Monday, January 19, 2009

Waking Up to the Fluffy, Flaky Pastries of Japonaise Bakery & Cafe, Cream Pan

It's unfortunate that Breakfast doesn't get as much love and attention as the other meals of the day, but it's understandable given the busy nature of the weekday. But despite the frantic weekday schedule, having a good neighborhood bakery is one way to enjoy something tasty and quick for those on the run. Or a way to enjoy a relaxing weekend breakfast in my case, as I found myself standing in front of the simple storefront of Japonaise Bakery & Cafe, Cream Pan.

I've heard much about Cream Pan (note: "Pan" is the Japanese word for "Bread") from so many Hounds, but I never could drag myself out of bed for a breakfast visit. :) But on this cheery, sunny Saturday, I was finally convinced to try this place out (and to enjoy a breakfast/brunch with my dearest friends). :)

When we arrived, we found a line nearly out the door, and the little bakery and cafe at about ~90% capacity. Upon entering, we were greeted with a beautiful, simple selection of Cream Pan's freshly-baked breads and pastries for the day.

Cream Pan is run by Pastry Chef-Owner Yoshi Inada, who first gained an interest and love for baking while growing up in Osaka, Japan. He then moved to Boston, where he studied and honed his baking craft for another 12 years before opening up Cream Pan in 2002 here in Southern California.

Another nice aspect about Cream Pan is that Chef Inada only uses Butter, Palm Oil and/or Canola Oil for all of his baked goods, which is nice since many Asian bakeries around So Cal use Partially-Hydrogenated Oils instead.

We quickly picked out some of their fresh baked pastries, ordered some coffee and tea and sat down to try out Chef Inada's creations.

The first pastry we tried was something I was surprised and very happy to see: Freshly baked Melon Pan (Melon Bread)! (^_^) I've been craving good Melon Pan ever since returning from Japan in May and sadly, I haven't found any good substitutes.

Ostensibly, the Melon Pan looked a little crusty, but nice and light in color. But thankfully, we were greeted with a flaky, crispy crust, and as we broke into it, it gave way to a fluffy, airy and semi-moist interior. There was the nostalgic fragrance of classic Melon Pan and a good texture throughout. This was probably the best Melon Pan I've had in So Cal, but a far cry from the fresh-from-the-oven, "Afternoon Sale" Super Melon Pan I had in Nakano, Tokyo. Still this was a very good version and I was happy even if the rest of the pastries turned out bad (which they did not :).

It should be noted that Chef Inada's Melon Pan doesn't hold up very well over time: On another visit (much later in the day), the Melon Pan was more dry and crumbly (probably since it was sitting around for a few hours already from a batch that morning), so it might be better to get the Melon Pan earlier in the day (or whenever they make a new batch).

Next up was their simply named Pear Almond Pastry. Inada-san cores out the center of a square pastry and fills it with a half of a Pear, sliced, and Almond Custard.

The pastry was wonderfully nice and light, flaky with a nice crisp exterior. The sliced, baked Pear was softened, but still held a good, inherent texture with each bite, and the Almond Custard was only lightly sweet, so it never overpowered anything. Overall an excellent pastry. :)

Continuing on, we tried their Pain au Chocolat, which had the same delicious flaky, buttery layers of the Pear Almond Pastry we just tried, but with long chunks of Dark Chocolate inside. Definitely a good pastry for chocolate lovers.

In keeping with their "Japonaise Cafe" side, Chef Inada offers up a variety of classic Japanese snacks and lunch items, such as their Umeboshi Onigiri (Japanese Plum Rice Ball). I can't get enough of Umeboshi so I couldn't resist trying one of Inada-san's. (^_~)

This turned out to be a very good Onigiri (Rice Ball), with a good rice grain, the entire Onigiri still moist with a fragrant, spring-herbal scent of Japanese Plum permeating throughout. This was a great, informal snack version of the classic Onigiri.

Since this turned out so good, we wanted to try another flavor, so we ordered a Karashi Mentaiko Onigiri (Spicy Pollock Roe Rice Ball).

The Mentaiko wasn't as good as the Umeboshi Onigiri: This Rice Ball lacked the filling flavoring enough of the Rice Ball. Still it was decent, with a lightly briny edge from the Mentaiko.

