While the macaron craze may have have subsided slightly in the blogosphere, they’re still popular here in the Bay Area – no self-respecting patisserie would be without a rainbow-hued selection of these little sweets. My choice for satisfying my macaron cravings is Chantal Guillon – a little shop tucked away in San Francisco that featured some of the most elegantly formed and decorated renditions of this French confection. I loved her version so much I even had ordered them for my wedding reception, a highlight I still remember fondly.
So I was thrilled to receive notice that Chantal Guillon had opened a second store down in Palo Alto, and even better, I was invited to visit the shop and chat with Mme Guillon herself! I sped down the Peninsula on a sunny Friday afternoon get a look at the brand new store.
An overhead view of the shop and the beautiful macaron display. The shop feels like a sleek atelier from Paris. I spoke with Chantal for a bit about her background and she talked about her experiences owning a restaurant in Paris, and her desire to open another shop when she came here to the US. When I asked her why she chose to focus only on macarons here, she replied that she felt the specializing in one product made it easier to concentrate on making them the best. I remarked that this seemed to be a very French sensibility: in France, you might go to one place for your bread, another place for your cheese, and another for your chocolate, as opposed to getting everything at a supermarket. Chantal agreed that she believed in going to specialists when you wanted the best quality, which is how she would like the Bay Area to see her little shops.
Mme. Guillon presiding over her beautiful new boutique. She said that she felt at home the moment she saw Palo Alto and knew she wanted to open her second store there. “It feels like the South of France here”, she commented.
Chantal’s philosophy, shared with all. She says the store has already received a warm welcome since opening day from the community, and she looks forward to cultivating relationships with regular customers.
The back of the store, which will eventually have seating. Right now I love the spare, clean look. There is Chantal organizing the tea selection – Mariage Frères, bien sûr. This is likely the closest you will get to Paris on University Avenue in Palo Alto.
I love the table in the back with macarons embedded inside. The teapot is pretty covetable as well.
This is one of Chantal’s favorite flavors of the moment, and one of my favorites as well: dark chocolate and yuzu puree swirled into a harmonious whole. I loved the intensity of the yuzu – they got the unique tang to come through perfectly. Chantal has a team of bakers working a in kitchen in San Francisco to produce macarons for both her stores, and regularly works with them to come up with new seasonal flavors. Her macarons are made with the Italian meringue method – my favorite method as well!
This seasonal flavor, raspberry lemon verbena, was another pleasant discovery for me, both for the two-tone shells and the combination of two of my favorite flavors. It looks so summery!
I asked Chantal what her pastry inspirations from Paris were, and was delighted to hear her name Sadaharu Aoki. She is huge fan of his precise craftmanship and creative flavors, things I also admire about his pastries. Chantal is always trying to strike a balance between the classic and the modern with her macarons. Although she’s cognizant of popular taste – her red velvet macaron is a big hit here – her true love is the understated, simple expression of flavor.
I love the little boxes for the macarons – they look so cozy and snuggled up inside.
Chantal was kind enough to send me home with a selection of macarons to savor. I adore the pinky-red-brown hues in the box – they remind me of my wedding. The flavors included almond, rose (both of them featured at my wedding reception), dark chocolate, red velvet, coffee, and green tea. The subtle, not-tooo-sweet almond rose remain firmly on my top picks list, while Mike loved the green tea.
Some other flavors I got to sample: pistachio, lavender poppy, hazelnut, and apricot. Chantal Guillon has the most elegant and refined presentation I’ve seen among macarons in the bay area: the colors are vibrant but still natural looking, the embellishments minimalist and sophisticated, and the flavors always delicate and balanced. The fillings are never overly rich or sweet or overpowering, and you can taste the actual flavor, not just buttercream or sugar.
Merci, Chantal, for hosting me in your lovely new store. They are the closest I can get to feeling like I’m back in Paris without the eleven hour plane flight. And thank you for sharing your passion and spreading the truth that macarons are not just a cookie, or a fad, but a timeless expression of French culture. Vive le macaron!
444 University Avenue, Palo Alto, CA
437 Hayes Street, San Francisco, CA