Croissants are magical. I don't care how many conchas I gobble from the various lovely pastelerías around town, they just can't match the buttery, delicate wonders of French pastries. Darshan Bakery & Café (949 2nd St.) in Encinitas is the latest eatery serving up my beloved baked goods in the Gallic tradition. The more traditional French pastry café menu fits right in with the Swamis vibe of south Encinitas village, calling their offerings "Pastries to Reincarnate For." And indeed, the owners of Darshan also run Sitaram around the corner, a wholly organic and vegetarian Indian restaurant I'll be covering in the future.
Darshan creates all its baguettes, pastries, quiches and more in house, and the modest kitchen and intensive baked good selection means you should get there earlier rather than later. Although it is open until 4 p.m. daily, the front-of-the-house bakery case starts to get pretty sparse after 2 p.m.
You can't go wrong diving into one of the classics; my preference is the chocolate, but the tasty almond croissant is a popular selection. And as packed with tradition as its baked goods are, this is 2015, so you'll find a healthy selection of gluten-free items. The almond cake with raspberries, baked into the sweetest heart shape, is moist and decadent without drifting into a disintegrating crumble, a problem that often plagues baked goods lacking the structure of gluten. This is a great little cake. Chocolate easily lends itself to flourless baked goods as well, so don't miss out on the various luscious chocolate cakes and tortes that change daily.
Lunch is quite lovely, with soup, sandwiches and velvety quiches. I loved the wild mushroom quiche, creamy with cheese and speckled with assertive fennel seeds. The mushrooms were toothy and savory and melted into the smooth custard. The asparagus-and-egg sandwich sounded intriguing, with braised asparagus tips, hard cooked eggs, manchego cheese and a house remoulade. I found the version I ate to be disappointing. The foccacia it came on was wonderful, but the rest of the sandwich was dry and lacked seasoning, and had hardly any sauce to jazz things up.
I have one other nit to pick: This place is cash-only. (Yes, I understand the fees charged by credit card companies. Harumph.)
Darshan does make a mean cup of coffee or chai, but do check out one of its specialities, the Bombay Latte. A double shot of espresso gives this drink a nice punch, but the house-made cardamom syrup adds gentle warmth and spice without going over the top.
If we're comparing North County French pastry shops, French Corner, just a click up the road in Leucadia, still reigns supreme in both the sweet and savory baking game. But Darshan is delicious as well as charming, with a peaceful energy you would, of course, expect from a place right next door to the Self Realization Fellowship worship hall.
However you get there, I think a buttery baked good and a hot cup of coffee is a sweet way to get to nirvana.
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