One person in our group felt like having a classic American breakfast, so they ordered a Morning Plate (2 Eggs, 2 pieces of Toast, Seasonal Fruit and Coffee). I didn't try the Eggs, but my guest reported that it was cooked just right.

This turned out to be an excellent first visit and I couldn't wait to come back for more of Chef Inada's pastries. :)

On my second visit, we began with their Kinako Donut (Soybean Flour Donut). It was lightly dusted with the beautifully light Japanese Kinako (Soybean Flour) Powder, giving the Donut a lightly peanut / nutty scent.

The Donut gave way to a very good filling of Azuki Bean that was surprisingly not very sweet (only lightly sweet) which gave this Donut a less cloying characteristic compared to most Donuts. Unfortunately, the dough itself was a bit too dense for my tastes.

Things bounced back nicely with Cream Pan's regular Croissant, which turned out to be excellent: Buttery, crisp and airy, this was one of the better Croissants I've had the past year, but not as nice as Anisette's. Still, if I'm in the area, I'd gladly come by just to pick up a Croissant.

Cream Pan also features some interesting and more exotic choices for morning pastries, such as their Gobo Masago Pan (Burdock Root and Capelin Roe Bread).

I normally enjoy Gobo and Masago on their own, but when baked together into a bread, the result is less than the ingredients themselves: The Gobo (Burdock Root) becomes a bit too dried out, which enhances its fibrous nature, which makes it hard to break off only a portion of it when you take one bite. You end up accidentally pulling the entire Gobo sliver and anything stuck with it with your one bite.

Still, it was an interesting addition, but sadly the beautiful Masago (Capelin Roe) was lost in this pastry, overpowered by the Mayonnaise, but on the brighter side, the Mayo tasted very fresh and clean.

Continuing with the more interesting-sounding pastries, we tried their Mentaiko Pan (Pollock Roe Bread). This was a long piece of white bread roll, covered with Pollock Roe and then baked together. The end result of this cooking process was a strangely briny, ham-like flavor, while still retaining some of the flavor profile of the original Mentaiko. It was OK, but it wasn't something I'd order again.

Besides their nostalgic Melon Pan, they also serve a Kare Pan (Curry Bread), made with a made-from-scratch, special recipe Curry from Chef Inada. I was hoping for a good version of the classic Kare Pan and luckily, it turned out just like my first visit's Melon Pan: Excellent, if a bit oily.

But that's not surprising considering the Kare Pan is deep-fried. :) Biting into it revealed Chef Inada's other surprising creation: The Homemade Beef Curry was a bit spicier than the usual Japanese Curries found locally, and very fragrant from the Garam Masala and other spices. Besides the slightly oily facet, my only other complaint would be that it was slightly cooled, but it's understandable since we arrived later in the day (they open at 7:00 a.m.) and they don't use heat lamps. I can only imagine what Inada-san's Kare Pan tastes like fresh from the kitchen. :)

We couldn't leave without trying this bakery's namesake creation: Cream Pan (Cream Bread). It's by far their top seller and I was eager to try it. Chef Inada's Cream Pan has a very light, toasted beige color and it almost looked like a hard crust, but nothing could be further from the truth, as we dug into it and were surprised at just how *soft* and fluffy it was.

The core of the Cream Pan was a large dollop of Chef Inada's freshly-made Cream, which had more of a consistency of a smooth Custard than the typical Pastry Cream. And the Cream itself was silky smooth and velvety, and when matched with the soft, fluffy bread, I could see why this was the most popular item at this bakery. Excellent. :)

Their #2 best-selling item is their Strawberry Croissant, which we had to try as well. It didn't hurt that I love Strawberries more than any other fruit. (^_~) The Strawberry Croissant comes with slices of fresh Strawberries, along with a house-made Custard in the center of one of their excellent Croissants, topped with Powdered Sugar.

The Croissant turned out to be just as light, flaky and buttery as before, but with the fresh Strawberries and house-made Custard, it elevated this to something simply outstanding! It was also (like every other sweet pastry I tried) *not* very sweet at all, just lightly sweet, which really helped in the enjoyment of all the pastries.

Intrigued by their Kare Pan (Curry Bread) and the fact that Chef Inada makes his Curry from scratch, I ordered their Chikin Katsu Kare (Chicken Cutlet Curry Rice). It was served with a simple Side Salad (unfortunately too much Iceberg Lettuce and not enough dressing).

