The Sweet Art
Cafe Blanc is a dessert triple-threat: a pâtisserie, a glâcerie and a confiserie in one. So many sweet treats abound, you'll be glad you saved the last vestiges of your appetite from dinner for a bite of chef Tomi Harase's cake, a scoop of his gelato, or a nibble from his truffle boxes. These are desserts prepared with a European reverence but touched with Japanese subtlety.
Until recently, you could only get Harase's creations from his Beverly Hills restaurant, but now that he's relocated to Costa Mesa, all of his confections are exclusive to OC. As soon as you enter his tiny shop, you feel lucky he's decided to move into the neighborhood. In the back, angled mirrors dangle above the kitchen, so you can watch the pastry chef and his crew busily whisking cream, sifting flour and tempering eggs. They may look like bakers, but they're really artists, sculpting their chosen medium of cakes, chocolate and fruits into forms as classic as a Rodin and as modern as a Mondrian.
Order one of their masterpieces from the glass display case so you can eat in, and they'll even channel Jackson Pollock on your plate: Dribbles of vanilla and caramel sauces go on before the pastry does. As an added treat, a dollop of gelato—with a flavor that complements the cake—finishes the plating.
For a nominal fee, coffee and tea are also available. We opted for a pot of Earl Grey, poured into dainty cups and sipped with pinkies held high.
Our first dessert was a gorgeous indulgence in the shape of a teardrop, flecked with gold leaf and drenched in chocolate ganache that gleamed like a mirror. Underneath were three luxurious layers of mousse (chocolate, vanilla and raspberry) so light on the palate they felt less sinful than they looked.
The chocolate mousse made another appearance with brandy-soaked cherries in a delicate cube called Gurietto Chocolat. On top were a cocoa-infused whipped cream and a shard of dark chocolate, which balanced the drunken bite of the cherries.
Something called the Florence looked like E.T.'s flying saucer, with a tall dome of cream piled atop a pound-cake disc. Raspberries dotted its perimeter and flavored a crowning cap of red marshmallow.
Although it looked like a slice of cheesecake, what they called the cheese soufflé was much more porous and spongy. Lifted by egg whites and lightened by air, I'd take this over its dense American cousin any day.
We took home some puddings and gelées, both set in clear plastic cups. The Royal Mango pudding had the presence of panna cotta, creamy cold with a clean, jiggly finish. And the two gelées were invigorating, with fresh segments of fruit suspended in clear gelatin. One was full of grapefruit, while the other was crammed with white peaches. But what had us swooning was that gelatin—it liquefied the instant it hit our tongues and sent a tingle up our backbones. Same with the meringues, which turned into foam in our mouths.
Not to be outdone were Harase's colorful array of macaroons—airy things simultaneously crumbly and chewy. Flavors of raspberry, coffee, green tea and pistachio burst from concentrated nuggets hidden in their centers.
Harase's chocolate boxes would be perfect as gifts, but parting with them proved difficult. I hoarded mine and gazed longingly at the jewels of chocolate-covered nougat almost too pretty to eat. One had the uncanny appearance of a quail egg. Others looked like cut gems, ladybugs and moon rocks.
You'll feel a twinge of guilt, as I did, when you eat one. But console yourself: Harase has plenty more art to sell in his gallery of goodies.
CAFE BLANC, 298 E. 17TH ST., STE. B, COSTA MESA, (949) 631-9999; WWW.CAFEBLANC.US. OPEN MON.-THURS., NOON.-9 P.M.; FRI.-SAT., NOON-10 P.M.; SUN., NOON-6 P.M. DESSERT AND TEA FOR TWO, $10-$20.
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