Given the positive posts I've read, I might be sticking my neck out, but here goes...
Having met an old friend in Westminster for a reliably good bowl of bun bo hue at Pho Cong Ly (Magnolia & Westminster - look for the sign that says "Saigon Deli Restaurant"), I headed over to the new-ish Boulangerie Pierre to see if I might at last discover the elusive OC patisserie that would deliver the perfect napoleon.
The napoleon, you see, has long been my gauge of any bakery that dares place it among its offerings. Why? Two things: Puff pastry and creme patissiere. Raisons d'etre of a patisserie, non?
If a patisserie can produce a flakey, delicate, gloriously layered but not overworked and not overbaked puff pastry as well as a velvety creme patissiere, my guess is that most all else will be cake for them. (Bad pun intended. ;)) Making consistently good food is no easy feat. But making consistently good pastries? That's practically culinary rocket science. That in mind, I entered Boulangerie Pierre with an especially cautious optimism reserved for bakeries...
The Feel - The most notable element of the decor is that it has a clean, new and open feel, rather than the densely packed, claustrophobia-inducing layouts of many of the Vietnamese bakeries in the area. Did it transport me to Paris? No, but there was a lot of French writing on the menus.
The Service - Service is prompt. You stand in front of the counter, speak or point your order depending on your fluency in Vietnamese, and Voila! - your order on a tray. Not unfriendly and not friendly, unless, apparently, you're a 5' 6" Vietnamese guy (today's lunchdate friend) who orders the large piece of tiramisu. Then the gal behind the counter giggles and says "You get BIG piece because you're BIG guy! Tee hee hee!". Then again, gal behind counter barely clears 5', so that's a relatively true statement.
Napoleon - Pastry was fairly overbaked to a burnt caramel rather than golden brown color and crumbly rather than flakey texture. The creme patissiere had an oddly sour, smoky and medicinal taste - and not in a licorice or anise way, but more in a Chinese herbal decoction for migraines way. I decided to believe this was a fluke, because no one should intend their creme to taste like this. Or maybe this was the special recipe, migraine-curing napoleon...
Palmier - Redeemed the puff pastry, as it was only slightly overbaked, and I could tell the pastry itself was decent and probably just pulled out of the oven 30 seconds too late.
Baba Au Rhum - While babas are not typically the most delicate of cakes, this one was dense and dry - overbeaten and short on butter would be my guess. I also like my babas with a nice, sharp rum bite, and today's baba was a little lacking in the au rhum department. And then as though they didn't know what to do with the excess, or perhaps to mask the dryness of the cake, they threw a dollop of creme patissiere on the baba. Luckily, this batch didn't taste like decoction and was actually pretty good, but does this stuff belong on a baba au rhum?
Flan (with a crust) - This was essentially a custard pie artificially colored so yellow that I had to ask to make sure it wasn't lemon flavored. They should have snaked the crust from the flan and used it for the...
Tarte aux Fraises - Instead of a pate sucree , they opted to cookie-fy what tasted like their baba batter and turn it into a poor excuse for a tarte crust. The creme patissiere, as with the baba, was quite good, but a tarte with bad crust is like sushi with bad shari. If it's half bad, can it still be half good?
Tiramisu - Why, oh why, do I have I this strange compulsion to subject myself to every bastardized version of tiramisu I come across? Perhaps it's that, given a generally delicious concept - some sort of delicate cake or biscuit soaked in coffee liquer and some lovely concoction of a light cheese or cream base finished with a delightful dusting of cocoa - it's hard to make whatever it is you're going to call tiramisu utterly inedible. Sure, it may not taste like tiramisu, but it's usually palatable with a decent cup of coffee. That's what this so-called tiramisu was - palatable with a decent cup of coffee, but it wasn't tiramisu.
The Tab - Living in Cookiecuttersville as I do and having to pay five or six dollars for a single pastry at my neighborhood "French" bakery, Pierre was a relative steal at just around $20 for all of the above plus a couple of cups of coffee. Is it a steal for the Little Saigon neighborhood in which it's located? Not according to my lunch buddy (a local) who told me he and his friends think this place is "overpriced and overrated".
The Verdict - Maybe there's a reason it's called Boulangerie Pierre, rather than Patisserie Pierre. Maybe it's the bread that's supposed to take center stage here and I didn't give the place a fair shake because I was so preoccupied with finding a good napoleon. But semantics aside, the shingle does say "Patisserie" and so I imagine they'd like me to think of it as one. So judging it as a patisserie, on a scale of 'Don't Even Bother' to 'Eat At This Place As Often As You Can or Can't Afford To', I place Pierre at a solid 'Give It A Once Over To Satisfy Your Curiosity'. But would I recommend driving out of your area code to do so? Only if your friend invites you for a nice, spicy bowl of bun bo hue down the street.
Boulangerie Pierre & Patisserie
14352-14354 Brookhurst St.
Garden Grove, CA 92843
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