Editor's note: In "Fast Food International," Krista Garcia will take us around New York to the many international fast food chains that have landed in the five boroughs. She blogs at goodiesfirst.com.
Country of origin: South Korea
Locations worldwide: China, South Korea, US
NYC locations: One in midtown and two in Flushing
One of my favorite things about malls in Asia are the ubiquitous self-serve, tray-and-tongs bakeries with carby names like BreadTalk, Bread History and My Bread. Pastries range from European almond croissants to locally-popular buns big on mayonnaise, hot dogs, and pork floss. When I was in Singapore following the 2008 elections, I even spied an "Obunma," a hilarious nod to our president, topped with egg, cheese, tomato and ham.
Here in the States, these businesses tend to exist where Asian expats congregate. Earlier this month, South Korean chain Paris Baguette expanded from Flushing to Manhattan's 32nd Street. Cleanly decorated in navy and white with manicured topiaries and large silver-framed mirrors, the bustling café feels upscale even though the striped-sailor-shirt-and-beret-clad staff embody kitsch.
Not that I captured any of this digitally. Paris Baguette, like many of the other foreign chains I've covered here, is extremely touchy about photography. Bloggers may as well be corporate spies in their view.
Some of the best treats at Paris Baguette are variations on croissants like the classic, flaky pain au chocolat. Green pea—no, not tea—couldn't be less French, but it is part of the Asian tradition of sweetening up legumes until they taste like dessert. Italian meatballs in a light tomato sauce also find their way into a pastry shell.
Fried items like the pumpkin-filled mochi ball with black sesame seeds are a bit too dense and greasy when not freshly prepared. The cheddary take on Brazilian pão de queijo, also a glutinous blob, succeeded by being baked instead of fried.
I couldn't ignore the purple muffin-like confection. The blueberry bun contains tiny pockets of cream cheese inside as well as a cream cheese icing. Unfortunately the red bean doughnut suffered from oiliness.
The crustless cheesecake is light and powdery like creamy packed snow, and conveniently comes with a miniature plastic serrated knife for sharing slices.
Sadly, the namesake baguette wasn't any better than a grocery store loaf, pillowy with no crackle. Stick to the square Pullman loaves.
Like most of bakeries of this style, offerings can be hit or miss. Even though you'll pay a bit more than you would below Canal Street—all of these items minus the cheesecake ranged from $1 to $2 apiece—it's hardly a costly experiment to find pastries you like. And for an unspecified amount of time, they're tossing in that cheesecake for free if you spend more than $15.
Paris Baguette 6 W. 32nd Street, New York, NY 10001 (map) 212-244-0404
136-20 38th Avenue Flushing, NY 11354 (map) 718-713-0404
15624 Northern Boulevard Flushing, NY 11354 (map) 718-961-0404