Dish of the Month (DoTM) -- February -- PASTRIES

Korean had an early lead but, by a single vote, pastries win!

Sugar, butter, flour, and food dye! Begin!

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  1. Crème Caramel LA in northern Sherman Oaks. Bread puddings, crème caramels, all sorts of bars, and always tons of new things to try. A truly great little place for all sorts of pastries.

  2. Caprice Pastries on Pico near where it crosses the 10. Haven’t been in a few years, but the QPR is just awesome. Cash only though. I love being able to pick the little pastries from their huge trays, and walking straight into the kitchen always feels like I’m an insider.

Martino’s tea cakes in Burbank.

They are incredibly moist, still slightly crumby and glazed with this perfect crackly almost but not quite sticky coating. They are, as far as I can tell, butter flavored cupcakes.

They are also laced with Substance D. There are no weekend warriors. Either you’re an addict or you haven’t had them.

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Amalfitano Bakery in Rancho Palos Verdes. Tried them for the first time this weekend. Tried the apple strudel, blueberry and apple pie, angel cookies, raspberry cream cheese bite and a fudge bite.

I haven’t been there in years. I remember the blueberry tea cakes being fantastic.

They still are (I prefer the plain myself, but that’s just me)

Also in the area: Portos has some excellent stuff. The lines at peak times seriously suck, but sometimes stuff is popular because it’s just good.

Portos is one of those places.

To keep this on topic, their cookies and cupcakes are quite good. Not anything earth-shattering, but still yummy and nicely priced (true for most of their goods).

I’m told their tres leches is supposed to be one of the better you can find in the area, but I couldn’t say personally.

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The tres leches is quite good, if you like tres leches. If you like berries, the milk and berries cake is tres leches + berries…I love it.
Also in the area is Yummy Cupcakes. They do a red velvet cupcake with cocoa cream cheese frosting that’s to die for.

Great timing! 'Cuz Donut Man’s strawberry donuts are baaaaaack…

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This is very true!

Well, I voted for Korean, so it was the perfect opportunity to try a Korean pastry. I always wanted to go to Koo’s (outside of California Market), but I somehow never made it there before they closed down. I was in Little Tokyo this morning and decided to try the hoddeok/hotteok (sweet pancake) from Deli Taiyaki, a little, cash-only cart adjacent to Little Tokyo Marketplace. They have a really arcane payment method with plastic bins organized by bill denominations. I was instructed to drop my $10 bill in the appropriate bin and fish out one $5 bill and three $1 bills. I suppose this is to prevent contamination - very strange.

A lady handed me a piping hot hoddeok and advised me to grab plenty of napkins. Overall, it was greasy and quite chewy with a molten filling of sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, honey, brown sugar, and cinnamon. I enjoyed it, but it was quite heavy. This was my first hoddeok. Are there any other places you would recommend for this dish? Thanks!


The hoddeok is in the upper left-hand corner.

I want to add that this trip to Little Tokyo left me feeling a bit melancholy. So many of the stalwart businesses are shuttering due to the rampant gentrification of the area. Rafu Bussan, a shop that’s been around since I was a kid, was vacant. Hopefully, they’ll find a new home soon. But come on, how many high end sneaker stores and T-shirt shops do we need? Can’t you just go to Supreme on Fairfax for your kicks? It’s just a shame that the Asian community at large is being displaced by trendy businesses.

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@MaladyNelson thanks for the report. I, too, feel sad at how Little Tokyo has changed over the years. Yah I definitely noticed the bling bling sneaker shop and other stores that don’t really feel like “Little Tokyo.” But I’m guessing there’s a demand for it nowadays.

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Yes, it feels soulless nowadays. My great-grandparents and grandparents lived in Little Tokyo pre-WWII, and my great-uncle, Hiro, owned Magic Radio, a record/video shop in Japanese Village Plaza, so I’m taking this gentrification business personally. I guess the market is dictating these changes, but these new owners are evicting long-standing businesses left and right.

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Lodge cinnamon roll. See two sentence “review” under Feb weekend run down:

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The cinnamon roll has slightly evolved. I had some this AM and noticed the bread part to be more supple and maybe cinnamon added to the actual bread dough? The icing still is tart but I like it.

They now have more cookies. The oatmeal w/ cinnamon is still excellent, but they now offer chocolate chocolate and something else. My son ripped into that other one before it made it home to me so I have no idea what it was.

Caution - you need a fork to eat them…probably a knife as well. If you make the mistake of eating them by hand you will need napkins…and wipes - or you will not be able to unstick your hand from the steering wheel. I speak from experience.

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Somehow, I fell out of love with donuts in adulthood, although my husband’s a devotee of Primo’s. Donuts always seemed too leaden and greasy for me. I was pleasantly surprised by Cofax’s donuts at the Pygmy Hippo Shoppe’s Valentine’s Day party. They were light and had a tart raspberry filling that elevated it from the cloying, bready masses that I dislike. Cofax may have converted me.

The matcha and dark chocolate/blackcurrant religieuses from The Sweet Nuns were absolutely the stuff of dreams - light as air with subtle flavorings. These were definitely my favorite desserts of the year thus far!

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Cofax is really good at what they do: donuts, hand pies, breakfast burritos and coffee. Nicole (Mournian) Rucker made great pies and pastries at Gjelina et al. Now she is partnered with the Golden State folks at Cofax (COffee @ FairFAX). Her pies are at Bludso’s Bar & Que.

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Yes, Nicole has quite the pedigree. She won the Good Food pie contest a while back, and I understand that that kickstarted her transition from working front of house in restaurants to baking. The banana cake at Gjelina was and is absolutely sublime! I need to check out Cofax soonish. I’ve been meaning to for quite some time, but I became a pescatarian last year and figured there weren’t too many offering for me there. Fingers crossed, there’s a veggie hand pie.

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Nicole is the pie contest champ. She killed at a national pie contest (I think) in Florida a handful of years back. As a first time cimpetitor, she won the two categories she entered at the envy of many long time competitors. She is obviously talented, but she said that she believes her edge was the quality of ingredients. If I recall, she drove cross country with ice chests carrying the ingredients she felt she needed but probably wouldn’t find in the local stores surrounding the competition area. Sounds like the bulk of the competitors were shopping locally, getting mass commodity-level ingredients. She believes that this gave her a serious advantage in the taste and texture of her pies.

I remember macaroons and a coconut cream pie she and her team made at Gjelina and GTA. Never had better renditions before or since. The edge? Fresh coconut shavings in the form of tiny thin chips. Every other rendition I’ve tried has used the bagged shredded or shaved stuff which is fine, but no matter what else one does to a macaroon or any other coconut dessert, it will only achieve the level of bagged institutional sugared copra that was shredded thousands of miles away and shipped slow boat to a warehouse.

Anyone who has enjoyed fresh coconut-anything has the times and places of those experiences imprinted in their memories of hot sultry places that are far from here. The tastes and aromas of her desserts took me back to those places. Almost no one has the skill, or is willing to dedicate the time or effort into this laborious process, except someone like Nicole.

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Porto’s

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