I'm Jess, a grad student and food photographer obsessed with chocolate. I love things made of sugar, lasers strapped to helicopters, and silly hats.
Come visit on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, for stories about food, bakeries in Seattle, and my most definitely being up to no good.
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Category Archives: Review
Fuji Bakery knows its audience.
Yes, the website looks very proper, and their menu is a range of French-Japanese, from things like dainty tarts and croissants, to small fluffy loaves of fruit-stuffed panettone. But the International District location definitely caters to anime and video game nerds. It’s the only bakery I’ve seen that has a Moogle cake on display even when it’s not the weekend of the Penny Arcade Expo.
And for $3, you too can get one of these treats, which are rectangles of puff pastry covered with strawberry cream, shredded coconut, and topped with fresh raspberries.
I didn’t try the Moogle, but I did have one of their new options for late summer, which was instead topped with blackberry cream, blackberries, and a drizzle of dark chocolate. It’s delicate, but tastes pretty much like blackberries, sweet and savory.
Today, though, what caught my eye was the Jade.
I was torn between it and a raspberry custard croissant, but both the staff members preferred this, the pain au chocolat twice baked and topped with green tea cream ($3.50). Ignoring the topping, it’s a decently made croissant dough, very flaky with the dominant, comforting butter taking over. Take the green tea by itself, and it’s intensely matcha, sweet with a bitter edge.
Eat them together, and it’s unlike almost every pastry in Seattle. The green tea is still there, tannic and heady, but it gets toned down – slightly – by all that croissant dough. But it truly shines once you reach the slightly soft chocolate center, with the chocolate winning out at first then fighting the tea towards some form of pastry truce. It’s rather hard to explain, but it’s sweet, bitter, and comforting all at once. It’s closer to a Korean style of sweet in that way than a french pastry, and it works.
It’s not one I can eat quickly, and I wish it had more chocolate, as eating all the components together was what I loved most. I’d also be curious about how well the green tea would hold up as a baked filling alongside the chocolate.
Really, I just want Fuji Bakery to keep on experimenting.
So I finally went and upgraded my camera. I’ve previously been shooting on the Canon EOS Rebel t2i, and recently I picked up the Canon 5D Mark III.
I feel like I should call it The Beast. Yes, I’ve been spoiled by how lightweight the t2i is, but this camera lurks. It’s significantly heavier, wider, and has a grip change that feels like a 6’2″ dude would still be okay shooting with it.
And in addition to being huge, the Mark III has a completely different layout. There are buttons on different sides, and joysticks, and more scroll wheel things than I planned for. Yes, I knew they were coming. It’s one thing to read about it and quite another to sit there thinking that most dangerous thought of “And what does this button do?”
(The sign of a busy photographer: smudges everywhere. The sign of a lazy photographer: smudges everywhere.)
I suspect I’ll actually have to read the manual on this camera, because there are too many buttons that don’t light up other sections or actually identify what I’ve just done. This is a weird feeling. I may not be as much of a tech nerd as Chris, but I definitely picked up the habit of ignoring the manual as a sign of pride and skill.
Then there’s been the almost instant bit of relief, because the Mark III is a full frame camera. This is a huge deal for someone who’s been on a cropped frame camera. For once, what I see is actually what I get – light issues and all.
Let me explain: on my old camera, what I saw in the viewfinder was always cropped on the edges when I got to the final image. This isn’t necessarily a big deal if you’re just snapping shots for trips, but when you’re shooting 100-600+ images a day, it starts to grate on you. And by ‘grate’ I mean it causes me to beg my camera to behave.
At this point I’ve acquired a fairly good instinct as to where the cropping happens, but it can still throw me off every so often. Not having to put mental effort into cropping means I can focus on other things, like not spilling the root beer I was pouring for a shoot.
It was delicious.
It not’s like I’m cheating, but it totally feels like I’m abandoning my camera. Which I know is ridiculous, but that camera has seen a lot, from ice cream to salmon crudo, portraits to landscapes, and now it’s not always going to be with me. Maybe I should get it a cushy pillow to rest its laurels on so I can get back to figuring out the Mark III’s auto-focus joystick.
I want to help everyone to get over their issues with beans in desserts.
I’m not saying you all have to suddenly love it, and I’m not asking you to become Andrew Zimmern. (I know I’m not mentally over that which is durian.) More that I don’t understand the downright fear/disgust combo that seems to stem from too many people at the idea of eating beans.
The problem is probably that if you’re Caucasian and in the states, when you think of beans you immediately think of the black or red beans you get at a Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurant. There I agree – that totally sounds awful in a waffle, and I love refried beans. But the red and white bean fillings for Japanese and other Asian sweets taste nothing like that. Anko or Tsubuan, the red bean paste, only has a visual similarity to refried beans. It’s mellow, usually a touch sweet, and it’s a cleaner bean taste, for lack of a better term. It just works.
Now I get being afraid, and that’s cool. But like how I try to eat tomatoes every year, expanding one’s food palate is awesome. And often delicious. So if Tokara and Umai-Do didn’t convince you, though, you all need to get to BeanFish at the next Sunday you have free.
I’m going to post a longer review over at Crave Local, but here I want to talk all about their traditional fish, Jiro. (Liana and Brady have given all of their taiyaki names.)
