Category: Sadaharu Aoki
There are a number of techniques a chef can use to make his pastries extra appealing to the average pastry shop customer. It’s almost to the point that you could make a little chart of popular ingredients in one column, popular compositions in another, and garnishes in the third. Take violets + “suggestive” shapes + sugar work and you get Carl Marletti’s Lily Valley. Take fruit + a dome + gold and you get Café Pouckine’s Tutti Frutti. Or take hazelnuts/chocolate + aggressive layering + a macaron and you have Sadaharu Aoki’s Chocolat Pralin. It’s a snap!
Now, the thing with Monsieur Aoki is that he knows he’s onto a good thing. So when it came time to create a new pastry this last spring he just took the Chocolat Pralin, swapped the hazelnuts for raspberries, and the Sensuelle here was born. What it lacks in creativity it certainly makes up for in saleability. If that sounds like I’m taking a swipe at Monsieur Aoki’s work, well, that’s because I am am. But creative commentary aside, how does it taste?
Pleasant enough . . . I guess. Working down through the layers, the milk chocolate / orange cognac crème layer is unsurprisingly milk chocolately with a fairly generously squirt of the cognac. Perhaps the crème is a bit texturally grainy, but the somewhat timid chocolate biscuit beneath it helps disguise that sensation. Then there’s the raspberry gelée layer that I found a wee too gelatinous, a bit too much in short supply, yet decidedly raspberry enough to make the fruit a significant force in the overall taste experience. And what about the feuilletine praliné and hazelnut dacquoise that rested beneath it all? Ehhh, you know I think hazelnuts are overused. Fortunately they weren’t too potent here, but they nonetheless could have been omitted. Oh, and the macaron was nice – not a taste sensation but also then not distracting from the main body of the piece. As a whole package, I guess I could say the Sensuelle was edible though underwhelming.
I was also a bit dismayed by the execution of the layers. The chocolate biscuit was oddly wavy for an Aoki piece. I think there’s a young lad or lass back in the kitchen who might need to get slapped around a few times, lest this happen again. Don’t get me wrong; I know it’s not an easy task. It’s just that when I’m buying fine Parisian pastry, I want it to look as close to perfect as is humanly possible. I’m also just a picky *******.
So, no, I can’t say I’d recommend Monsieur Aoki’s Sensuelle. His sesame éclair, tarte caramel, and other assorted goodies are must-haves, but this raspberry-chocolate effort just left me unimpressed. And especially when I compare it to more remarkable raspberry-chocolate hybrids, such as a certain Jean-Paul Hévin classic, I can’t help but be candid in my assessment. Oh, Monsieur Aoki!
SUPER SPECIAL: Wednesday is going to be huge! I’m finally unveiling the first pastry created at my direction and to my exacting specifications. In fact, it’s so personalized that it is literally my namesake. Get ready to behold Le Péché d’Adam from Un Dimanche à Paris. Caramel, chocolate and peanuts are joining forces to take the Parisian pastry scene by storm!
Last week, I wrote about my love of the pistachio. Together with maple, tonka and licorice, it’s among my absolute favorite flavors. True, those four parfums have absolutely nothing to do with one another, but maybe that’s why I love them so much; they’re each so distinct (even though the latter three have very close substitutes in rosita de cacao, cinnamon/vanilla, and anise, respectively). I actually find it odder that I would so thoroughly enjoy a constellation of flavors – the florals. Rose, orange blossom, poppy, muguet, and beyond – but it’s hard to get enough of them.
Stumbling into Sadaharu Aoki’s rue de Vaugirard shop early last spring, I was excited to see a macaron of his I’d not yet had the pleasure of inhaling – the oh-so-floral Macaron Violette. It seemed obvious that I’d love it, given my affinity for so many related tones. But I’d also snagged a number of other macs on that visit, and as I sat in the Luxembourg Gardens munching away at them, I was admittedly less than dazzled. Perhaps I just caught Monsieur Aoki’s work on a bad day. I don’t know. But by the time I’d reached the violet mac, my expectations had been thoroughly leveled. I was ready to be underwhelmed. So I hesitantly bit in, and . . .
I tasted what was perhaps the finest expression of the violet in all of Paris. Had I not already been sitting right there in the Luxembourg Gardens, surrounded by copious amounts of springtime flora, I’m sure a vision quest would have commenced. One nibble, and I was that transfixed. It didn’t hurt that there was nothing even remotely subtle about the flavor. Love it or hate it, it’s going to taste like a sea of violets have just been distilled, turned into a curiously transluscent crème and sandwiched for your three-bite pleasure betwixt two lobes of Italian meringue. But I never really expect subtlety in Parisian macarons, so it lived up to my tastebud-assaulting expectations . . . and then some.
