Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Cafe Blanc


Close friends know how big of a health nut I am. They know I religiously stick to my weight training and cardio regimens, and they also acknowledge my adhering to a strict diet formulated for muscle growth and tone. But, despite my strong discipline I am helpless when faced by my nemises--pies, cakes, and tarts. As a tribute to the old SAT I Verbal, Kryptonite : Superman :: Desserts : Roger. Desserts will mean the end of me. They cloud my judgment, strike a crushing blow to my health, and always appear at the worst possible times. Unlike Superman though, I just can't resist my Kryptonite. I suppose that kills the analogy, but you get the idea.

Taking advantage of the beautiful coastal weather we've been having recently, I headed down to Newport Beach for an afternoon jog along the coastline. It was a relaxing change of pace compared to my interval sprints on the steep hills of my neighborhood. As long as I was down there, I decided I might as well cruise around the area and take notes on promising looking restaurants. That's how I ended up on 17th Street in a desolate strip mall home to Cafe Blanc.

Cafe Blanc is a Japanese owned dessert shop specializing in Western style cakes and desserts. Unlike their Western counterparts, Japanese pastry chefs do not make heavy, overly sweet desserts. The Asian palate is not fond of foods sweet enough to induce tongue cramps. Thus, it makes perfect sense that Cafe Blanc also offers gelato instead of ice cream. I tried to include the cute young lady behind the counter in this picture, but I guess she's shy. Pastry Chef Harase can be seen peeking from the kitchen.

The selection of cakes and tarts at Cafe Blanc was endless. There was something for everyone's taste: fruits, chocolate, coffee, cheese, etc. I am amazed at how much variety the staff was able to cram into the display (on the left of the gelato counter). To the amusement of the staff, I took a full five minutes to decide what to order. I wanted everything. I regret not being able to take a picture of their desserts for readers to see due to the glare on the glass. If you could see what I was up against, I'm sure you too would stand at the counter speechless and gaze with childlike wonder at Cafe Blanc's offerings.

I ordered three items to eat on the spot. Apparently, if you dine in, each dessert will come with a gelato paired by the staff to compliment the respective dessert's flavor. What a treat! Keep in mind, though, if you order more than one dessert, the staff will bring you the entire order at once. Good for feasting your eyes with, bad for the rapidly melting gelatos. Next time I will specify to have each dessert brought out one by one instead of on a giant rectangular plate. Plates are decorated with chocolate, caramel, or any variety of syrup, by the way. Very pleasing to the eye.


The cashier personally recommended this one, claiming it was her favorite. A great choice! The bottom is a very thick moist lemon cake, and sandwiched between the gelatinous raspberry sorbet is some sort of custard/pudding wrapped with whipped cream. The custard/pudding also has a lemony flavor. The staff paired this dessert with a scoop of cappuccino flavored gelato. Though the Florence is aiming to please citrus lovers, the acidity is well controlled and did not cause me to pucker up like a prune. I'd definitely order this baby again. It goes very well with the thick Miroir by giving my palate a quick breather.

The Miroir:

This decadent dessert consists of layers and layers of rich, dark chocolate in various forms. The foundation is a thin teardrop shaped slice of solid chocolate, and above it is a multi-layered treat featuring two types of chocolate mousse cradling the dessert's heart of shaved frozen raspberry juice dipped in chocolate. The delicate outer layer of melted chocolate somehow provides this beauty with enough support for it to stand. A scoop of raspberry gelato is paired with the Miroir, my favorite dessert at Cafe Blanc.

Strawberry Shortcake:

In my opinion, the Japanese make by far the most delicate and exquisite cakes. Cafe Blanc did not disappoint. The cake, however, is not the traditional crispy biscuit. Instead, Cafe Blanc opted for the modern take on strawberry shortcake and simply substituted the biscuit with a soft, moist, spongy cake. I'm usually a stickler when it comes to traditional preparation, but I do make rare exceptions. This would be one of those rare exceptions. A well made Japanese cake is heavenly. Extremely light and airy while still maintaining substance, these cakes are a perfect example of how the Japanese borrow a Western concept and perfect it. I do wish the cake was topped with more strawberries, though. Of course, it would seem appropriate for a strawberry gelato to accompany a strawberry shortcake. I guess the gelato makes up for the lack of berries.

It was impossible to leave without bringing some treats home. I was concerned about the heat affecting my take-out box during the hour long drive home, but the cashier happily informed me that she could prepare a bed of ice in the box for my desserts to sit on. What a gal! I bought three more items: a fig tart, a mandarin orange tart, and a chocolate cake. The chocolate cake is not pictured because I ate it while sitting in traffic.

Fig Tart:

This baby was just amazing. Chef Harase had paired the sweetness of the figs with the saltiness of two small cubes of cheese (type unknown). It was a great tasting contrast. I plucked out the rosemary, though. I think it's only there for decoration. The brown bed the figs sit on is sweet and savory. I'll have to ask Harase what it is next time. I just can't identify the taste.

Mandarin Orange Tart:

Damned good tart. Like the Fig Tart, the crust was nice and crumbly. I'm very happy that the topping was not too sweet and maintained the flavor of a fresh mandarin orange.

I've eaten a lot of desserts in my time, both in restaurants as well as cafes/bakeries, and I have to give it to Cafe Blanc. Its creations definitely rival those of pastry chefs from esteemed restaurants, and are sold at half the price. Despite being an hour long commute from my house, Cafe Blanc is really worth the drive.

Employees at Cafe Blanc were very interested in watching me set up for the photo shoot. I even got a job offer to be their photographer!

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