Macy's Brings La Brea (-esque) Bakery Downtown

Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby.

What: Classic grilled cheese panini Where: Macy's La Brea Bakery, 1601 Third Ave., 506-6941. DOWNTOWN Cost: $5.95 Would I order it again? No. And no again. Official Tasting Notes: I know it's not fair to compare the Gruyère panini at Macy's new co-branded cafe to the one I tasted at La Brea Bakery founder Nancy Silverton's grilled-cheese nights at Campanile in Los Angeles. Silverton, one of the West Coast's pioneering artisan bakers, used to be married to Campanile chef Mark Peel. Eleven years ago, she concocted a Thursday-night tradition at the restaurant that endures to this day. When I checked it out a few years back, even the simplest of Silverton's cheese sandwiches made me moan, though I wasn't sure whether I was overcome by nostalgia or hedonism. In 2001, Silverton sold the La Brea Bakery to IAWS Group, an Irish corporation that has brought her breads to supermarkets around the United States, the U.K., and Ireland. IAWS, which also owns Otis Spunkmeyer, has now partnered with Macy's to bring a La Brea (–esque) Bakery to downtown Seattle. The "fresh-baked" bread comes from half-baked loaves that may or may not be finished off in a cylindrical display oven that one colleague compared to a tin can. My glamour shot above makes the panini look almost sexy, but it's nothing compared to the photo of the sandwich I ate it under, in which the butter on the bread glistened and flecks of whole-grain mustard sparkled along the zone where cheese and bread melded together. Across that picture, the bakery has reprinted a food-erotica quote from Silverton about how much she loves biting into a grilled cheese sandwich, with its "strange and stringy afterlife of melted cheese." She must not have been referring to the waxy, still-half-solid slices of putative Gruyère in mine, which seemed to only have ever existed in the afterlife. Also, mustard or butter on the bread equaled no nostalgia, hedonism, moaning, or, indeed, pleasure. A smoked-ham-and-Gruyère sandwich, with arugula and a caramelized onion jam, was much, much tastier—something I'd actually pay $6.50 for. I also picked up a fresh-baked baguette, which I'm pretty sure was more than a few hours fresh. It was good compared to Safeway's house brand, but in a town blessed with Bakery Nouveau, Macrina, Elemental, and Columbia City Bakery, why shop for a par-baked baguette at a department store? 

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