Sunday, March 14, 2010

Silky, Light and Airy - The Cream Puff (Choux a la Creme) Showdown! Patisserie Chantilly Vs. Bonjour French Pastry

Ah, the Cream Puff. The little, spherical shells of baked goodness, filled with a beautiful, light pastry cream. :) Beyond the random Choux a la Creme my parents fed me from time-to-time while growing up, my first experience with the now almost-passe Cream Puff was at Beard Papa's on Sawtelle years ago. I remember hearing about this "place that makes really good Cream Puffs" from a few people, and after trying one... I was indifferent. It tasted fine, but it wasn't anything redefining. Then, after Beard Papa's started expanding all over California, I tried them at a few more locations and it just got worse; they had a synthetic, mass-produced taste to them.

Flash-forward a year or two, and I remember reading some enthusiastic posts by bulavinaka and others on Chowhound about some amazing Cream Puffs at Patisserie Chantilly, and I stopped by to try one. Simply wonderful. :) It was nothing like the flat-tasting Cream Puffs I had at Beard Papa's. This was soulful and creamy and tasted like it was made with love. :)

A few years later, Chantilly has been my only stop for French-Japanese Choux a la Creme (and aux Chocolat and Sesame :). But then a great post by buttermarblepopcorn asking about how Patisserie Chantilly compared to Bonjour French Pastry (another French-Japanese Pastry Shop in the area) piqued my interest, and the Cream Puff (Choux) Showdown was on! :)

(Note: Final scores based solely on the Cream Puff; other pastries sampled are not factored in.)

* Patisserie Chantilly *

Opened 5 years ago by Pastry Chef Keiko Nojima, Patisserie Chantilly is the result of Nojima-san's dream to open a French-Japanese Pastry Shop in Los Angeles, similar to the ones she worked at while in Japan. In Tokyo, they're practically on every other block, Nojima-san explains, and she wondered why they weren't more prominent here in So Cal.

The interior of Patisserie Chantilly is modern, sleek and clean. It's an inviting, cheerful ambiance and the glass counter displaying the creations by Pastry Chef Nojima only serves to widen your grin as you pore over the beautiful desserts that are almost like individual works of art.

On any given day, you might find Keiko-san's signature Chantilly Fromage (Chef's signature Cheesecake baked on Buttery Honey Graham Cracker Crust), or Noix (Tea Chiffon rolled to perfection with Caramelized Walnuts & Chantilly Cream).

Or maybe their Gateau Fraise (Layers of Chiffon with our Special Cream, Strawberries & 100% Pure Jam), or various flavors of Macarons and Sable.

(Note: Patisserie Chantilly only uses 3 types of Butter or a pure Vegetable Oil, depending on the application. They thankfully *don't* use Partially-Hydrogenated Oils (like many local bakeries and pastry shops I've run across).)

But at the end of the day, it's all about their famous Cream Puffs. (^_^) Chantilly usually serves 3 basic flavors of Cream Puffs, with a seasonal flavor served once in a while (e.g., Chestnut).

Over the years, I find myself coming back to their Fukamushi Sencha (Fukamushi Green Tea) as my favorite beverage to enjoy with their various pastries. On this visit, the cup of nicely brewed Fukamushi (pronounced "Foo Kah Moo Shee") Green Tea is just as intense and woodsy as I remember it being, with a hint of saltiness.

We start with their Choux a la Creme (Signature Pastry Cream-filling Cream Puff).

I remember the first time I saw Chantilly's version of the Cream Puff years ago, and knew that it was in a different league than the ones I'd had before (that I could accurately remember). They're rough-hewn, rustic baked Puffs absolutely brimming with Nojima-san's signature Creme filling. I take a bite...

Smooth, silky, bright, and so creamy, this is simply leagues ahead of most Cream Puffs I've had at Asian pastry shops. :) It's absolutely wonderful with this delicate beauty about it with every bite. The Puff itself also tastes very fresh and homemade (not manufactured or overly synthetic). Wonderful! :)

We try their Choux au Chocolat (Chocolate Cream Puff) next.

I'm not the biggest Chocolate fan in the world, but their Chocolate Cream filling is also stellar: A light, fragrant Chocolate aroma hits the palate and has the same silky mouthfeel as their original Pastry Cream version.

And while I love their Choux a la Creme, I'd have to say I absolutely adore their Choux aux Sesame (Black Sesame & Honey Cream Puff).

Nojima-san uses a mixture of ground Kurogoma (Black Sesame Seeds) and whole Kurogoma in this Black Sesame Cream filling and the results are simply stunning: Aromatic, intensely nutty, and silky smooth, but then you get little bits of Black Sesame to break up the texture. It's at once a graceful waltz and a passionate tango hitting your senses at the same time. Outstanding! :)

One of my guests feels like trying their Macarons, so we decide to try 3 flavors and their Tarte aux Fruits as well.

