So this morning, I decided I needed to have do miao, or baby pea shoots, for a dinner I am making to officially bid adieu to the lunar new year. I decided to run out to the New Age Market down the block (site of the former UA Quartet theater) to pick them up very early because I have a busy day with friends and work. As is always the case there, a lovely man approached me and asks if there is anything in particular that I need, any product requests, or any suggestions for the supermarket. This, you should know, is a retail space that has changed hands many times over the last four years. The present owners are trying to make it into more of a Whole Foods layout-wise while maintaining better than average quality and rock bottom prices to make both its Asian and Caucasian clientele happy.
I decide to compliment this man, Peter, on how he has brought outposts of Mama Lee and Song's Family Food to the supermarket's food court and the upstairs eating area he has built etc. And then I casually mention how gorgeous the pastries are that are being sold at the front of the store and how when I had seen them last week and asked about them, no one had seemed to know much about them. I told him the eclairs look exactly like those served at Manhattan's Francois Payard's, and what he said next is when things got to be very interesting: "That's because they are."
Say what?! One thing leads to another, and I am told everything is made "in house" above the supermarket in a state of the art bakery. Within moments I am following him to the back of the store, up the stairs and to the second floor. Doors are flung open, and I find myself far from the bustle of Northern Boulevard in an impeccable, commercial kitchen where there is a charming Frenchman in chefs whites smiling at me. It seems like but a moment that we chat, but when I look at my watch I see an hour has passed, and this is what I have learned and why you should RUN not walk to taste these confections.
The chef is Rudolf Merlin. "Rudy" as he prefers to be called. He has trained under Payard and has been lured from Las Vegas' Caesar's Palace where he has been the executive pastry chef for quite some time to Flushing, Queens by these supermarket moguls who hope to create a pastry brand to compete with Paris Baguette and Tous Les Jours. Trust me, Peter and his family have Big Plans to expand New Age Market and are already ground breaking on other sites. Rudy is test running his confections here in this particular supermarket. He was supposed to go to Malaysia or Hong Kong, but this offer enticed him and so here he is every day making croissants and eclairs and tarts and cakes tweaked to the palates of Flushing's clientele. And no one seems to know about him...yet.
Everything we tasted was sublime. Really. I love that they are offering mini versions of his eclairs so people don't have to commit to buying the full priced larger ones. Rudi and his charismatic and dynamic personality and gorgeous FRENCH accent made my whole day! As it's just begun. Sadly, you most likely won't even see him if you go in because the pastries are sold in the front of the store and he is all the way upstairs in his hidden kitchen laboratory. Go and try an eclair. The French coffee is outstanding too! You can even commission a cake if I am about to do for my husband's upcoming birthday. A crisp layered Napoleon or dark chocolate mousse as the chef suggested. I overheard an El Salvadoran woman as she was buying her treats, "Que Rico! La calidad es increible!" And I agree unequivocally. Decadent and incredible quality.
I think maybe I don't need even to go to Cannelle anymore. I can be here in under two minutes. This whole little experience was so surreal. Check it out!