Pastry in Taipei – Boîte de Bijou

While in Taipei for Andy and Sugi’s wedding banquet, I visited a cute little patisserie called Boîte de Bijou (“Jewel Box”). Both visits were to their second location on AnHe Road in the Da’An district, just across the street from Far Eastern Plaza mall. The first visit was fantastic. The second visit was a disaster.

This location is not very large but has a stylish, modern decoration that mostly showcases the beautiful pastries they create. You can select many of your own items and fancier, more delicate items (cakes, for example), can be selected at the counter.

Indoor seating is limited to one communal table and a half-dozen seats at the counter at the coffee bar. With beautiful marble-lined walls and a great view of the barrista, who is preparing most of the dishes on the menu, the counter is a good place to be.

The pastries are fantastic. Beautiful, well-executed, and nicely presented. This blueberry tart featured beautiful ripe berries and inside the tart was a hidden pocket of jam.

This pistachio cake was beautiful to look at and had a delicate foamy texture with a cookie crumb base and a raspberry filling. 

A surprise find was kouign amann, a Brittany-style pastry that has been gaining popularity worldwide. It is made similar to croissant dough except that sugar is sprinkled on each layer as it is folded and rolled out, making for a sweeter, more caramelized treat. The kouign amann here was a little tough and not as special as the other desserts.

Andy, Sugi, and I had a very pleasant afternoon break while Tawn was back at the hotel, taking a nap. Sadly, when I returned with Tawn a few days later, eager to share this cute little find with him, we ended up with a bad taste in our mouth.

Most of the seating at Boîte de Bijou is in an outdoor patio. When we arrived the second time, all the tables were occupied except one. Tawn sat down and I went inside to order pastries. As those were being prepared, I went to the coffee bar to order some drinks. The (manager? supervisor? random employee?) asked me where I was sitting and when I said we were sitting outside, she said that there was no room outside. I assured her we already had a table and even walked outside with her to show that Tawn was already sitting at the table.

In the next sixty seconds, my pleasant feelings about this patisserie melted away like spun sugar in a warm mouth. 

“Oh, that table is reserved,” she said. When we asked why there was no sign or any other indication that the table was reserved, she simply repeated that the table was reserved. When I asked where we should sit instead, she replied that they were full. “But I’ve already ordered our food,” I explained. “We’re busy today,” was her response.

I understand that there was probably a bit of a language barrier. We didn’t speak Mandarin and English is probably not her first language. But for so classy a shop, there was absolutely no class to their service. No apology, no attempt to accommodate us, nothing. The ideal solution would have been something like, “I’m so sorry we forgot to put a sign on that table. Since you’ve ordered your food already, could we prepare it to go and I’d be happy to give you your drinks for free to make up for your inconvenience.” 

Instead, she seemed uninterested in helping us, so we decided to leave. No food, no payment, just walked out the door, abandoning our pastries.

So if you make it to Taipei, there’s a really cute patisserie down a small lane. But before you go, be aware that their customer service lags behind their baking skills.

 

Dining in SF: Craftsman and Wolves

Our trip to San Francisco included visits to a number of bakeries and pastry shops. This time, we stopped by a new place, the interestingly named Craftsman and Wolves. Located on Valencia Street, they describe themselves as a “contemporary patisserie”. 

Compared to the homier looks of Tartine and Thorough Bread, Craftsman and Wolves is distinctly modern. The interior feels very large and a little cold. Nonetheless, the staff is welcoming and a large communal table at the front, next to a picture window, makes for a comfortable place to run into people unexpectedly over a cup of coffee and a pastry.

The selection of baked goods (this picture is just a sample) is wide, ranging from your standards (croissant) to something called The Rebel Within, which is akin to a baked Scotch egg. Again, comparing to some of the other bakeries that we visited in San Francisco, the display of goods here looks less bountiful and more austere.

