Houston isn't a French pastry city like, you know, Paris. It's more of a shellfish city. This is well evidenced by 11660 Westheimer, where Pho & Crab and Hank's Crawfish are both located under one roof. Tucked between the two restaurants and a handful of restaurant chains, it's difficult to find Pâtisserie Paris Je T'Aime even if you're looking for it. The full name doesn't appear on a sign, so it's necessary to follow your nose, or the word "croissant," visible through the window.
Once inside, the odor of butter and yeast is pretty typical of a pâtisserie, but besides stacks of pains au chocolat and croissants aux amandes, the flavors are far from ordinary. Neither is the presentation. Caramel-filled religieuses, originally made to resemble the pope's mitre, are presented with little white hats of their own to look like Rubenesque ladies on a stroll down the Champs Elysées. Pistachio éclairs are deep green within and without. The thick pastry cream fills every crevice of the choux with nutty flavor and a whisper of orange blossom.
The seasonal fig tart would fit perfectly into an 18th century still-life. The crumbly crust is a delicate balance of salty and sweet. The raspberries are firm and flavorful. But the figs themselves aren't quite ripe. Presumably, they were plucked from the branch before attaining full maturity in hopes that they'd survive shipping and stand a chance on store shelves.
As D.H. Lawrence accurately put it, "Ripe figs won't keep." But unripe ones never become ripe once they've been picked. I ended up discarding the ones on my tart in favor of adding more of my own raspberries.
But Paris-trained pastry chef and owner Nga Rogers is at her best when dealing in unconventional flavors. Think litchi cheesecake, yuzu tartlets and apricot-rosemary mousse cake.
But her greatest success that I tasted was the Bamboo, an opera cake which replaces the almond and coffee of the classic version with green tea. The dessert stands at squared off attention until you make the first cut, when matcha buttercream oozes from between layers of green tea syrup-soaked cake. It's sandwiched between layers of white chocolate ganache, which really just serve as a canvas for an artistic representation of a bamboo grove with matcha powder for dirt from which rise squiggles of chocolate, and a macaron painted with what looks like sumi-e, or Japanese ink wash painting.
It's the kind of dessert that deserves a haiku, so here goes:
Chef Rogers's art spans
the best traditions of both
Asia and Europe