We've got taiyaki ice cream. I can stock up on Every Burger at Great Wall Supermarket. We don't have a wagashi store yet. (Minamoto Kitchoan, I'm twiddling my thumbs, here.) But as a kid who grew up on Japanese sweets, my life has edged a little closer to complete with the arrival of Baton Café & Bakery, Houston's only Japanese bakery.
The little business debuted in late summer with a small collection of traditional breads. And when I say that, it means a lot of different things. Don't forget, this is a country focused on upper-echelon gastronomy; think of it in terms of the original Iron Chefs. There was a parade of three cooks dedicated to classic Japanese cuisine, but also specialists in Chinese, French and Italian food, each trained in the original countries, but with a clear Japanese stamp on their work.
Out of context, much of what's available on Baton's wooden shelves in the first row of Seiwa Market would fit right in at a French bakery. The crusty breads include picture-perfect baguette. There are also American-inspired loaves of fluffy white bread. But there are yoshoku (western-influenced Japanese) warhorses, too. I have many uncomfortable memories of sugar sticking in my father's beard as he ate melonpan while we drove home from our local Japanese supermarket when I was a kid.
I tried Baton's melonpan and may still be too scarred to truly enjoy it. Or I just don't like it. I'm not a great lover of Mexican conchas either. Apparently, savory buns topped with coarse sugar crystals don't work for me no matter what their country of origin.
But then there was the folded pastry labeled "bacon epi." It may look like the kind of soft, challah-like Chinese bun you'd find at Six Ping or 85 °C Bakery Cafe, but it's only a relative. The dough itself is heartier and chewier than you'd expect, even in the case of the epi. Each segment of the mini loaf has a chunk of bacon in it, but its super power is the bacon grease that oozes its way into the bread's every pore.
For sweet lovers, there are fruit pies, green tea cream puffs, and Christmas cakes. But some of us prefer our desserts low on sugar. Enter the double chocolate bun. I quickly discovered that the cocoa orb is best eaten after about 25 seconds in the microwave for full melting dark chocolate effect.
But as if there weren't already almost too many reasons to go to Seiwa (I might write about the café and its roster of curries and spaghetti another time), Baton is leading a whole new parade of attractions.