Taking the experience of the mac to another level of brilliance was the just-mentioned meringue. Texturally, it was perfect . . . literally. I’ve never had a macaron shell be that spot-on. Denser than a Ladurée shell, lighter than one from Hermé or Pouchkine, and astoundingly well-formed, there was nothing not to love about it.
There’s a good reason this little guy made it on my Top 38 Best Pastries in Paris list. It’s a masterwork. In fact, it’s so tasty and so lovely that I feared showing it to you. All these visions of people licking their computer monitors at work kept flashing through my mind. Please accept my apologies, if the above has just lead to any embarrassing situations 😉
So, yes, definitely grab at least a dozen violet macarons from Monsieur Aoki. In my not-so-humble opinion, they’re his finest macs, and worth every centime. While you’re there, also make sure to grab his caramel tarte, black sesame éclair, Sudachi, and cheesecake citron. Then have a seat in the Gardens, which are just a block or two away, and binge. Then walk back to his shop and buy even more! Let that vicious cycle continue until you’re no longer ambulatory.
So the very first pastry I ever had in Paris, years ago, was Gerard Mulot’s Cascia. But do you know what the second was? That’s right . . . the one you’re looking at right now – Sadaharu Aoki’s Saya. I’d purchased it along with his Citron Praliné and Bamboo. Bright pink, bright yellow, and intense green, my tourist sensibilities had me drawn to his three most garishly colored works. My need for photogenic pastries would compel me to do exactly the same these days, even if an encyclopedic knowledge of his lineup would have me recommend others to a first-time buyer.
Now, as I say in every post about Sadaharu Aoki, the most important thing to remember about purchasing anything there is that about half of the pastries totally suck ****, about half are so amazing they’ll change your life, and a few fall into some mid-ground . Those ratios seems to be evolving considerably this year, much to my chagrin, where it’s coming much closer to a 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 split. So where does the Saya come in? . . .
It’s right in the middle of the pack. I suppose that’s better than it being terrible, but I miss the roulette-like quality of visits to Aoki’s shop and the opportunities they afforded me to beam about pastries or slam them. Oh, well. Anyway, there are at least enough reasonably bad elements to the Saya that I’m still willing to bash it. The day-glow chemical-pink-coasted strawberry mousse, which composes the bulk of this is way too damn sweet. I remember having it years ago and thinking the same thing. A friend or mine here got it by herself a few weeks ago and completely agreed – so much so that she couldn’t even finish it. The texture’s great, the strawberry tones are a delight, but the sugar is set to “overkill”. Then there’s the base, which is fairly stale and virtually flavorless – solid D+ work. Even the strawberry atop it all – just not ripe. What’s that about? But then the crème brulée pistache nestled at the heart of it all is just SO good that it completely saves the day and renders the piece edible.
You could say the Saya is not too unlike Pamela Anderson. They both sport about a pound of makeup and are artificially enhanced. One has a tragically stale base – the other a tragically stale career. And the bulk of each generally makes us want to vomit. But yet we know Pamela has a pure heart of pistachio crème, championing the rights of our four-legged friends through her work with PETA. And that completely redeems the rest of her . . . almost. That strange metaphor goes out to Marion, whom I hope is getting a good laugh right now. No death threats this week, ok? 😉
I do feel a little bad making fun of the Saya though, cause Monsieur Aoki did name the piece after his daughter. So, sir, if you happen to come across this review, please know that I don’t mean to make fun of your daughter in any way. I’m sure she’s even sweeter than the pastry that bears her name, and that’s a good thing.
I keep hoping Monsieur Aoki comes out with a few more goodies this year. I’ve now shown you 3 of the 6 I’ve so far photographed, and there’s little else new in the shop . . . or at least little else in the line of pastries. I have to recuse myself from a review of several of the macarons, as they contain such exotic Japanese flavors that my tongue has zero context for what I’m sure is their splendor. You’ll just have to swing by one of his shops on your own and start getting adventurous.
So, no, I can’t recommend the Saya. Indulge in his Sudachi, Choux, Paris-Brest Fraise, Éclair Sesame Noir, or any of the other gems I’ve raved about, but unless your passion for pistachio is intense, the core of this little lady is not enough to justify the 5.30€.
