Carbs: Sexy Again!
Guilt be damned at Irvine’s amazing new 85°C Bakery Café
J.J. Bakery. Japonaise Bakery N Café. Paris Baguette. These are just a few of the reliably good Asian bakeries in Irvine and Tustin. Most have been around for years, filling the bellies of those who want to indulge on a slice of cake, chomp on a hot dog-stuffed sweet roll, or dust off the crumbs from a flaky croissant. Not so coincidentally, we’ve singled out a few for our annual Best of OC issues.
But lately, if you were to judge solely by the mobs converging upon the new 85°C Bakery Café at Irvine’s Diamond Jamboree, you’d think it was the only bakery in town. The store—the first in the U.S. from the chain nicknamed by some as “the Starbucks of Taiwan”—has single-handedly made carbs relevant again.
You don’t have to be Howard Schultz to figure out how they’ve done it. To tap into the bread-loving, coffee-swilling, cake-craving segment of the population, one needs to only seduce with a bit of style, sleekness and a glass-enclosed kitchen into which customers can spy the frosting being slathered. At 85°C, a constantly looping bossa nova soundtrack also helps, even if it is drowned out by the whir of the blenders and the hiss of the espresso machines.
The place gets its name from the temperature at which coffee allegedly tastes best. But to keep ’em coming takes more than the usual interior-design bag of tricks or esoteric platitudes, especially if your target market is Asians with fickle palates. 85°C manages to do just that.
It takes one bite of their tuna Danish to understand why the crowds haven’t abated. It’s a flaky, crispy, virtually greaseless parcel of golden-brown pastry stuffed with a lightly peppered filling that will diminish the memory of all tuna sandwiches you’ve had before. Best yet, like everything else at 85°C, it’s almost always warm, thanks to the bakery’s rapid turnover.
The crowds guarantee that nothing stays unbought longer than a few minutes. Stocks are continually replenished, and this fact makes everything crackle at its most optimal, which, in turn, brings in even more customers. It’s a self-feeding cycle of freshness.
Sometimes, what you eat is only seconds removed from the oven. I plucked coffee bread from the arms of an employee carrying out a tray from the kitchen. Its fluffy insides billowed java-perfumed steam when I tore it open. A few moments later, the rest sold out.
Lesser bakeries would revert to boring, easy-to-churn-out standards to keep up with this kind of demand, but 85°C’s popularity seems to only embolden its resolve and spur its creativity. Every hour yields something new. One day, I took the Taiwanese staple of a hot dog wrapped inside a spongy roll. The tops were glossed with a swipe of sugary glaze. But later that afternoon, they had cut the wieners on a bias and used them as a topping on a square-shaped pizza smattered with thinly sliced onions and engulfed in a layer of cheese. The day after that, the pizza shrank into a tidy, flavor-packed, single-serving disk in which chicken was the protein.
Then there’s the strangely named Caesar the Great, which was just a foot-long plank of garlic toast groaning under a load of cheese and shredded cabbage baked into a tasty mass. Think of it as a Spanish pintxo’s morbidly obese Asian cousin.
85°C’s torpedo-shaped loaves, called Calamari, do not have a European equivalent. Black as tar, they owe their color to squid ink and their pillowy-ness to a baker’s deft touch. Some harbored a hidden reservoir of garlic butter, others chicken.
The carb-fest continued with craggle-crusted domes and impossibly flaky pastries with a nigh-impermeable crust of slivered almonds. There were things filled, topped or pock-marked with sweet red beans, custard, blueberries, and fluffy pork rousung. And these were just the bread-based items.
To fully discuss their desserts would take a thousand-word review. Cakes of every stripe glistened inside a display case. Familiars such as Black Forest shared space with one made of stacked crepes and whipped cream. Next to it sat strawberry tarts with tiny swooping sails made of fondant. Even better than the cakes were the jiggly, fruit-flavored panna cottas, sold in stout martini glasses and decorated with more fruit.
None were sugar-ladened or sickeningly sweet, so people who are accustomed to the usual sugar-overloaded swill from chain supermarket bakeries will need to get used to 85°C’s subtleties—and yes, also the crowds.
85°C Bakery Café, 2700 Alton Pkwy., Ste. 123, Irvine, (949) 553-8585; www.85cafe.us. Open Mon.-Thurs., 7 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 7 a.m.-midnight; Sun., 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Most items cost less than $4.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.