I’ve written time and again about the very first time I tasted a pain au chocolat in the French pilgrimage town of Lourdes over twenty years ago. But, really: such memories linger and become increasingly difficult to replicate over the course of time. Every single pain au chocolat I’ve eaten since the Spring of 1984 has been compared to that very first buttery, chocolatey bun – and while a few have come close, it hasn’t ever been the same.
But I’m a lucky sort of duck when it comes to food and breakfast last Friday just had to be the luckiest break of all.
Paris Delice is right on the corner of Juno St. and Makati Ave. It’s a small shop and tucked so discreetly away between a garish Jollibee branch and a pharmacy selling generic medicines that it would be so easy to ignore if not for the bold black-and-white signage where the letter A is a stylized rendition of the Eiffel Tower.
The black-and-white aesthetic predominates the shop’s interiors: pristine white walls and black furniture. A splash of burgundy in the form of the chair / booth padding warms up what could easily become a too-cold, rather austere area.
Framed photographs of various iconic French places and things decorate the walls: monochrome prints of the Arc du Triomphe and the Tour d’Eiffel are joined by full-color snapshots of croissants, baguettes, escargots aux fruits, and other masterpieces of the baker’s art.
The shop’s refrigerator case and counter display are also scrumptious to look at. Large photos of tempting sandwiches and meal sets illustrate the menu boards over the counter. The top shelf of the refrigerator case is filled with clear plastic cups of chilled yogurt topped with a variety of pureed fruits, helpings of chocolate mousse just waiting for a billowy dollop of whipped cream, and fresh juices. The lower shelves hold beautifully fresh salads – combinations of fruit, veg, and such add-ons as hard-boiled eggs, bacon, prosciutto, assorted cheeses, and olives. Beside the fridge case is a small table that holds a receptacle for holding soup pots as they serve fresh, cooked-on-site soups at lunch time.
The counter display holds the usual offerings sold by French (or, in most cases, French-style) pastry shops: croissants, pain au chocolat, baguettes, and quiches. But this shop also has the distinction of selling pastries like a croissant aux abricots (buttery croissant dough folded over a tangy-sweet apricot filling), triangle aux amandes (a pastry filled with real marzipan as opposed to the usual sprinkling of flaked almonds seen in local almond croissants), and a torsade au chocolat (a twisted pastry that seems like a chocolate-stuffed cross between a pain au chocolat and an eclair).
I ordered the Breakfast Delice set which consists of one’s choice of bread (croissant, pain au chocolat, or a baguette with butter and jam) and a hot drink. My breakfast consisted of a just-hot-enough pain au chocolat and a cappuccino and I was more than satisfied with the choice.
The coffee was rich, full-bodied, and full-flavored. The foam on top was the fluffy cloud typical of the drink and it didn’t subside even after a good sprinkling of sugar. (Rule of thumb: when adding sugar to a cappuccino, you’re not supposed to stir. Just let the sugar sink through the foam to add an appealing bit of sweetness with each sip.)
The pain au chocolat, on the other hand, made me want to cry for sheer joy. Eating this gorgeously burnished pastry made me feel like I was seven-and-a-half again and my maternal grandparents were with me, alive and well and ready to head for another trip. The crust had the right crunch; the crumb within not too soft nor too buttery. It was rich, but not so rich as to make one stop eating it after a few bites. It had a double-barrel of chocolate – rich, dark, sumptuous chocolate – within; its bittersweet taste had a hint of nutty smokiness that balanced the smooth flavor of the bread.
I also ordered the quiche Lorraine, a classic French dish that is all-too-often done badly by many shops. This one, however, had a perfectly fluffy, eggy interior that bore the classic tastes of minced onion and really good bacon that I have missed for so long. I’ve tried baking this at home, but it always seems to fall flat; it’s definitely a dish best left to the hands of experts. 🙂
According to Chef Leah and Carlos Barrica, Paris Delice’s corporate treasurer, the shop is still in its soft opening phase so a number of offerings aren’t available as yet. But I can’t help but admire them and their French partners for bringing the real taste of real French fast food with its emphasis on speed, freshness, and quality to the Philippines. Bonne chance, mes amies; I have no doubts that you and your little shop are gearing up for success. 🙂
Paris Delice: 1 Juno St. cor. Makati Ave., Makati.