I'm a huge Strawberry fan, so I'm looking forward to the Tarte aux Fruits (Fresh, Seasonal Fruits with our Special Cream & Almond Cream Filled Tart).

In concept, it's great: The Tarte aux Fruits is bursting with beautiful-looking Strawberries, Blackberries, Raspberries, Pineapple, Grapefruit and Kiwi. But unfortunately on this visit, nearly all the fruit taste out-of-season: They're not sweet or vibrant and really detract from the pastry overall. The crust of the Tart is excellent, though, with a subtle crumbly, slight crunch.

Next, we try an assortment of their Macarons: Lemon Macaron, Lavender Earl Grey and Mint Chocolate.

I'm not a connoisseur of Macarons, but all 3 flavors have a delicate outer crust giving way to intense bursts of flavors: The Lemon Macaron has a nice explosion of Lemon citrus flavors; the Lavender Earl Grey tastes like a sweet concentration of its namesake flower; while the Mint Chocolate is the only disappointment - it's not very minty or chocolaty at all.

Those looking for a lighter, Chiffon Cake-style sweet should consider the Noix (Tea Chiffon, Caramelized Walnuts and Chantilly Cream).

It's a very moist, delicate Chiffon Cake, wonderfully nuanced with notes of delicate, fragrant Tea and layered with the always airy, signature Chantilly Cream.

There really isn't a full-service option at Chantilly: You mainly order up front and if you're dining in, they will ask you to chose a table and will bring out your drinks and pastries to you. Prices range from $2.95 (for the Cream Puffs) to $4.50. They also offer 5 Cream Puffs for $12.95.

Patisserie Chantilly represents the total package for French-Japanese Pastry Shops in So Cal: Modern looks, gorgeous presentation, and at least 3 Cream Puff (Choux) flavors that are consistently smile-inducing and just flat-out wonderful, especially the Choux aux Sesame.

* 2nd Place *
Rating (Choux a la Creme): 8.5 (out of 10.0)

* 1st Place *
Rating (Choux au Chocolat): 8.4 (out of 10.0)
Rating (Choux aux Sesame): 9.0 (out of 10.0)

Patisserie Chantilly
2383 Lomita Blvd., #104
Lomita, CA 90717
Tel: (310) 257-9454

Hours: Mon, 11:00 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.
Wed - Sun, 11:00 a.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Closed Tuesdays.

* Bonjour French Pastry *

And on the other side of town lies Bonjour French Pastry. It's been around for 21 years, helmed by Chef-Owner Yuji Shiraki. Shiraki-san trained in France and Japan before opening up Bonjour in 1989. Walking into Bonjour feels like a warm, lived-in little cafe; it's not as modern and clean as Patisserie Chantilly, but it still maintains an inviting decor.

Taking away their special occasion Cakes, it seems that Bonjour has fewer offerings than Chantilly. Looking over their glass case, their presentation and naming convention reflect a more straightforward philosophy, with items like Strawberry Mousse, Fruit Tart and "Rare Cheese". :)

Bonjour offers no Japanese Teas for their Tea Menu, but in my 2 visits, I've found myself enjoying their English Breakfast Tea the most with their pastries.

On my 1st visit, we decide to start off with their humorously named Rare Cheese, which is Bonjour's signature Cheesecake.

As I lightly cut through it with a fork, I can tell the texture is something much different than the usual Cheesecakes around town. This Rare Cheese(cake) is extremely delicate and airy. It has a very smooth consistency and is more cloud-like than the denser, American-style Cheesecakes. Wonderful! :)

For comparison's sake, we also order a Fruit Tart to see how it compares with Patisserie Chantilly's version.

This one has fewer pieces of Fruit, but the choices seem better (except the Strawberry and Raspberry - they both taste as unripe as Chantilly's version). But sadly, the Tart crust is really disappointing: Dense, bread-like, and really fighting the notion of a light Fruit Tart.

But, this is all about the Cream Puff, so I anxiously open up Chef Shiraki's version of Choux a la Creme. This marks 2 disadvantages that Bonjour has to Chantilly: (1) While Bonjour makes their Cream Puffs fresh that morning, they are pre-piped and packaged, and put into the refrigerated display case in batches throughout the day (whereas Chantilly pipes it fresh when you order); and (2) Bonjour offers only 1 flavor - Pastry Cream - compared to Chantilly's 3+ flavors.

On the surface, the fact that Bonjour doesn't prepare their Choux a la Creme fresh to order should automatically propel Chantilly to the top spot (at least that was my thinking), but then I take a bite:

(Cue birds chirping. Sun shining down onto an open grassy field. :) Wow.

