David L. Garcia
Craftsman and Wolves is the most obnoxious restaurant I’ve ever been in. Like many of the other eateries clustered on that stretch of Valencia, the room feels suffocatingly hip, like the contractor used pretension for insulation. There’s the obligatory exposed brick, dusty wooden rafters, and uncomfortable communal tables. The glass-covered bakery case is arranged with the askew formality of a Mannerist still life. The cashiers, all dripping with holier-than-thou ‘tudes, look like they were recently cast as extras in a Frankenstein-esque horror film, where Urban Outfitters tries to create an army of sneering, ironic sweater-wearing monsters.
You’re not cool enough to eat here. You’re not. Don’t argue.
Go anyway. Their food is insane. Absolutely incredible.
The ingredients and flavors that the bakery chooses to work with are daringly delicious, making every baked good a delightful surprise. Look at their scones. You know, scones? Those crumbly, raisin-studded pieces of Styrofoam that you often see and ignore in the display box at Panera Bread? Craftsman and Wolves offers a Thai Scone, a scalene triangle of flaky pastry that glows with green curry powder. The pop of candied ginger and shards of coconut make it unique and scrumptious, something I guarantee you’ve never tried before. Is it pretentious? Yes, but take a bite. Your cred will be the last thing on your mind.
I wouldn’t fool around with any of the sandwiches. They may be great, for all I know, but I’ve never managed to get past the individual baked goods. The quiche is pretty spectacular, pea shoots and baby garlic suspended in creamy custard, all encased in a proper buttery crust. Their croissant has been remixed into a crispy ham and cheese twist, and comes topped with winter vegetable “confetti,” small sprinkles of dehydrated carrot, onion, and radish.
The sweet offerings are just as tantalizing, and arguably much prettier. The bakery’s aesthetic skill is most apparent here; the artfully composed pastries reminded me of butterflies, mounted in a museum display. The creamsicle éclair is beautiful and tasty, a ruler-straight rectangle of vibrant orange gel covering a crisp, cream-filled éclair, delicately garnished with dandelion petals. The Mini Cube Cake was also lovely, an asymmetrical slice of cake topped with a thick layer of icing. It’s impressively restrained, not too sweet or chokingly rich. There’s usually two offered, and I enjoyed the one flavored with horchata, hazelnuts, and blonde chocolate (whatever that is).
No visit, however, would be complete without Craftsman and Wolves’ signature dish, “The Rebel Within.” Trust me, its worthy of such an ostentatious title. Essentially a McMuffin with a culinary school pedigree, “The Rebel Within” is a savory muffin, packed with nubs of salty asiago cheese, breakfast sausage, and green onion. Sounds pedestrian, until you slice the thing in half and reveal the rebel inside; a soft-cooked egg, levitating inside the muffin, its runny yolk dripping out onto your plate. You’ll be forgiven for whipping out your phone; food is rarely so photogenic.
Pick up a half and sprinkle it with some ‘Basco salt (Tabasco-flavored salt that comes in a plastic vial at the counter. This would be irritating if it wasn’t so good) “The Rebel Within” is easily worth a trip to the Mission, the egg yolk and the pillowy muffin mingling in your mouth, forcing you to ask why someone didn’t come up with this sooner.
The pastries patiently waiting behind that glass case aren’t much more expensive than something comparable from Starbucks, but contain an incredible amount of finesse and creativity. Craftsman and Wolves more than earns its haughtiness with its stellar baked goods. I’ll certainly put up with it.