The taiyaki batter fluffs up into something close to a slightly more moist waffle with the most lovely of crispy outsides. The red bean paste isn’t very sweet, but it’s a great match against the fluffy, just-a-touch-sweet exterior.
It may still not be your thing, and I’m not going to ask you to acquire a taste for it. But at least try one anko taiyaki first – from the tail end, of course, for maximum crispy-exterior-to-filling ratio. It’s a good gateway dessert to other asian desserts, from black sesame ice cream to pandan cake, all lovely and delicate in their own right. If you still want your desserts ridiculously sweet, you can go eat the apple pie taiyaki, which is lovely, and leave the red bean deliciousness to me.
For whatever reason, like Tokara, I’ve been avoiding hitting up Umai-Do for ages. Which, unlike Tokara, is not only open almost every day, is really easy to get to from downtown via bus and isn’t always hard to park by. (Woodland Park Zoo and Red Mill, while awesome, kind of seal that problem forever for Tokara.)
Umai-Do is a nondescript shop from the outside, and plain on the inside, with room for some tiny tables and a display case for mochi that takes up most of the front area. You can see the work area behind the curtains, but it’s blocked by Art’s adorable dog Sadie, who was smartly chilling out on the cool floor when we walked in. The pup was not a strong enough distraction, though; we were there for mochi.
Also, before we get to the menu, a word of advice: he only takes cash or checks. Plan accordingly.
Back to your regularly scheduled blog post. It’s a small regular menu of nine items right now, both baked and steamed, like the kinako, mochi stuffed with more anko and dusted with roasted soybean flour. For those who want baked sweets, there’s kuri and imogashi, which are sweet, tiny bites. (I had a slight preference for the kuri over the imogashi; it tastes like a soft vanilla cookie filled with bean paste.) But what I really want to talk about are his seasonal sweets.
When I went in to the shop, he was just putting them out: plain mochi stuffed with blueberries or strawberries. (No, they’re not daifuku – no red bean paste involved.) They are ridiculously basic: just a flat disk of mochi with some fruit and topped with some mochi to just hold the fruit in.
On that hot morning, with the mochi still cold, they were delightful. They’re also a decent introduction to mochi, especially for those not ready for the idea of beans in sweets.
There’s room for improvement, as there is with almost all desserts. I personally wish he wasn’t using food coloring in the regular mochi/manju, which is something Seattle is running away screaming from right now. (I haven’t tried out India Tree’s food dyes, and I wonder how they’d work on mochi.) They aren’t super meltingly chewy like you can get from the very, very best mochi, but they’re cute and small and just the right size to share, and you don’t have to plan in advance to take a box home. Just grab some, then hit the park.
Art mused on Facebook about strawberry rhubarb mochi; I seriously hope he goes there. For now, it’s just awesome to have a neighborhood mochi shop.
Tokara is one of those places I’ve been driving by for years and keep on not going in. So when I decided that I was hitting up unusual desserts, it was on the top of the list.
Tokara isn’t generally open to the public, but they hold a monthly Tohryanse where you can order three pieces of wagashi for $11.50, which you can save a tiny bit on by bringing your own box. When I finally called in an order, though, I got hit with a fever. Again. Chris, awesome person that he is, went for me and schlepped the box home.
From his vague description, the place sounds adorable. I know Tokara herself sounds adorable – my phone call with her reminded me of all the time I spent with my Japanese instructor and made me wonder what she’s up to. He described a basic space with tatami mats and a small, concave table in the room, and they took his box to the kitchen in the back and returned it full of treats.
(Bonus: even with Chris stuffing the box vertically in his purse and not exactly focusing on delicate care, the confections were only mildly damaged; just one plum had a crease.)
We received two orders of six wagashi, three types with two of each: the green plum, love letter from a bird, and something made of a single dorayaki pancake stuffed with a tube of some kind of mochi and folded in half, then marked like a fish.
Whatever it was, it was adorable.
To my taste, the fish-dorayaki was a touch dry, but the honey notes were great and the tender filling worked with the pancake’s sweetness. I suspect it was more dry to my American/English palate more than anything else; I’d love my friend, whose mom works in wagashi, to come and try them just to compare notes.
The love letter from a bird surprised me. It’s made of a thin layer of konashi, or a chewy white bean paste, shaped like a leaf cradling a scoop of anko, a sweet red bean paste. I admit I’m not normally a huge anko fan – even though I grew up eating Japanese food as comfort food, red bean paste never took off for me. But this was very close to eating anko as you get it in shaved ice, sweet and mellow, which balanced really well with the marzipan-like, sweet leaf wrapper. I tried to get the guys to try some, but they just weren’t excited about the idea of eating more red beans. More for me!
Of all of them, though, I was most in love with the green plum. It seriously felt like I was holding a soft, smooth peach. It was almost too adorable to eat. The uirou mochi exterior, chewy and just a touch sweet, held one of the best white bean fillings I’ve had outside Minamoto Kitchoan. It is exactly what I want with tea. I seriously was pondering doing a wholesale order just to sit in a park with friends and eat these with genmaicha.
The flavors at Tokara change seasonally, and I’m curious to see what flavors she’ll work with in July. I doubt she goes for super crazy flavors, but no one else in Seattle is going for her level of wagashi craft. I hope she has a slew of apprentices, because this is one tradition that needs to keep going.