“I HATE almond croissants.”
This heavily French-accented proclamation from pastry chef Nohra Belaid came about halfway through my conversation with her, and about halfway through munching on the best almond croissant I’ve ever eaten in my life. Of course, she made the croissant. But that fact didn’t make her feel any more lovingly toward it.
“People are always ordering them!” Belaid told me so emphatically over the phone that I felt like I could see her gesturing arms all the way across town. She was clearly upset. Maybe even angry.
“A croissant should be pure, not a vehicle for batter inside and outside and all over it,” she told me. “If a croissant could talk, they would say: ‘NO!!!!! Don’t do this to me! I don’t want this inside of me!’ But I make them because people around here keep ordering them.”
I set down my almond croissant and stared at it. It was perfection: A brown, crispy crust with a soft, buttery inside. It had an oozing almond paste in the center and a crisp almond crust on the outside. Each bite was sweet, salty, buttery, and nutty. But that clearly didn’t matter to Belaid.
I had gone into the new Ines Patisserie on Capitol Hill earlier in the morning to scope the place out before my interview with her. I had thought she’d grimaced a little when I ordered the almond croissant, but I assumed that was just her famous French brusqueness. But, no, she was actually disappointed in my pastry choice.
“I… I like almond croissants,” I said, ashamed. I didn’t want to admit to her that I was currently enjoying one, brushing the delicate crumbs off my dress as we spoke.
“Oh, it’s ok, you can like them,” she said, her voice suddenly kind. “I don’t have to eat them. In fact, I’ve never eaten one and I’ve made thousands. But if you like them, you like them.”
And that mix of salty and sweet is exactly what you can expect from both Belaid and her pastries.
Ines Patisserie recently moved to Capitol Hill from Madison Valley and we’re lucky to have it. The small bakery transports you to France, with the attitude of Belaid, the authenticity of her pastries, and the overall feeling that this isn’t going to be a normal Seattle experience.
The décor is modern and stark, which is certainly normal for new Capitol Hill restaurants lately. But there’s something different about Ines Patisserie, a harshness of perfection that is visually jarring. The large glass jars full of bright candies don’t have a single smudge. You have to do a double-take to make sure the croissants are real. Even the employees seem different, moving methodically and quietly, carefully decorating, slicing, and displaying the beautiful treats.
Ines Patisserie made me feel quiet, hushed; in awe.
And then there’s the pastries. To say they are visually stunning is an understatement. You can’t help but stare at them. You don’t want to cut into them. From tiny tarts with apricots, to delicate cheese gougeres, each item looks absolutely delectable.
And looks don’t deceive. I’m sure Nohra Belaid knows much more than I do about pastries, but that almond croissant is something I will dream about.
“One of the things I will never compromise on is butter,” Belaid told me. “Butter is everything. I use French butter with a fat content of at least 82 or 83 percent. It’s flavorful, creamy, and doesn’t have a bunch of water. It makes a big difference. Good ingredients make for good food.”
She also uses a lot of fresh foods, generally getting the fruits for her pastries from local farmers markets.
“I’m sure you want me to say I was trained at Le Cordon Bleu,” Belaid said when I asked her about her background. “But I didn’t. This is just my passion. My parents owned restaurants, and I’ve taken classes here and there, but I taught myself. I love baking. All of this, it is a labor of love.”
It’s hard to believe she isn’t classically trained, but it also shows what love, passion, and dedication can accomplish. Belaid says she works constantly to make Ines Patisserie stay afloat.
“Right now, I work like a slave,” Belaid said. “It’s hard to find good employees. People who don’t think of this as a j-o-b, but as love. You need a good attitude to make pastries. You need to come into work with the intention of making beautiful things. This is artistry. How you feel shows in the work. My food has often been inspired by the things, good or bad, that are going on in my life.”
So if you visit Ines Patisserie, you may catch Belaid on one of those good days, or maybe a salty day, but make sure to stay for the pastry perfection.
1111 E Union St