I was in a pickle Sunday morning. There was nothing left at Pierre Hermé for me to try. Sadaharu Aoki’s shop was being ripped apart for renovations. Ladurée had some new pieces, but they were looking a little “rough” to photograph. And, generally, I’d worked my way through the prettiest and tastiest of the grandes patisseries. There were dozens of places I could have gone, but I’d learned some hard lessons in the last few months about visiting word-of-mouth pastry shops. They tend to be local hotspots that aren’t much more than your usual patisseries, but with nicer salespeople and/or in some far-flung section of the city. So I looked up the address for Des Gateaux et Du Pain, which had been recommended to me repeatedly, grabbed my keys, and headed out the door. I was hesitant, if only for one reason. Des Gateaux et du Pain translates as “Some Cakes and Some Bread.” And a dual specialty usually translates as, “We Don’t Do Either of These Very Well.” They were also located in a less than idyllic neighborhood, though by no means scary, far south of, well, anything. Walking up on it, I almost missed the place, as even though it’s large, the signage isn’t in-your-face. Luckily some tourists snapping photos gave it away, and I doubled-back a few steps to the front door. Once inside, I met the Choux Cerise and a few of her friends.
All the pastries are out, practically buffet-style, minus the sneeze-guard. Unlike other shops, I could have just reached in and helped myself. But I waited patiently for someone to assist. Now, I’d read that the salespeople here were not exactly the sweetest. Sadly, I can confirm the report. As soon as the salesgirl and I exchanged a bonjour, I said how I’d like 4-5 pastries (so that she could select the correctly-sized box) and then rattled off their names . . . right before asking, “May I choose the individual pieces?” The words were still fallling from my lips as she practically reached through me to grab the cracked mustard-colored religieuse I’d not quite requested. Whoa! What’s the rush? The staff outnumbered the patrons 2:1 that early in the morn’. I politely stopped her and without saying, “Half of these look like crap,” I explained that I would be taking photos. She shot me a, “No, you can’t do that.” Mind you, I was in shorts and a t-shirt, without even a watch on or a pair of sunglasses in tow, so I had to restrain myself from saying, “Yes, dumbass, using the invisible camera you clearly have detected in my possession, I was going to magically take a bunch of photos right now, using the x-ray setting to see through the box you’re putting it all in.” Clarifying that the photos would be after leaving the shop, she gave me a b.s. answer about needing to grab indiscriminately because of the time the different pastries are added to the refrigerated case (what?), before realizing that they were all just as accessible in the ******* trough in front of us! With a huff, and taking a whole 1.5 extra seconds to fulfill my whims, we got it all boxed up. I know . . . I’m spoiled by the girls at Ladurée who smile at me in the morning and ask if I need a “joile” (an extra-pretty one), before waving me behind the counter with them to choose, when no one else is looking. But, anyway, the Choux Cerise…
Since the saucy salesgirl has soiled my image of the shop, I have to say this was the worst pastry in history. Just kidding. Arnaud Larher’s Le Récif is the worst ever. This was actually pretty good. They bill it as almond cream-filled choux with cherries in a cherry conpote, though I’m not sure if that’s 100% accurate. Sometimes shops change the ingredients without changing their brochures or placards, and I’m pretty certain there wasn’t just almond in the crème. I detected plenty of floral notes, as well, in this smooth and ever-so-very sugary crème. The cherries in the middle were fairly subdued, though they were still powerful enough to unfortunately overwhelm the almond and floral tones in the crème – not quite complementing them so much as nudging them aside. The choux was pretty well done – ever so slightly overcooked – but with a nice flavor. And the red stuff on top? Flavorless. Regular readers know exactly what I think of that, so I’ll spare you the tirade and just say that I was expecting a blast or cherry or a sugary blast thereof; I got neither.
Would I recommend it? No, not wholeheartedly. It’s enjoyable, but there are so many other exceptional choux-filled pastries in the city. Of the others I bought that day, there was another that I thought was clearly worth the trip, but as is so often the case, you’ll have to wait for that review another day.
Oh, and do you ever wish you could have pastry like this hand-delivered to you every morning? Well, you can. Just add Paris Patisseries as a friend on Facebook. You deserve a daily dose of Paris’ finest.