We shared a gougere (baked cheese puff) and a croissant, both of which were well made and delicious. The croissant isn’t cooked to as deep a brown as at Tartine, but some consider that very caramelized exterior to be an acquired taste. 

Curious, I also ordered one of their muffins. I don’t recall what variety it was but remember that I enjoyed it, although wasn’t particularly overwhelmed. It was a good muffin, but not earth-shattering in its goodness.

For something more substantial, we ordred the frittata. Filled with vegetables, this frittata was remarkably underseasoned. We had to ask for some salt and having no salt shakers handy, they filled a small pinch bowl with some salt for us.

Overall, Craftsman and Wolves is another nice place to add on the list of bakeries and pastry shops to visit in SF. I think the minimalist interior, which would work well for a chocolate shop or somewhere selling fancy cakes, isn’t as welcoming as I would enjoy. That said, the food is good and that’s ultimately what matters. 

 

Thorough Bread and Pastry – San Francisco

Our trip to Kansas City for my grandparents’ 70th anniversary lasted just three days. Bright and early Monday morning (after an 80-minute mechanical delay), we were on our way to San Francisco for a few additional days of rest and relaxation before returning to Bangkok. Arriving late in the morning, we headed around the corner from our friend Anita’s house (where we were staying) to a newer bakery we hadn’t yet tried, the cleverly named Thorough Bread and Pastry.

The bakery is housed in the space formerly used by Just Desserts. It has a lovely brick wall and an open ceiling (which you can’t see in this picture). Lots of light comes in from busy Church Street, making it an inviting and warm place to stop for a while.

The selection of baked goods is wide and all of them look tasty. We arrived late in the morning so some items were down to just a handful of remaining pieces.

In addition to pastries, Thorough Bread and Pastry lives up to the “bread” part of its name. The baguettes were beautiful and the olive and sourdough loaves had me want to go on a carbohydrate binge.

For snacks with our coffee, I selected a cinnamon roll. Upon request, the bakers will put you food into the oven for a few minutes to reheat it. Of course, that is a must with a cinnamon roll because you want the topping to be just a gooey and molten as possible.

Tawn opted for an almond croissant, which tasted plenty good even if it wasn’t the most beautiful croissant in the world. That reminds me, I’ve been meaning to try my hand at croissant making again, just as soon as this crazy hot season eases off a bit and I can actually cool my kitchen to a workable temperature.

Feeling the need for something passing as healthful, Anita oped for the quiche, which was also very nice. With lots of fresh vegetables, you could almost forget the loads of fat.

In the past several years, there has been an explosion of artisinal, small-shop bakeries and patisseries. From Tartine to Craftsman & Wolves to Thorough Bread, San Franciscans are spoiled with many fine choices for baked goods. It is something we miss about living in the City and I am glad there is yet another place to visit when we are next in town.

 

Let Them Eat Cake

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Not only is “Let them eat cake” the phrase commonly misattributed to Marie Antoinette, it is also the name of a cute patisserie and dessert bar on Sukhumvit Soi 20 in Bangkok.

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Dessert shops are plentiful in the City of Angels but most western style desserts are rarely worth the calories they contain. Let Them Eat Cake proves to be a delicious exception.

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Located in one of the “community lifestyle malls” – smaller, open air shopping centers that have sprung up across Bangkok like mushrooms after the rain – Let Them Eat Cake is charmingly decorated but a little small. Waits can get long at key times so come early or be prepared to wait.

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I am sorry to say that I don’t remember the names of each of the desserts we tried. I do know that this is a chocolate St. Honoré, an elegant combination of puff pastry, creme filling, and caramel.

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A tart of some sort with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Don’t know if I ever tried this or just took a picture!

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A tarte au citron – lemon tarte. Was tasty but I found the crust a bit tough.

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I don’t remember what this pink, rose-shaped dessert was. A gelatine and with something inside, I think.

