There's a special place tucked away inside a labyrinthine shopping plaza just off the 405 and essentially behind the
Cheap Furniture and Meatball Juggernaut IKEA. It's got fancy coffee, including pourovers, and great pastry.
What? No, I'm not talking about Portola Coffee Lab, not this time, anyway. Christopher Garren's is across the outdoor plaza of the SoCo Collection from Portola Coffee Lab, transplanted from its old digs called "Let Them Eat Cake" on Newport Avenue. It's best known for its wedding cakes--Chris Russom and Marjorie Chua are old hands at the Food Network's wedding cake challenge--but there's a reason to visit more often than once per marriage.
I've discovered some outstanding pastries in my coming-up-on-five years in Orange County: the strawberry croissants at Tustin's Cream Pan; the rich Danishes at Huntington Beach's Great Dane Bakery; the amazing tartes aux pommes at Jean-Paul's Goodies in Laguna Beach; more or less anything from Blackmarket Bakery; the creamy, intense Portuguese egg tarts at Désir in Anaheim.
Christopher Garren's, however, is another level of pastrymaking altogether, yet they've received no love from their hometown food writers. It's a shame; take, for example, the fresh raspberry Danish, the only pastry I managed to snap a photo of before falling to like a gluttonous shark.
The sweet raspberry jam is a distraction. Even the beautiful fresh raspberries upturned on the pastry are a red (berry) herring. I would eat the danish as-is with just a little sugar glaze drizzled on it. When I took a bite, it shattered in my mouth. Pieces of flaky, crispy pastry flew everywhere, and yet when I--reluctantly--lowered the roll, it didn't make a mess.
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The scones, too, are masterful. While there are sweet scones worth the purchase--a lavender scone was memorable, and I'm a sucker for anything orange and chocolate flavored--the way to go is savory. Corn, chorizo and chile scones were a great marriage between a biscuit and cornbread; the garlic-herb scone actually tastes like fresh garlic, not garlic powder; and the bacon, chive and cheddar scone is like a breakfast sandwich in biscuit form. (If you actually prefer your breakfast in sandwich form, they'll do that too--but I haven't been tempted yet.)
There are cinnamon rolls and each day there's a frittata, tortilla española or a quiche every day that's two and a half inches tall; when the glass dome is uncovered, the entire bakery gets the fragrance.
It is a good thing for my waistline that I don't live close enough to Costa Mesa to be a regular here.