Japanese grocery juggernaut Marukai has had problems keeping its food court full in the past. From the ill-fated Tampopo Ramen, vanished without a trace, to international ramen powerhouse Chabuton, which faded away after only one year, Marukai has been unable to compete with the larger and sexier food court offered by Mitsuwa, its only major competitor in Orange County. In yet another attempt to reverse its food court fortunes, Marukai has turned towards Beard Papa's cream puff bakery, one of the latest food fads sweeping the globe. Orange County residents rejoice! Now you can get your Beard Papa's fix without having to drive to LA. It's about time.
Following a formula that has already achieved great success at its Gardena location, Marukai has opened a Beard Papa's franchise in Costa Mesa and paired it with the highly popular MamMoth Bakery. Hopefully these two golden geese, which are sharing the same storefront, will manage to pull Marukai Costa Mesa out of the disastrous food court slump that has already cost it two ramen shops and a once highly successful L&L Hawaiian BBQ branch.
After a long day of errands and grocery shopping, Cat and I decided to stop by Beard Papa's for a snack. Much to my surprise, I discovered that they only had one type of cream puff available; the Original Vanilla. Disappointed, I got one to go.
Although I'd been hoping to try some of Beard Papa's more exciting flavors, such as Green Tea, Earl Grey Tea, and Pumpkin, the Original Vanilla was as satisfying as ever. The airy pate a choux encased a rich custard flecked with black vanilla seeds that coated my mouth and tongue. It's no wonder these creamy delights set off a huge cream puff craze in Singapore.
On the other hand, instead of Beard Papa's single offering, the cases MamMoth Bakery were filled with a variety of tasty baked goods. This small Japanese bakery chain is affiliated with Marukai, and many of its offerings are based on European cakes and breads adapted for Asian taste buds.
Since the bakery Cat and I usually buy our weekly bread at was closed for Labor Day weekend, I picked up a bag of Butter Rolls. With a very fluffy, yet chewy, crumb and hints of sweetness from the butter, these brioche-like rolls are a staple in the school lunch diet of every Japanese schoolchild. MamMoth's were similar to the rolls I remembered from my childhood.
Cat really likes the Asian buns made using the same dough as the Butter Rolls, particularly when filled with chocolate frosting. She picked up a Chocolate Horn for her lunch the next day.
She also snagged a Frank Roll, which contained half a frankfurter sliced lengthwise and topped with ketchup, mayonnaise, and a sprinkling of algae flakes. The bun tasted like a hot dog after a close encounter with some takoyaki.
We also wanted to pick up a little dessert. Undoubtedly spawned to serve the needs of health conscious Japanese schoolgirls, the Chocolate Butter Cake came in five bite-sized portions to a bag. Although the chocolate flavor was quite strong, the cakes were a little dry. They had a springy texture similar to genois, a classic French sponge cake.
The Butter Cake, which also came five to a bag, were moister and much more flavorful. They tasted a lot like Hostess Twinkies, except without the whipped cream and the feeling you were going to die of sugar or fat poisoning. A, dare I say, "healthier" dessert alternative.
MamMoth Bakery also offers a number of pastries, both savory and sweet, using croissant dough.
I'm a sucker for buttery, flakey goodness, so I selected a Ham and Cheese Croissant.
Much to my surprise, the cheese used was whipped cream cheese instead of the usual Swiss, American, or Cheddar. It wasn't bad. The croissant had the right balance between crisp crust and moist crumb. The filling worked, although I'm more used to ham and cream cheese on bagels.
I also got a delightfully wicked Curry Donut. Let's face it. Anything covered with panko crumbs and deep fried can't be good for me.
In this case, the yeast-risen, fried dough surrounded a mix of ground beef, onions, carrots, and Japanese curry sauce. The thick sauce, reminiscent of demiglace, flavored every delectable bite. With the crunch from the panko crumbs, it was like eating menchi katsu (breaded hamburger cutlet) with curry inside.
In addition to baked and fried breads, MamMoth Bakery had a cold case with sandwiches and puddings of various flavors. I'm a biiiig pudding fan, so I knew I'd have to try some of them. Well, all of them. Immediately.
First up was the Super Creamy Custard Pudding. The dense, vanilla flavored pudding was indeed super creamy, as promised. Surprisingly so, given how the Japanese abhor fatty foods. The ratio between the custard and the burnt sugar jelly at the bottom was also off. There wasn't enough bitter jelly to counter the intense richness of the custard. Pretty good, but not for those who are fans of lighter desserts.
The Super Creamy Green Tea Custard Pudding had a top layer of azuki beans, a middle layer of vanilla custard, and a bottom layer of green tea custard. Here, the grassy bitterness of the green tea helped to offset the richness of the custard, while the azuki beans added a sweet finish. This is my number one pudding pick from MamMoth Bakery.
The last pudding I sampled was the Mango Pudding, which was a strong, mango-flavored custard with a thin layer of mango jelly on top. The fresh mangos used in this dessert really showed through, both in taste and in the stringy mango bits I had to pick out of my teeth afterwards. Plus ten points for flavor, minus five points for mango fibers. Not a bad showing, although they should really strain their mango puree before adding it to the custard.
Beard Papa's - Only the Original Vanilla is available, but half a loaf is better than none. With the opening of its Costa Mesa branch, Orange County locals now have a convenient source for Beard Papa's delicious cream puffs. As a tip, please note that the cream puffs are best eaten within an hour or two of purchase. Any longer, and the pate a choux will absorb too much moisture from the custard and become soggy.
MamMoth Bakery - Tasty Japanese baked goods. The selection isn't vast, but it will get the job done. The branch in Marukai Costa Mesa doesn't bake the buns on site. Instead, they're shipped in from a separate kitchen facility. However, everything I tasted was fresh and delicious.
2975 Harbor Blvd.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
1-714-751-8433 (Store number. Too new to have own line.)
Beard Papa's Website
Click here for the complete list.
2975 Harbor Blvd.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
1-714-751-8433 (Store number. Too new to have its own line.)
Marukai Torrance and Marukai Gardena. Click here for the addresses.