Archive for the 'Bakery' Category

Phạm Nguyên Bakery

At least once a week
Cuisine: Dessert, Bakery

20B Ky Dong Street
District 3, Ho Chi Minh City

Phone: 9351673

Crossand Cheese (5,500 VND)

Banh Xop Jambom Hawai (4,000 VND)

Banh Ngot Dau Xanh (3,500 VND)

Bong Lan Muffim Tao (5,000 VND)

Banh Xop Pateso Bo (4,500 VND)

Banh Mi Crossand (3,000 VND)

Banh Mi Phap (3,500 VND)

Banh Mi Pho Mai Duong (4,000 VND)
Banh Oc Kem (3,500 VND)

The Astronomer: Back in Philly, one of my favorite traditions was walking to Chinatown to visit K.C.’s Pastries, a bakery offering delicious 60¢ sweet or meat-filled buns. When I arrived in Vietnam, I was pleased to discover that the K.C.’s experience was authentic—Asia really does feature numerous bakeries featuring pastries made of the same light, mildly sweet dough. Several large chains dominate the scene in Saigon: the biggest, Kinh Do Bakery, offers a decent selection and flashy advertising, but charges several thousand dong more than its competitors for a nearly identical product. The other two major players in the market, Pham Nguyen Bakery and A Chau Bakery (ABC), have become consistent standbys in my diet.

When I go out to dinner in HCMC, I almost always find that a standard Vietnamese rice or noodle portion is simply not enough food for a growing American boy. Occasionally I order a whole new entrée, drawing bewildered stares from the restaurant owners, but most of the time I head on my way and hope that I’ll find a little something extra on the road home. In these situations, I’m particularly thankful for Pham Nguyen and ABC. Whether I’m in the mood for something sweet or savory, I can always find a snack that will hit the spot for around 4,000 dong (25¢).

Among my favorite offerings are the flaky pastries filled with a thin layer of meat or pate: the exact names vary, but good ones have included banh pateso, banh xop thit, and Banh Xop Jambom Hawai. The dessert selections generally fall into two categories: big and fluffy and not as sweet as they look, or stuffed with mung bean paste or cream. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I haven’t quite bought into the whole beans for desert thing, but I must admit that the mung bean pastries can be pretty delicious. The big sweet ones are also satisfying, but generally all taste the same despite their widely diverse shapes.

One of the greatest disappointments from my numerous visits to Pham Nguyen has been the bong lan muffim tao (apple muffin), which looked quite appealing but tasted nothing like a muffin should. It had a light, springy texture (strangely resembling the rather uncomfortable pillows in our new apartment) and no fruit chunks or discernible apple flavor. This attempt at a muffin provides further evidence for The Gastronomer’s theory that the Vietnamese often emulate Western foods by copying their appearance, without having the slightest idea of how the final product should taste (see hamburgers and ice cream).

Another interesting interpretation of a Western pastry was the banh pho mat (cheese). I expected a melted, creamy filling, but instead found nothing for several bites and then finally a small chunk of mild cheddar resembling a half stick of string cheese.

One day when I was feeling particularly bold, I bought a banh oc, a huge snail-shaped sweet pastry filled with an enormous quantity of cream. As one might expect, it was tasty to start out with, but by the time I finished I wanted to vomit.

There are even stranger offerings with names like banh pizza and banh mi hot dog, with only a vague resemblance to what you might imagine, but so far my desire for a satisfying snack has outweighed my sense of adventure, and I’ve stayed away. The bakeries also offer a selection of fancier cakes topped with elaborate icing and funny-looking animals made of sugar. A review of these will have to wait until The Gastronomer’s birthday in February.


The Magnolia Bakery

May 27, 2007
Cuisine: Desserts, Bakery

401 Bleecker Street
New York, NY 10014-2452

Phone: 212-462-2572
Website: none

Vanilla Cupcake with Chocolate Frosting and Sprinkles ($2)

People either love or hate Magnolia, but there is no denying that this West Village bakery is the birthplace of the cupcake trend currently taking over both coasts. Eateries with a lot of hype around them usually turn me off, but sustained hype is a different story. Magnolia has been around since the mid 1990’s, so they must be doing something right, right?

Magnolia patrons are limited to purchasing a dozen cupcakes at a time, which wasn’t a problem for me because at this point on the food tour I had consumed half a Luger burger, an entire concrete from Shake Shack, and a third of an enormous slice of Red Velvet Cake from Billy’s Bakery. Fortunately, I had room for a single cupcake. The line at Magnolia has been known to stretch around the block a few times, but luckily was only two deep this afternoon. After waiting a quick minute, the bouncer let me inside the bakery.

There were a handful of classic cupcake combinations available for purchase including vanilla cake with vanilla frosting, chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, and vanilla cake with chocolate frosting. I went for vanilla cake with chocolate frosting because it’s my favorite. The line to pay took a while to get through because Magnolia only has one cash register, but I waited patiently and eagerly anticipated my first bite.

