Japonaise Bakery & Cafe - Tustin
Cream Pan, Tustin's beloved little Japanese bakery, was just that: little.
The storefront was nothing more than a door that led to a utilitarian room where they did the baking. Immediately as you enter, there's a tiny counter, a small glass display case, and a few measly square feet of space where you pick, pay, and get out.
There's no place to linger, sip coffee, or savor a sandwich. I've spent many a lunch hour eating Cream Pan's pastries outside, in my parked car, trying very hard to keep the crumbs from lodging themselves between the upholstery.
And then there's the odd and unpredictable operating hours. They open when they open and close whenever they feel like it.
Now, the bakery's all grown up, taking over and expanding into the vacated retail space next door. The spacious new digs -- called Japonaise Bakery & Cafe -- is a bonafide hang-out spot and long overdue. There are chairs to slouch in, tables to rest your arm on, and even a restroom for when you've had too much cappuccino (which they serve in mugs large enough to be soup bowls).
The baked goods are just as tempting as they've always been. You can tell just by looking at the sturdy, crusty gashes on the baguettes and rustic loaves that a good slather of butter is all they need. Croissants appear to be flaky enough to cause a minor crumb avalanche when bitten, while the scones seem as dense as Jessica Simpson.
But this visit was in service to our sweet tooth. The strawberry croissant was the first one we chose to call dessert. Cream Pan's signature vanilla custard and thick slices of the fruit were sandwiched between crumbly triangles of puffed pastry. Powdered sugar dust clung to it like frost, and then on our fingers.
The bulbous dome of the azuki cream was cracked open, like a hatching alien egg. But inside the spongy fried dough, there's some whipped cream and a filling of Japanese red bean. The latter had a coarse texture, similar to tiny, BB-sized kidney beans, but with twice the sweetness.
Their Boston donut had more in common to Hawaii than to the Bay State -- the thing tasted more like the malasadas cooked on The Big Island and less like a Dunkin Donut. It's chewy, salty, slightly sweet, and greaseless. Hiding inside its belly was more of that sultry custard. On top, a hard, dark-chocolate shell functioned like a skull cap.
But no trip to Cream Pan is complete without a cream pan -- basically a dinner roll akin to the Filipino pan de sal injected with custard. Best part of eating one inside Japonaise: No more crumbs on the car seat.
Japonaise Bakery & Cafe
600 El Camino Real
Tustin, CA 92780