Thanks to my friend Jeremy who suggested I visit "Artist and Craftsman Supply" in Downtown Berkeley, my quest to find a high-quality blank writing pad is over.
When I started to describe to the two clerks at the counter what I was looking for, one of them smiled and immediately blurted out "Rhodia." Both of them were totally cool with me not knowing the specifics, which only confirms my observation that art store-clerks are MUCH nicer than bicycle store-clerks (want independent confirmation? Just visit Berkeley's Missing Link Bicycle Cooperative).
Anyway, Rhodia began as a stationary company in Lyon, France in the 1930's. Two brothers, Henri and Robert Verilhac, sold mainly in Southern France and North Africa. Obviously, the market has expanded since then, but the company's writing pads, once a marginal product, is now its premier product. The distinct orange cover is (apparently) well-known -- though I'm not sure how well-known because nobody I know of has ever heard of this company.
The paper and binding quality are superb. Gel and ballpoint pens glide effortlessly from start to finish. The paper is slightly on the thin side, though thick enough so that bleeding is not an issue. Although the cover has grooves in it so that you can fold it backwards, I found the cover to be in the way and cut it off.
I have two main complaints. First is the lack of a substantial cardboard backing for the pad, which means the pad bends easily. It doesn't feel like a self-contained writing pad, but instead something you have to attach to a clipboard or a planner. This is true even if you keep the cover attached and use that as backing.
The second drawback is the price. Granted it is a high quality pad, but $6.80 per pad is on the high side. And given that price, I'd at least expect cardboard backing.
Nonetheless, this pad makes writing a pleasure. And for someone whose hands usually start to hurt after a few minutes when taking notes in a regular spiral notebook, I consider it a good sign when I can now write out fifteen pages of notes without skipping a beat.