Without nearly a century of French Indochina, the marriage of Gallic baguettes and Vietnamese pickled roots that birthed the banh mi would never have taken place. In more micro terms, Houston may never have had a Le Duc Gourmet Bakery & Café.
The patisserie is named for chef Duc Le, a Vietnam native who trained in Montréal (language barriers with the staff precluded us from confirming which school), and plied his trade there before starting his own bakery in Houston. Chinatown has no shortage of Euro-influenced cakes with Asian flavors, with particularly notable entries in the category coming from Kamalan Bakery and the four locations of Six Ping.
But none of those are as equally focused on French and Vietnamese flavors as chef Duc, as he prefers to be called. His pandan-durian mousse tastes powerfully of the fruits—mint green, coconut-y pandan on the bottom and funky, aggressive durian on top. A colleague who tasted the bavarian with me remarked that somehow, the latter's taste was even more powerful than that of eating the fruit fresh. For durian lovers, then, it's a triumph, even if the mousse is more granular in texture than I would have preferred.
That's not the case with the Edelweiss, one of several desserts that are creative and clearly Duc's own, but owe more to Europe than Asia. For the appearance of a snowy mountain, smooth white chocolate mousse is layered with chocolate cake and fresh blueberries, then spread around the outside with a puff of cream on top. It really does conjure a sweet hike in the Alps, silly as it may sound. But Duc clearly has an affinity for that part of the world—his other offerings include an Austrian Sacher torte amongst his Napoleons and gateaux opéra.
Still, next time I venture into Dakao Plaza, I won't be able to resist a taste of the orient in one of Duc's resolutely occidental desserts.