Review: Detroit’s Warda Pâtisserie is no average bakery

Jun 5, 2019 at 1:00 am
Fried egg tart with fingerling potatoes.
Fried egg tart with fingerling potatoes. Tom Perkins

Who doesn't feel a tremor of excitement, a bit of salivation, at the very idea of a bakery? Some may also feel a twinge of guilt, but who does that serve? Go with your gut greediness instead.

At Warda Pâtisserie, another emotion elicited could be confusion or trepidation — or new-experience excitement, depending whether you run congenitally bold or scaredy-cat. You may encounter terms you haven't heard before, Arabic words like muhallebi or makroud and French ones like fraisier or fougasse.

Reader, do not be intimidated by the international sophistication of the food at Warda Pâtisserie, which goes way beyond bakery fare, by the way. Chef-owner Warda Bouguettaya and all the servers are super-friendly and ready to help. And you can always just point.

Bouguettaya took over the front counter at Trinosophes late last November and quickly increased traffic of both those looking for a fabulous breakfast, snack, or lunch and those staying all day with their laptops and coffee. Trinosophes supplies all the beverages, including fresh melon, carrot, and orange juices and cinnamon limeade, plus an egg sandwich and muesli, and Warda takes care of the rest.

Her first baking background, at her grandmother's knee in her native Algeria, was in French pastries, but she's since studied in the pastry department of the Paul Bocuse Institute in Shanghai and traveled in Southeast Asia. The result is a deft hand unafraid to try original combinations.

A prime example is a carrot tagine, a North African stew. The flavors are the most different I've encountered this year, created by adding turmeric, ginger, and sumac to the vivid carrots and Castelvetrano green olives, in a sauce of tahini and pomegranate molasses. It's bold and bright and curiosity-inducing. I learned from Bouguettaya that turmeric and ginger is a usual Algerian combo but that the sumac was her idea.

A chicken soup with ragged gluten-free noodles is mellow and familiar enough — but tarted up with chickpeas, cilantro, and an egg yolk added at the end. This spring Bouguettaya made a savory galette des rois (in France, a "king cake" served for Epiphany and the three kings) with homemade puff pastry, labneh, and local asparagus, turnips tops, and green garlic. She buys from urban farms in Detroit such as Brother Nature and Rising Pheasant, as well as Ann Arbor purveyors.

Breakfast tarts have a base of flaky pastry rich with high-fat European butter. Bouguettaya explains that the high butter content can give the illusion of layers of puff pastry. One morning I had a rich mushroom tart with goat cheese; a spinach tart with feta, olives, and a more biscuity crust; and a fried egg tart with fingerling potatoes and lightly toasted goat cheese (I was sharing, by the way). All are displayed and then taken away for reheating once you've chosen.

Other savory choices are a Korean sandwich with bulgogi, yogurt, kimchi, and sesame seeds, or a salad of quinoa, avocado, chickpeas, brown rice, and caramelized onions, with a chive-lemon vinaigrette. Salads change monthly and soups daily.

But you may be thinking about the desserts. As well you should be. Here some Warda creations are deceptively simple looking, like "financiers" — what Americans call thumbprint cookies. Warda uses ground almonds to create a soft and chewy gluten-free shell filled with something surprising: say a black sesame cookie with a mango filling, or a lemon cookie with blueberry and chocolate in the hole.

Somewhat more prosaic while still at the height of the baker's art are sablés (butter cookies), crisp and topped with peach and lavender jam from Beau Bien Fine Foods down the street.

Dessert is not all pastries. One day I tried a smooth rice pudding topped with a thick layer of rhubarb compote. If I were a fan of rose water, like my companion, this would have gotten an A, but since I'm not I had to pass on the rice aspect. I should have ordered the chocolate and passion fruit tart or the Burundi coffee and Dulcey tart: coffee mousse, a swirl of Valhrona Dulcey chocolate, and coffee ganache, a dark chocolate glaze, and cacao nibs.

Needless to say that all the creations are elegant to look at, even the more down-home cookies. If you special-order a cake or a big tart, expect it to be specially decorated.

The light and airy Trinosophes space is well-suited to lingering, and the experience is enhanced when you're served on pretty flowered china and you eat with sterling silver gathered at estate sales. I liked that my fork was a tiny bit tarnished — a way to know the real deal.

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