While the Puff itself is a little soft (due to the Pastry Cream already piped in and sitting for a bit), Shiraki-san's Creme is so *pure* and dreamy, it's like you're dancing through the clouds, and it's downright luscious. (^_^) I love Chantilly's Choux a la Creme, and it's been my favorite for years now, but Bonjour's Creme filling itself is even more ridiculously wonderful. :)

I couldn't believe how good it was, and to make sure it wasn't a fluke, I returned for a 2nd visit (at a different time of the day as well): Bonjour's Choux a la Creme was still as outstanding as before! :)

If there's one downside, it's the pastry shell itself. Chantilly's is superior and not as soft and soaked in the Pastry Cream because it's piped fresh when you order. I can only imagine just how absurdly good Bonjour's Choux would be if it were served piped fresh-to-order, and not ahead of time.

Finally, we decide to try their Custard Puff, which turns out to be a Mini Sponge Cake with the same Pastry Cream filling as their Cream Puff.

While it sounds like there are some similarities with the Cream Puff, the Sponge Cake really changes the whole feel of this creation: It becomes more of textural harmony, instead of textural contrasts, and it mostly works. While the ultra-soft, pillowy Sponge Cake is seductive on some levels, there's something a bit dull about its actual taste. It's not bad, but not as fresh and alive as their Cream Puff. The Pastry Cream filling is, of course, as amazing as before. :)

Service is similar to Chantilly: You order your items at the counter and find a table, where the servers will bring out your drinks and pastries. Prices range from $1.10 - $4, with their Choux being $2.50.

Bonjour French Pastry feels a little more well-worn, but their pastries (except the Fruit Tart) reflect a competency well above average, with their Pastry Cream filling for their Cream Puff being the highlight of the menu. If Shiraki-san ever decided to make more than 1 flavor for their Choux and fill them, fresh-to-order, they would be even more formidable than they currently are.

* 1st Place *
Rating (Choux a la Creme (Cream Puff)): 8.7 (out of 10.0)

Bonjour French Pastry
18222 S. Western Ave.
Gardena, CA 90248
Tel: (310) 323-1468

* Cash Only *

Hours: Tues - Fri, 9:30 a.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Sat, 10:00 a.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Sun, 10:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Closed Mondays.

Final Thoughts: Ultimately, it's a Tie between Patisserie Chantilly and Bonjour French Pastry. :) While the basic Choux a la Creme filling moved me more at Bonjour, their pre-piped, pre-packaged setup undermined the wonderful, silky, balanced filling. Add to it the lack of any other flavor except Creme, and that's where Chantilly gains the upper hand.

For a more modern, updated setting, with more flavors and freshly-filled Cream Puffs, Chantilly is the place to go. And for the ultimate, pure Pastry Cream filling, Bonjour wins out. For me? I'll be adding Bonjour to my rotation when I'm in the mood for a pure Choux a la Creme, and when I happen to be at Asa Ramen (same mini-mall), or Shin Sen Gumi Yakitori (one block away :). And I'll continue to relax at Patisserie Chantilly and enjoy their variety of flavors and freshly made quality, especially the Black Sesame Cream Puff, after a great meal at Gaja. (^_~)


Banana Wonder said...

Your post is such a tease! I'm drooling on my keyboard and counting down the days until my fasting is over. Bonjour is first on my list. Yum!

gourmetpigs said...

Oh wow! Now I need to try this Bonjour cream puff!
I've always really liked Chantilly's cream puffs although I actually preferred the signature rather than the sesame (it was great and interesting but I preferred the classic :) ). Since you rated Bonjour's that much higher I need to taste it for myself.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Anna,

Hehehe. :) Please let me know how your visit goes; I hope you like them. :)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi burumun,

Well taste is subjective, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on Bonjour's Choux a la Creme and how it compares with Chantilly (which I love :). Thanks.

weezermonkey said...

So! Much! Sugar! AAAHHH!

I'm going to do a couple of old Bazaar posts to lead in to SAAM. :)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi weezermonkey,

Heheh. :) If you even kinda like Cream Puffs you should give these a try. :)

Gastronomer said...

Drooooooool! What a great idea for a showdown. I really like Beard Papa's, so I think both these places are going to rock my cream puff-loving world.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Gastronomer,

For sure! :) If you like Cream Puffs, you have to try Chantilly and Bonjour! :) Let me know what you think.

Bessie said...

I've only tried the rare cheese and baked cheesecakes at Bonjour. Always a fan of Chantilly. Thanks for the post on the cream puffs! Definitely gonna try Bonjour's soon!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Bessie,

I'm glad you've enjoyed the Cheesecakes at Bonjour. If you get to try their Cream Puff let me know. :) Thanks!

chris said...

I love Chantilly's sesame cream puff. I definetely have to try Bonjour's cream puffs. Good thing they are not too far from where I live. Thanks for posting!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Chris,

I hope you enjoy Bonjour's Choux. Let me know what you think. :) (I agree about Patisserie Chantilly's Sesame Choux. Love it! :)

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