. What wasn’t achingly sweet was one-dimensional. A pistachio financier managed to be both.
Maison Kayser isn’t a total wash. The olive rolls are on par with those baked at Whole Foods and the blimplike Pullman bread makes for great grilled cheese or fried egg sandwiches at home. And kudos to the worker behind the counter who offered to pre-slice the loaf.
Before it goes forth and multiplies any more, Maison Kayser needs to run its recipes through the culinary equivalent of spell-checker. Because right now, Paris tastes a million miles away.
1345 F St. NW. 202-770-2200. maison-kayser-usa.com. Pastries, $5.15 to $7.25; dinner entrees, $15 to $27.