You don’t have much time, only until February 12, to taste Belinda Leong’s 2017 repertoire of Chinese New Year pastries at her insanely busy shop, b. patisserie. So relax–if you don’t mind missing the most sensuous and exciting pastries of the year.
For those of you who think that culinary fusion brings together the worst of two worlds (and I have been in that camp, believe me), your eyes will be opened by Leong’s provocative and luscious Chinese/European pastries. Their power lies with her unstinting commitment extra rich European butter and cream, pure and assertive traditional Chinese flavors, and sometimes a playful use of gelatinous textures.
The many-layered, shatteringly buttery kouign amann that everyone waits in line for takes on otherworldly dimensions when scented and scattered with black sesame seeds and sparsely filled with a sweet black sesame seed and peanut paste. The conversation between the expected cow butter and the unexpected seed and nut butters expands culinary consciousness. A kouign amann dusted with golden sesame seeds and filled with their sweetened paste is subtler if equally voluptuous.
I usually can’t get beyond the kouign amann at the front counter at b., but the jewel-like Chinese inflected pastries lined up on the chilled marble around the corner call to me. An eclair, about three inches long, ravishes with a bright green swath of whipped cream strongly infused with green tea. One bite and you discover the layer of red bean paste captured between crunchy yet yielding walls of cream puff pastry. The restrained red bean paste filling somehow evokes the power of chocolate but in a gentle way that blends in magically.
I’ve never seen a startling, opalescent gray pastry before I ran into b.’s Black Sesame Peanut Cake, which is topped with a pastry cream tinted and flavored with black sesame seeds, molded over a crunchy, buttery peanut crust. It is unbelievably thrilling to eat–my favorite.
How many times have you ended a Chinese meal with rubbery mango pudding that barely suggests the promised fruit? I often do, hoping for the sweet/tart juiciness of mango. Leong has created the mango pudding of my dreams, in a small oval glass filled with fresh mango puree, cream, fresh mango gelatin and tiny cubes of firm fruit, every bite alive with pure mango but with complex and varied textures.
To appreciate Milk Tea Grass Jelly Tapioca, another dessert built in a verrine (a small oval glass), you should be a lover of black tea and gelatinous texture. Pull a spoon from bottom to top and discover a strong, black tea mousse commanding the bottom, coconut milk-braised tapioca pearls in the middle, and a firm round of herbal, slightly bitter grass jelly on top.
So far I have missed the coconut taro tart and the tangerine vanilla honey tart, but I have through Sunday to find them.
Note that the Chinese specials are only available 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, though the shop itself is open for longer hours. The advantage of this abbreviated accessibility is that batches of sesame kouign amann emerge hot from the oven continuously–the disadvantage is that disappear in moments. Eating these sesame scented sweet rolls warm is an experience worth any inconvenience.
b. patisserie, 2821 California (just west of Divisadero) San Francisco 415 440-1700 Open Tuesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.