Puff Piece

by Miles Clements
The District Weekly - September 24, 2008

Most of Pâtisserie Chantilly's pastries are a matter of memory, classic concoctions of culinary history so baked into our collective consciousness they've become monuments to the French tradition. Some were born between the walls of stately palaces; others received simpler, less immaculate conceptions hundreds of years ago. But centuries-old recipes aren't all Chantilly is interested in—the place is just as much Japanese as it is French, a thoroughly modern mix that still pays homage to its history.

The sweet shop's cross-cultural marriage begins with its location, pasted in the middle of a Lomita strip mall right across the street from the fused foods of Kotosh, a Japanese-Peruvian restaurant where sashimi shares equal space with lomo saltado. Curve into Chantilly's little lot and the bakery's Asian aesthetic becomes clear—the place is a spotless shot of color, livened up by squeezes of lime green and a wall of raspberry red. The seating is familiar, too, molded out of the same sort of precious plastic recently popularized by the likes of Pinkberry.

There are pre-wrapped packages waiting to the side—almond tuiles, lemon madeleines, bite-size pecan pies dosed with a level of brown sugar replicated in only the most top-tier pies—but it's in the crystal clear display case where most of Pâtisserie Chantilly's treasures rest. Under the lights, each item sits three or four deep, single-serving portions shrunk down for single-serving prices (most can be blown back up to a larger, full size with a special order).

Of the diminutive desserts already stocked for serving, the maccha roll best represents the shop's spirit. The intercontinental dessert is built first from spongy stacks of green tea chiffon, which eventually find their way between layers of chestnut-filled cream. It's a cake clearly constructed for tea lovers, but its details can be appreciated by all—the olive-colored maccha roll is matched with a complementary-colored red wrapper and topped with a duo of azuki beans, a supremely subtle visual that pairs as perfectly as possible with the cake's subdued sweetness.

And there are a number of seasonal treats, which at this late-summer juncture still include an excellent gelée of grapefruit juice, rum and slices of the citrus itself, as well as mousse au mango, a kidney-shaped container of mousse topped with coconut milk and tapioca.

Perhaps the single most important draw at Pâtisserie Chantilly is an appropriated staple of most Japanese pastry shops—the cream puff. The puff has taken off here in recent years thanks to places like Beard Papa, a Japanese import locally edible everywhere from Cerritos to Costa Mesa. But the puffs at Papa are simple commodities, ready-made for the masses in the same way as, say, donuts. Beard Papa's puffs are good, but they don't come close to the pastry perfection at Pâtisserie Chantilly.

Here, the pâte a chou dough succeeds in its seeming imperfection—craggy spheres that actually look as though they've been touched by human hands. And instead of a precise injection of cream, Chantilly's filling nearly spills out of its puffs, like the sweet center of some overstuffed sandwich. The choux aux sésames have long been the standard, and rightly so—they're a particularly adept adaptation of the puff, slipping smoky black sesame seeds into the cream. But the choux au chocolat are more even, the filling piped out in delicate chocolate crests that, once disturbed, rush out of the puff in creamy little waves.

Sweetest of all is Pâtisserie Chantilly's tarte chocolat, which begins and ends with a slick puddle of chocolate ganache as dark as a drum of black crude. It's just as rich, too—the taste of the ganache never fades away into the tarte's chocolate crust.

And that's exactly where most of the memories live at Pâtisserie Chantilly. There's no doubting the richness of Chantilly's confections, but there isn't a single dessert that's shockingly sweet, either. Pair any item with a cup of coffee or tea, and you'll never succumb to the stomachaches that can handicap a sugary snack—you can always go for more at Pâtisserie Chantilly, happily climbing the chestnut heights of a miniature Mont Blanc instead.

© 2009 Pâtisserie Chantilly       2383 Lomita Blvd. #104, Lomita, CA 90717       (310) 257-9454 phone   (310) 257-8182 fax