When my friend Ryan came to visit me in Paris, back in July, he pointed out to me that every other time I suggested a new site to show him in the city, I described it as, “Just amazing. Like the coolest thing ever.” I wasn’t even aware that I was doing that. But instead of becoming self-conscious about it, my reply was simply, “Uh . . . that’s because every other thing here is the coolest thing ever.” Case closed. He would just have to suffer in silence, as I said it 50 more times that very same day. And it’s not just Parisian landmarks that can earn such a distinction. The same can be said for certain pastries, notably when it comes to defining the most classic pastry experiences.
The religieuse I covered on Friday is the coolest, most French/Parisian pastry experience ever. So is an éclair, a gooey profiterole, a fine millefeuille, an Opera, a macaron, and on-and-on. One of my favorites is the tarte citron. A nice pâte shell, a fine lemon crème . . . and that’s it. Incredibly simple, but incredibly difficult to do exquisitely. When Le Figaro released their now-famous tarte citron rankings back in 2009, they said that, above all, the tart is an exercise in balance: creamy crème vs. crumbly pâte, lemon essence vs. letting the pâte also express itself, citric acidity vs. sugary sweetness. None of the tartes they reviewed received a perfect score. Why? Because Le Figaro’s staff had to be pricks about it. Or perhaps because it really is just that difficult to do flawlessly.
If you didn’t already check out the Le Figaro link above, you might be interested to know that Carl Marletti was the winner. Almost two years later now, he carries 2x as many tartes citron in his case than any of this other pastries. They’re near-legendary. But what about Aoki’s here? Where did it place? Ummm, well, it didn’t. In fact, they put a footnote on the rankings that specifically called out Aoki, to say he’d been disqualified from the competition. Let’s discuss why . . .
As I mentioned, a tarte citron is pâte and lemon crème (or lime crème, if it’s a tarte citron vert). It is not pâte, lemon crème and chocolat praliné. A third non-garnish ingredient is what took it out of Le Figaro’s consideration. Now, I feel very self-conscious about criticizing Monsieur Aoki, since he asked to my Facebook buddy, but I have to be honest with my opinion. It really doesn’t work. Imagine eating a summery lemon square/bar and then squirting Nutella on it. These are flavors that don’t belong together for a reason. It’s like pairing peanut butter and rose water or something. Would a lemon essence within something that was predominately chocolate-hazelnut work? Yes, sure. But the opposite doesn’t fly. Even the lady who writes Paris Breakfast put this dead last on her ranking of tartes citron.
Remove the chocolat praliné and this is an excellent specimen. The crème is a delight – bursting with lemon zing, yet not too tangy or too sugary. The pâte is a buttery treat, too. And the overall aesthetics – simple but polished. It’s totally on-par with Marletti and Hermé. But that chocolat praliné . . . ugh. My notes literally say, “Barf . . . I took one bite and wanted to throw it away.”
So, no, I can’t recommend this at all. Aoki has a dozen other superstar pastries in his case – probably more than any other patissier in the city, but this is one of the big misses. Yet, when I move back to Paris in April, Aoki’s will be the closest patisserie to me, so I’m sure to easily discover even more superstars to trot by you.