The Astronomer and I settled in a nearby stoop to enjoy the most hyped baked good around. I took the cupcake out of the box and admired its cuteness because cupcakes really are adorable. Then I took a bite. YUM! I was an instant fan. The cake was fluffy, moist, and light. The frosting was simultaneously buttery and chocolaty, rich, and piled on thick. And the sprinkles were just plain great.

What can I say? Magnolia cranks out a killer cupcake.

Billy’s Bakery

May 28, 2007
Cuisine: Desserts & Bakeries

184 9th Ave, New York 10011
At 21st St

Phone: 212-647-9956

Red Velvet Cake – a moist, deep red cake flavored with a hint of cocoa and topped with cream cheese icing ($4.50/slice)

This is sort of embarrassing to admit, but here goes—Jessica Simpson introduced me to Red Velvet Cake. She also introduced me to the importance of keeping marriage and reality television separate, but that’s neither here nor there.

Read about Billy’s Bakery here:


May 27, 2007
Cuisine: Desserts, Bakery

248 Broome St, New York 10002
Btwn Orchard & Ludlow St

Phone: 212-677-5047

Chocolate Spelt Cupcake with Rich Chocolate Frosting ($2.95)

Vanilla Spelt Cupcake with Zesty Lemon Frosting ($2.95)

The cupcake craze taking over New York City and Los Angeles has yet to hit Philadelphia so I included a handful of bakeries specializing in cupcakes on the food tour. BabyCakes was the first one we hit up since it was located near our shelter in the Lower East Side.

Babycakes differentiates itself from the sea of competitors by offering vegan cupcakes. Erin McKenna, BabyCakes’ founder, virtuously touts on the bakery’s website:

In a city dominated by cupcakes overflowing with sugar, flour and butter cream, it’s easy for those with delicate tummies to feel left out. BabyCakes offers all natural, organic and delicious alternatives free from the common allergens: wheat, gluten, dairy, casein and eggs. Rest assured, all sweeteners have been chosen responsibly and used sparingly. White sugar will never be found in our bakery, nor will we ever use toxic chemical sweeteners. Instead, most products are sweetened with agave nectar—a natural syrup from a cactus which is low on the glycemic index and often a safe alternative to most non-insulin dependent diabetics. Occasionally, unprocessed and unrefined sugar is used in certain goods, although sparingly.

Curious to try sweets made without the usual suspects, The Astronomer and I picked up two cupcakes to-go. He chose lemon, while I went with chocolate. We dropped off the cupcakes in my brother’s apartment then headed off to dinner. Hours later when we returned to enjoy our treats, the frosting had unfortunately melted due to warm temperatures both inside the apartment and the cupcakes’ plastic container.

While I must admit that the frosting-less cupcakes looked a little pitiful, they still tasted great. Both cupcakes were sweet and moist—the lemon one was tart and the chocolate one was very chocolaty. When it comes to cupcakes, I totally appreciate one-dimensional flavors. The texture and taste achieved without butter or eggs by the clever bakers at BabyCakes is very impressive.

Continue reading ‘BabyCakes’

Metropolitan Bakery

March 3, 2007
Cuisine: Bakery

Rittenhouse Square
262 S. 19th Street

Phone: 215-545-6655

Revisited: March 25, 2007

IMG_0897 IMG_0898

Chocolate Cherry Roll – dark and rich chewy loaf made with sundried sour cherries and imported bittersweet chocolate ($1.25)

I decided to give the Metropolitan Bakery another go after a mediocre foccacia experience. At the suggestion of a few readers, I tried their signature Chocolate Cherry Bread. Although I wanted to love the bread very much, it just didn’t suit me well. The tart cherries combined with the sweet chocolate was too extreme for my tastebuds. On a positive note, the bread was moist and the chocolate and cherries were plentiful.

With so many bakeries around, I may be ready to give up on the Metropolitan Bakery.

March 3, 2007

Rosemary Foccacia ($1.50)

I know I’m not from Boston, but the only way to properly describe The Astronomer’s metabolism is “wicked.” He consumes roughly 4000 calories daily and weighs a mere 140 pounds. Impressive? I think so. In order to maintain his body weight, The Astronomer must constantly snack. We stopped by the Metropolitan Bakery while strolling in Rittenhouse Square to pick up some calories for the bottomless pit.

After perusing the gorgeous baked goods, The Astronomer settled on the Rosemary Foccacia. The foccacia was not shaped like traditional foccacia–it was round and bulbous rather than flat and square. Also, the outter texture was much tougher than standard faccaia. The bread reminded me of the pizza crust from Pizza Hut (in sort of a sort good way) and not the least bit rosemary flavored. The foccacia tasted decent enough, but not at all what we were reasonably expecting.