I’ve been thinking I should start another blog that’s called “Oh, Sadaharu!”, where just the follies and masterpieces of Sadaharu Aoki are chronicled. As I’ve explained before, almost everything in the shop is either brilliant or a train wreck. So one week the “Oh, Sadaharu!” would be said in exclamatory praise, while the next week that same “Oh, Sadaharu!” would be said out of shame and disgust. Monsieur Aoki’s work is always an adventure . . . of one sort or another.
Last we checked in on the master’s work, I told you about his very unique and very tasty Sudachi. Though I’ve yet to make a return visit to the shop, as I’ve been traveling quite a bit outside of Paris recently, I fantasize about making a repeat purchase of it – asap. One thing I might not be as enthused about purchasing again are his caramel macarons, which will be the subject of today’s tongue-lashing…
I cannot believe I was sold these complete pieces of ****. The shells were like rocks. Appalling doesn’t begin to describe the quality. You’ll notice I couldn’t even get a clean slice in the final cross-section shot – after tries on 4 different macarons. Considering I’ve honed my technique to the point I almost always get a clean cut in 1 try, having 4 little orange bricks crumble beneath my micro-serrated ceramic knife of awesomeness is just insane. Then there was the flavor of the shells . . . which is not even worth commentary, because anything of that texture is not edible. Here it comes . . . “Oh, Sadaharu!” The caramel is the middle was at least vaguely redeeming. After like 2 hours of letting the macs reach room tempature, I was able to enjoy its sweetness and modest complexity. But I still found it a bit firm and lacking in appropriately nuanced character. These were no Ladurée or Pain de Sucre macarons caramel. No, sir. These were simply travesties.
The same day I purchased these abominations of pastry, I walked out with another 8 or so macs in my box. Among them was the macaron violette, which was simply a work of God. Not only is it pretty much guaranteed a spot in my forthcoming Top Macarons list, but it’s a contender for the 2011 version of the Best Pastries in Paris. As long as its tones and textures hold up on my second tasting, it’ll be in good shape.
So, no, skip the macaron caramel. It might well be that it was just a “bad day”, but at more than $2US each, I have no compassion. Perhaps the best thing to do is ask to sample one, and if it turns out as dry and disgusting as what I had, let its crumbs fall from your mouth onto the store’s countertop. Then flick a 2 euro coin onto the floor, as you walk out. Or, if you feel that is perhaps a bit too dramatic, smile through the pain and kindly ask for something else from the pastry case.
My love/hate affair with Sadaharu Aoki’s work continues unabated, this year. And I would have it no other way. I enjoy being appalled by ever other pastry and macaron, then being thrilled by the next. While most other shops tread in some range of quality, Monsieur Aoki is a master of inconsistency. He’s on-par with the ******* corner bakery in the 20th arrondissement, yet has so much work that makes Pierre Hermé’s case come off as amateur hour.
On my initial visit to Aoki’s shop, this time around, I was quick to grab a black sesame éclair (a classic!), but I also spotted a new entrant into la gamme – the Sudachi. I thought perhaps it was just a name applied to the pastry, just as is the case with his Saya (named after his daughter), but it turns out that Sudachi is actually an obscure Japanese citrus fruit. My suspicion was that it must be obscure for a reason – namely that it’s not a particularly pleasant flavor – so I steeled myself for patisserie letdown and took a bite . . .
‘Twas excellent – far from being a letdown. This curious new flavor runs throughout virtually every layer of pastry. It’s a mélange of lemon, mandarin orange and pine, quite acidic and 100% delightful. All the layers of gateau and crème were textbook excellence, as well. But what dazzled me was how the master played with the aforementioned acidity. There’s that bright yellow band in the middle of the pastry that’s beautifully perfumed, quite sweet and with just a touch of tang. Then you taste the white sudachi crème, and it has this highly potent zip that hits your tongue, before making the inside of your cheeks do “that tingly thing”; it literally almost sizzles on your palate. Last but not least are the red currants atop it all – the sharpest bite of bunch, yet well balanced vs. the gateau and sweetness. The whole experience is this wild rise-and-fall through 3 levels of tartness. Fantastic.
I think my next Aoki review is going to have to be one of his disappointments – perhaps his caramel macarons, which traumatized me. But rest assured that a review for his violette macs will be right around the corner, and those little ladies are all but assured a spot on my “Top Macarons” list. Oh, Sadaharu!
So, yes, get yourself a Sudachi. It’s the only pastry I can think of that plays so adeptly with such a simple sensation, as to make it seem truly complex. Plus, you need to experience the flavor of sudachi. Much like the first time I tasted the tonka bean, it’s similar to other flavors you know . . . but yet a wholly unique experience.