A well-lit storefront that stands out amid the darker and more dreary buildings around the Downtown Berkeley BART station, Paris Baguette is a cute yet sophisticated bakery that creates French desserts and pastries with a slight Asian twist. Since we have a great love for pastries and coffee, we could not pass up the opportunity to visit Paris Baguette during its grand opening.
Originally founded in Korea under the international SPC Group, Paris Baguette is one of the top bakeries in its country of origin, with 2,900 shops in Korea and another 50 shops in China. In the United States, there are 15 locations, including shops in California, New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Here in Berkeley, Paris Baguette opened back in December. However, its official ribbon-cutting was on Friday, and the celebration continued over the weekend. The official opening included promotional offers: a free coffee with any purchase, a free L’Epicier candle with any whole cake purchase, a free soft cheesecake with any purchase worth more than $5 or a free tote bag with any purchase of more than $10.
Store manager June Park told us about the grand opening promotions, as well as continuing discounts in the form of a “Happy Point” card. Customers get 3 percent of their purchase added to the card every time they use it. Those points can be used for future purchases.
But this was our first time at Paris Baguette. Temptation tugged at our inner food-lovers as we saw the many breads and pastries we wanted to try in the store. The selections ranged from chocolate strawberry cake to garlic croissants and roll cakes. We ended up buying a mocha sponge cake, a coffee danish, a garlic croissant and some chocolate and walnut bread, with the intention of returning to try more items.
The chocolate and walnut bread had an overwhelmingly strong chocolate flavor compared to the walnut flavor, and the bread ended up tasting similar to any chocolate bread. It reminded us of normal white bread with chocolate chips inside it, although the texture was still very soft. The chocolate chips were slightly chewy, which created a nice contrast to the soft white bread; otherwise, the texture could have ended up too soft and gooey.
The mocha sponge cake was much more delicious than we expected. It looked like any average rectangular sponge cake at an Asian bakery, but when we bit in the cake, we were very surprised. The cake was very light and spongy but dense at the same time. It was so soft that biting was not necessary; we barely touched the surface of the cake, and it broke off. The cake was so moist that the inside appeared completely smooth with no small holes that usually exist in cakes. Even though the cake was very light, there was substance to it while chewing. It was dense, moist and soft to the palate, whereas regular cakes can be drier and easier to chew through with less substance. The mocha cake was one of the best sponge cakes we have had, and we definitely plan on buying more.
Out of the bakery items we bought, the coffee danish was our absolute favorite. We have yet to find anything like this at other Berkeley bakeries. We’re huge fans of coffee-flavored food items, and this is one of the best coffee pastries we have had. The circular pastry had a round swirl of coffee flavor in it; the coffee was very nicely mixed in with the rest of the white bread and created a perfect balance of coffee and bread. The coffee part of the bread was slightly loose crumbs, similar to the filling of the pineapple bread at Sheng Kee Bakery, and created a contrasting texture to the softer bread. The outside of the pastry was like a croissant, while the inside was regular bread. Our favorite part of the pastry was the texture of the coffee; there are many ways to incorporate coffee flavoring into bread, and the slight crumbs made an interesting surprise.
Besides some differences between pastries, one noticeable difference at Paris Baguette is that the bakery provides seating for customers who want to work there while eating pastries and drinking coffee. The gray-themed store, along with its French accents, are reminiscent of a place we imagine a sophisticated sunglasses-and-suit-wearing French woman would sit outside a classy French bakery along the river on a sunny day.
Paris Baguette’s most popular item is one we have not tried though. According to Park, Paris Baguette puddings have been very popular. Puddings can be bought in a range of flavors from strawberry to cappuccino.
Overall, the tastes and selection at Paris Baguette are great, but one thing that might be a slight problem for frequent guests, particularly college students, is the price. The price range is higher than Sheng Kee, and although delicious, we’re not sure that some items are worth the set price.
Since the pastries and breads still taste delicious, and we will go as far to say they taste even better than the ones at Sheng Kee, we would sacrifice a little bit more money to buy pastries every so often, especially the ones that cannot be found at Sheng Kee or other smaller bakeries in Berkeley. Even with their higher prices, Paris Baguette seems to have found a home in Berkeley, particularly among the student population who recently returned.
“Business has been doing way better since UC Berkeley started,” said Park, referring to the beginning of the spring semester. “We’re glad to be part of the Berkeley community.”