Herve Poussot did not expect Superstorm Sandy to harm his beloved bakery. But Almondine on Water Street in Dumbo was located in Flood Zone A, just by a hair. On the night of the storm, the East River's waters rose, broke through a sidewalk-level window, and flooded his basement work area, destroying his ovens, mixers, and everything else. His insurance company didn't pay him a cent. After a lot of help from customers, his landlord, and the city's French baking community, he finally reopened a few weeks ago. Once again we can enjoy Almondine's excellent patisserie and, more importantly, some of the best baguettes in New York.
Like many of his countrymen in the restaurant world, Herve entered the business young, starting culinary school to study pastry at age 14. In 1991, he migrated to California, and two years later he was pastry chef at Le Bernardin in New York, followed by Windows on the World and Payard. Finally, in 2004 he opened Almondine in Dumbo, adding a sudden ray of culinary excellence to that once-blighted industrial neighborhood. Unlike many of his contemporaries, who also have their eyes on the wholesale market, Herve's ambition has always been limited to running the best retail bakery. On the bread side, that means making loaves with slow fermentations (for flavor) and baking many batches throughout the day (for freshness).
Head first for the baguettes. Herve's French baguette ($2.75) is a classic version of the loaf, made from the basic flour, salt, water, and yeast formula. It's perhaps not as crisp-crusted as some of the competition, but it has the proper flavor and hole structure to its crumb. I prefer the flour-dusted Almondine baguette ($2.85), which has a bit of whole wheat flour added to the mix and is also given a slightly longer fermentation. The loaf comes out of the oven a bit denser—I like the chew—and with a more enticing aroma.
Most of Almondine's other breads are made with levain starter. One of my favorites is the hazelnut raisin loaf ($4.75), a medium-sized boule thickly studded with nuts and black and yellow raisins. The combination of chewy crumb, softly crunchy nuts, and juicy fruits is addictive. For a slightly more austere loaf, try the country ($5.75), a big boule made with a generous amount of whole wheat and a bit of white flour. The wheat gives it a nutty flavor, while the loaf's size helps keep its flavor and moisture on day two, three, and four. Finally, you should also try Herve's multigrain loaf ($4.75), which has so many ingredients that he's lost count. I saw, and tasted, cracked wheat, oats, and poppy, sesame, and sunflower seeds, but I'm sure I missed something. It has a great dense texture and so much flavor that you forget that it's probably good for you. And like all Almondine's breads, the price is right.