If you keep up with Japanese culinary trends on YouTube and Instagram, you’ve no doubt heard about the soufflé pancake. It’s the subject of numerous how-to videos, a lot of them featuring overhead shots of mixing bowls. Buzzfeed’s Tasty did a version back in 2016. But if you believe the other videos that show people going around eating them in Tokyo, the soufflé pancake is the “it” food of the moment; it has apparently reached the Cronut Phase there, with hour-long lines at the most popular pancake shops.
Those who haven’t seen the videos or Instagram posts might wonder, “What’s so special about these pancakes?” The answer is everything. They aren’t so much breakfast food as they are dessert. The defining characteristic is the fluffiness. According to YouTube celebs such as Simon and Martina, eating one is akin to consuming a pancake made of clouds. They’re also tall and thick—the phrase “flat as a pancake” loses all meaning. Think of a Hostess Ding Dong, or perhaps an actual soufflé. A single Japanese soufflé pancake has the height of an entire stack at IHOP. This is thanks to the air folded into the batter by way of whipped egg whites.
I’ve now tasted these pancakes. And I didn’t have to go to Japan. I found the pancakes in Buena Park at Basilur Tea & Coffee, which is, to my knowledge, the first and so far only place in Orange County that makes them. They’re served three to an order, one leaning on the other as if fallen dominos. From afar, they resemble morbidly obese English muffins, but up close, they jiggle like Jell-O.
The texture is ethereal but eggy, like custard made of foam. It definitely inspires comparisons to clouds, down comforters, and other soft-and-fluffy things. At its best, Basilur’s soufflé pancake is also moist, with the air bubbles forming a feathery matrix somewhere between a fresh marshmallow and the top of a lemon meringue pie. At its worst, it can be wet in the middle if the uncooked froth hasn’t quite set. Since each one is cooked on a griddle, I suppose the inconsistency is to be expected—they are still pancakes.
And since they are still pancakes, a serving comes with a dollop of velvety whipped cream and a gravy boat of maple syrup that I don’t recommend using. The syrup overpowers the delicate sweetness and, worse, deflates the pancake. And when you’re paying $13 for the experience, the last thing you want to do is turn the dish into something out of a Denny’s Grand Slam.
Since they’re so light, the pancakes barely qualify as sustenance. If it’s the only thing you order for breakfast, you’re going to feel peckish afterward. At Basilur, you have a few meal options to consider. You could order one of the eggs Benedicts, but they’re basic, with nothing particularly special or noteworthy about them. In the version I had, the ham was an afterthought, and the egg still harbored some of the poaching liquid. Also, if you’re keen on runny yolks, Basilur leans toward leaving them virtually raw. Upon piercing mine, a torrent of yellow flooded my plate. Soon, it became impossible to tell Hollandaise from egg yolk. What the English muffin didn’t soak up I repurposed as dressing for the pile of salad greens that dominated the dish.
You should probably skip the burrata salad, which consists of mostly butter lettuce and two tiny morsels of the soft cheese for $12. I noticed the chef took the effort to top them with caviar-like beads of balsamic vinegar made by spherification—a trick right out of the molecular-gastronomy playbook—but even with the add-on, it’s not worth the price.
In fact, unless you’re going to do the $25-per-person Tea Time Set—for which finger sandwiches, scones and pastries arrive on one of those ornate silver towers—you’re better off just enjoying Basilur Tea & Coffee for its drinks, especially the tea. This café, which is a branch of the Sri Lanka-based tea brand, has at least 15 flavors that start with Ceylon black tea, for which the country is well-known. The Earl Grey is so floral sipping it is equivalent to burying your face in potpourri.
So far, in addition to this store at the Source, Basilur has a café just like this in Seoul, but because of that pancake and the presence of kakigori, a shaved-ice dessert made from milk tea, you have to conclude it’s Japanese more than anything. That afternoon, I saw every customer Instagramming the soufflé pancake. It’s only a matter of time before it goes viral here, as it has in Tokyo. Mark my words.
Basilur Tea & Coffee, 6920 Beach Blvd., Ste. K129, Buena Park, (714) 870-5550. Open Sun.-Thurs., 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Soufflé pancakes, $13-$15; tea drinks, $5. No alcohol.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.