When the dish arrived, the Chicken Cutlet had a nice golden brown color, and the Curry's aroma filled the air around our table. This could be good.

Taking a bite, it turned out too good to be true: The Chicken Cutlet was made of Chicken Breast, so it was lean and healthy, but it didn't hold up well in their Katsu preparation. The Chicken Katsu turned out to be really dry (but clean and fresh tasting). It wasn't over-breaded which is always nice, but the dryness and lack of enough seasoning (it was relatively one-note) was disappointing. Furthermore, the Curry itself was served lukewarm, which was odd.

But despite all that, taking a spoonful of the house-made Curry revealed a very spicy (both heat-wise and spice-wise) creation from Chef Inada: Complex, interesting, and with some real kick, it matched well with the hot, steamed rice. It wasn't as good as Foo Foo Tei (Hacienda Heights)'s legendary Japanese Curry, but it was a good runner-up. If only they had a better Katsu recipe and preparation, and this would be a great place to get some Japanese Katsu Curry.

On our way out, we took a peek at the other side of the L-shaped bar, where they have a refrigerated display case filled with all sorts of Cakes and more elaborate Desserts.

Finally, as part of their Cafe menu, they feature a variety of Open Face Sandwiches, like Prosciutto with Dill, Capers and Red Onions, some Pastas and a variety of Omelettes. They also have Katsu Sando (Tonkatsu (Pork Cutlet) Sandwich(!)) if you miss the classic Japanese creation. :)

For this bakery operation, you basically order up front, pointing and choosing what you like from the variety of pastries, breads and desserts on display, and pay at the register before sitting down at a table. Chef Inada's fresh-baked pastries range in price from an absurdly fair $0.80 - $3, with most of the Pastries at about $1.50. Their Cafe Menu (Omelettes, Sandwiches, etc.) range from $3.50 - $10. We averaged about $5 - $6 per person (including tax and tip), which of course can vary depending on how many pastries you order. :)

Cream Pan turned out to be a delightful, simple bakery featuring some classic European-style pastries, as well as some unique and classic Japanese-style creations. From their wonderfully soft and fluffy namesake dessert - Cream Pan - to their Strawberry Croissant, to their Melon Pan and other baked goods, Chef Yoshi Inada delivers some excellent, delicious pastries at this humble, hole-in-the-wall bakery and cafe. Recommended.

Rating: 8.0 (out of 10.0)

Cream Pan, Japonaise Bakery & Cafe
602 El Camino Real
Tustin, CA 92780
Tel: (714) 665-8239

Hours: Tues - Sun, 7:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Closed Mondays.


burumun said...

sigh if only it were a bit closer to me! I would really love to try that melon pan!

Thanks again for the thorough review!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi burumun,

Thank you. :) Yah, it's a bit far for me as well, but it was pretty tasty. I'm glad I tried it and it's a good place to keep in mind if you head down to O.C.

rick said...

cream pan was one of my favorite places in oc until i moved away :( i used to love the strawberry croissant but i recently found a new love.. the banana tart! you must try it next time.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi rick,

Thanks for the tip on the Banana Tart! :) I'll definitely get one the next time I visit Cream Pan. :)

teenage glutster said...

pan as in like spanish 'pan'?

...this is why I love food :)

thanks for stopping by, really means a lot

Exile Kiss said...

Hi teenage glutster,

Yes, same meaning as the Spanish word. :) Let me know if you end up trying this bakery. :)

edjusted said...

Oh, I like this place, but I think they're a tad overpriced. I've never gotten there early enough to get the Strawberry Croissant though...sigh. The closest I've gotten was when the guy in front of me bought up the remaining croissants. Grr...

Exile Kiss said...

Hi edjusted,

Yah, for me, I don't mind the prices since just about every Asian Bakery that I've run across uses Partially Hydrogenated Oils, I can't really partake in their cheaper prices. But ~$1.25 or $1.50 for their fresh-baked Melon Pan, etc. is a bargain for me. (^_~) Definitely try their Strawberry Croissant at least once. Oishii desu! (^_^)v

artificial_grape said...

Ahh~! I've been there!! It's located conveniently next to the freeway, so if you get sick of sitting in the commuter traffic you can just pull off the freeway for an afternoon snack~ :)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi artifical_grape,

Yah, it's a great place, and definitely close to the freeway to stop by and relax after fighting traffic. :)

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