All in all, Let Them Eat Cake offered better, more authentic French style pastries than a lot of shops here in Bangkok. I look forward to my next visit and I promise to take more careful notes – and to sample a wider variety of desserts!

 

Croissants in North County: Loïc

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The last night of our June trip to California was spent in Oceanside, a small beach town in northern San Diego County, visiting friends.  The following morning, I decided on a whim to search for a French patisserie, or pastry shop.  Perhaps I was in the mood for something like Tartine, a corner bakery in San Francisco’s Mission District that I make it a point to visit each time I’m there.  We ended up driving a quirky route through the hills until we wound up at Loïc, a bistro and patisserie in Rancho Santa Fe.

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The bistro and patisserie are adjacent buildings nestled in a small shopping complex at the foot of a large housing development.  The design is meant to evoke an Italian village, which it more or less succeeds in doing.

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Would an Italian village have a parking lot like this?  Probably not.  Just a small concession to Southern California’s car culture.

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The interior of the patisserie was a little stark but the smell and sight of freshly baked goods were every bit as welcoming as the lady working behind the counter. 

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As we ordered, the lady explained that the chef is French.  After several years working aboard cruise ships, he decided to settle in the Rancho Santa Fe area and open his own restaurant and patisserie.

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We sat in some comfy chairs, sipped our café au lait, and picked apart our croissants, smearing eat bite with jam and pretending we were back in Paris.  The croissants were very nice: light, flaky, and buttery – everything one wants in a croissant. 

Afterwards, we took a few more pictures then climbed back in the car for our drive back to Orange County, where we met another Xangan for lunch.

 

Food in HK – Sift Patisserie

On our to-do list was a visit to the Hong Kong designer outlets.  Located in Ap Lei Chau, a little island on the south side of Hong Kong Island, most of the outlets are in a tall, nondescript building that for all purposes looks like an office building from the outside.  On each floor, though, are a handful of outlets for various name brands.

While Tawn did his shopping, I discovered the Sift Patisserie on the 22nd floor.  Quite coincidentally, after I started writing entries about this Hong Kong trip, Jack in Taiwan (now Toronto) suggested that I should go to Sift – a place I had already stumbled upon! 

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Location in the Horizon Plaza outlet building in Ap Lei Chau.

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Location in Wan Chai on Queen’s Road East.  There is also a dessert bar in Soho on Graham Street with a more extensive menu and wine, too.

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We were there just about opening time and I walked in to find a very cute but very empty space.  In fact, I waited for several minutes for someone to come out from the kitchen in back.  While waiting, I sat on a sofa and read a magazine, eliciting a surprised gasp when an employee finally came out of the kitchen and found me there.

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Cupcakes are all in trend right now, aren’t they?  It seems like they are, at least.  Generally, I am not a huge fan of cupcakes or cake in general because they are usually kind of dry even if they look pretty on the outside.

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I was pleasantly surprised to try their red velvet cupcake which was very moist and tasty and had a really nice dollop of cream cheese frosting.  While I’m always a little suspicious of red velvet – there is a LOT of red food coloring in there, after all, and I sense that artificial coloring probably isn’t that good for you – this was still a very enjoyable snack to accompany my latte.

To that end, Joanne over at “Week of Menus” created a “Not Red Velvet Cupcake” recipe that I’ve been meaning to try.  Entry here.

Speaking of things artificial, I noticed that Sift’s tag line on their website is “everything sifted, everything refined”.  While I get what meaning of “refined” they probably intended, my whole foods perspective made me cringe a bit at the word.  Refined foods are the ones we’re meant to avoid, right?  Anyhow, I’m sure they meant “fancy and luxurious” instead.

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I can tell that some thought went into their packaging design as the bags and boxes are very cute.  The rest of the sitting space wasn’t so interesting – white sofa and ottoman covered in fabric (bad choice when people will eat cupcakes on them!) and the walls were pretty scuffed up.  I get the impression that this location may be more of a production facility for them than an area focused on the retail side of operations.