Sunday, January 01, 2006
Choux Shopping: Beard Papa, Gardena (As Well As Some Other Marukai Food Court Eats!)
It's New Years Day morning and while the rest of the world is fast asleep and hungover, Isaac and I were bright eyed and bushy tailed (OK, maybe just a tad bloated from all that pizza, wine, and cheese) and decided to head out to Gardena to visit a friend and do a little shopping.
Of course we were hungry, but chances were that not many restaurants would be open on this holiday morning, but no matter--our friend assured us that the new Marukai Pacific Market and food court would be open. And wouldn't you know it, it just happens to be the home of the newly opened, second SoCal location of the famous Japanese cream puff chain Beard Papa...score!
Our friend had been to this Marukai location the day before, New Year's Eve to be specific, and said that the line at Beard Papa's was almost to the door and that the wait was at least an hour. Must be some serious choux; either that, or we have another Pink's Hot Dogs situation in the making. Clusterfuck indeed.
Fortunately for us, the line was only about 4 people deep when we arrived, so we jumped in before the crowds caught on. Four people deep, but it still took us somewhere in the neighborhood of seven minutes to get to the front. During our wait, I had the opportunity to watch two of their puff makers, a young Asian guy and girl, assemble these much coveted commodites. The guy would use a special metal pastry cream piping thingamajiggy, something I need to get to make my life easier next time I bake eclairs, to pipe cream into each choux puff. The girl would then sprinkle powdered sugar over each puff and put them in paper sleeves. It seemed like they had a system going...why the wait?
Turns out people like to buy hoards of these things. The guy in front of us was ordering twelve and I think the people in front of him were ordering at least a dozen as well. In Beard Papa's defense, however, it doesn't make much sense to have a surplus of pre-filled cream puffs sitting around getting soggy, so they're almost made-to-order. To me and apparently only to me, it seems a little easier to buy a dozen custard filled donuts at Winchell's but what the hell do I know? I just wish I had a sign on my forehead that said "I'm only buying two..can I have cuts?" Finally it was our turn and I forked out a little over three bucks for two cream puffs the size of small oranges.
I'd have to wait to find out if the choux creations were worth it or not because it was actually time to eat something more substantial, so with Beard Papa bag in hand, we strolled the small but comprehensive Marukai food court. Besides Beard Papa, there's a sushi place, a Shinsengumi yakitori place, a pickle stand, a Hawaiian plate lunch stall, a Chinese place, a place that specialized in what seemed like tonkatsu and croquettes, and a made to order Bento box stand. As half of the stalls were closed due to the holiday (I really wanted Hawaiian or croquettes!) we opted for BentoSS, the made-to-order bento box place at the end of the grocery store's food promenade.
Marukai's World O'Food
Ben-Toss? Who's Ben?
We stood and stared at the display case of plastic menu samples for a second and were bummed to find out that they were out of curry. Oh well, another few minutes of waiting and we were handed our plastic bento boxes, reminiscent of the ones you'd find at the refrigerated section of your local Mitsuwa market but heated up.
Looks almost good enough to eat. Sorta.
Unfortunately, this Marukai doesn't have food court seating, so we ate in the car, but fortunately, each bento box is the perfect size...compact enough to hold in the palm of one hand. Katsu curry would have been killer on a gloomy day like this but our pork tonkatsu and chicken karaage bentos did just fine. They weren't anything to write home about, but for a food court stand, I was impressed. The breaded pork cutlets were crispy yet tender on the inside. The chunks of chicken karaage could have been a tad crispier but had a nice but subtle sweet soy-gingery taste going on. A side of steamed rice sprinkled with black sesame and topped with a pickled plum and a little cup of creamy potato salad made our little bentos that much more comforting.
Better than any Extra Value Meal: BentoSS's pork katsu bento
The chicken karaage kicks the drive-thru's ass too
We still had the cream puffs, but we felt like one of those madly-attracted-to-one-another couples on a date who would rather wait to get it on at home than do it in the car. Can you imagine the tension in that car on the twenty minute car ride back to the apartment? Not a minute spared as we parked the car and hurriedly walked through the front door, sweating and panting, and then ripping and tearing off...the Beard Papa bag from the treats that awaited us! Was it worth the wait?
You betcha. I was wrong--Winchell's donuts are not a better choice. These puffs, though we had to put a little work into them, rocked! They stayed nice and crisp on the outside and smooth and creamy on the inside despite the lapse in time between us leaving the Beard Papa store and getting home. My favorite thing about these cream puffs was that they were about having a good balance between flavor and texture more than about being overly sweet. The outer choux shell was hardly sweetened at all, and their fillings had a delicate sweetness to them but were flavored just right with the appropriate ingredients: vanilla and egg for our "regular" custard filled puff, and refreshing green tea for our green tea puff which was my favorite of the two. Apparently, Beard Papa has other flavors available from time to time--caramel and sesame to name a couple--I guess I'll have to demonstrate a little patience for those as well.
"Honey, let me take some pictures before we do it"
Would I wait an hour in line? I doubt it. Would I wait half hour? Maybe. But as good as these little things are, they're relatively new to the Southland so I'm hoping that the novelty--and waits--will die down in a few month's time. Hopefully. For my sake.
Beard Papa/BentoSS/Marukai Food Court
1620 W. Redondo Beach Blvd. (at the Marukai Pacific Market)
Gardena, CA 90247
(Beard Papa is also located at the Hollywood and Highland Mall)