Spaghetti with bottarga, the must-order at La Ciccia.
Twenty years later, I still blame my post-traumatic healthy-food disorder (PTHFD) on my days at UC Santa Cruz. In those college years, I experienced a lot of peer pressure to relish things like tempeh stir-fries, nutritional yeast, brown rice, and salads with seeds and a dash of amino acids. This is probably why—until now—rustic (i.e. leaden and dry) whole-grain loaves of bread haven't been high on my list of needs.
But duty has called. I'm working on a story about whole-grain breads which means that I've had to eat a lot of them lately. And I'm telling you, the new wave of whole grain breads aren't what I recall from my days shopping at the Food Bin in Santa Cruz. Dare I say we're experiencing a Third Wave of whole-grain bread?
At Bar Tartine you don't have to start standing in line for your bread at 5 pm or reserve ahead for baker Chad Robertson's famous bread like you do at the original Tartine. This might be because it hasn't caught on yet or it might be because other people suffer from PTHFD too. At Bar Tartine, Robertson is tinkering with all sorts of breads being made with different whole-grain flours. Pop by during the week when the sandwich shop is open (11 am to 3 pm) and you can grab a loaf to go without elbowing some Tartine cult follower out of the way. The breads rotate daily. Robertson makes a kamut bread shaped like the country loaf everyone knows and loves at Tartine Bakery. He also makes a whole-wheat spelt. The most intriguing might be his line of porridge breads, made with everything from barley to oat and rye. Get one and poke its crusty exterior. It feels like there's pudding inside. Slice into it and you get a piece of bread that's almost sticky to the touch, which means it lasts for almost a week. With just a touch of sour from the natural starter, it's great toasted but it's also delicious fresh.
Over at The Mill, Josey Baker is putting out a a few options, including a whole wheat bread that was a bit too salty and crusty for my taste. What I loved more—and what I'll return to get again—is Baker's rye bread, which I'll admit I avoided buying the first time around. Part of this initial hesitation has to do with the fact that rye bread brings to mind rosy-cheeked Scandavian people bolstered by socialized medicine and amazing spas. It's almost too good for you. Part of it has to do with the fact that the loaf weighs as much as a small pig. However, I'm happy to report that when I finally bit the bullet (or in this case the bread), it turned out to be amazing. It yields a user-friendly, soft loaf mixed with rye flour, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, and corn meal. It has a sourness, but not too much for a swipe of almond butter and honey in the morning or some goat cheese at night. This is bread that a hippy can feel good about, but a person with PTHFD can too. Kumbaya.