Thursday, August 18, 2005

Pierre Herme V: Collection & Emotion Exotic

I love Obon week, I just love it! With all the people going back to the countryside to pay respect to their ancestors, the streets of Tokyo are virtually empty. There are no lines no matter where you go; no traffic jam; no construction next door; AND I was the only customer when I arrived at the chocolate bar on the second floor of Pierre Herme’s Aoyama store.

I thought I was only biking over to get some dessert for the night. When I arrived, the store looked so eerily empty with only two shop assistants standing behind glass show cases that I had the sinking feeling that it might be closed like so many other stores in Tokyo for Obon. But alas, the pale yellow doors slid quietly open and I was greeted with a “irrashaimasse.” I thought to myself, what better time to check out the “bar” when there’s no waiting?

I climbed a straight marble staircase with chrome bars to the second level. As I rounded a frosted glass wall, I found myself face to face with four “bartenders” in the spacious and minimally adorned Chocolate Bar. One side of the room is a huge glass window facing Aoyama-dori, with long narrow counter seating running the entire length of the window. The bar is situated on the far side of the room but no alcohol was visible. I chose to sit on a large leather couch next to the glass wall because the bar stools at the counter looked painfully uncomfortable. The menu arrived with a glass of ice water as soon as I settled into my seat. I recognized some of the same items sold on the first floor but decided to go for the “collection”, a set of three different mousse desserts for 1650yen. Ok, so obviously I wasn’t expecting three full-sized items, but when my “collection” set was presented to me, I almost needed a magnifying glass to see them!

Clockwise from back: lime mousse with raspberry buried inside, topped with yuzu jelly; cocoa mousse with macha granita, topped with sugar violets; chocolate mousse with mashed pear, topped with caramel toffee. My waiter kneeled down and in a hushed tone told me to eat the contents of the three mini shot glasses in that order so the flavors go from light to intense.

The lime and yuzu flavor blended really well, but by the time I got to the raspberry on my third bite, it was getting a little sweet so the tartness of the berry was a welcome contrast. I took my time savoring each bite (there aren’t that many to start with so I thought I’d better cherish everything) and cleansing my palate with water between bites. Maybe I took too long but when I got to the second shot glass, the macha garnita had already started to melt. Besides having very intense macha and cocoa flavors, I didn’t think this one was all that special, and the sugared violet didn’t do much besides adding a little color. The third one was better, although still not as unique as the first one. The chocolate mousse was so creamy and soft I almost thought it was ice cream, but maybe it just has a lot of cream in it. The pear sauce on top was very refreshing and the crispy caramel brittle added texture. Although the variety was good, I thought it wouldn’t have hurt them to increase the portion a little bit. I mean, the three of them combined is not even a full-sized dessert, so why are they charging twice as much?

Feeling a bit unsatisfied as I descended the stairs, I scanned the display case for something more satisfying. My eyes immediately caught sight of a very pretty new item in the Emotion range.

It’s called Emotion Exotic. The bottom layer of pale green mousse is pistachio flavored. In the middle is a compote of pineapple seasoned with lime rind and cilantro (or coriander for some). This is topped off with creamy tapioca in coconut milk. The beautiful pale green round on top is a piece of white chocolate coated with a piece of edible film.

Before I went to PH that day, I told myself I should get something other than Emotion, for I have a tendency to be drawn to them by their esthetics. I was going to get something less visually attractive, something chocolaty, but this was just too gorgeous for me to pass up. I did have one reservation though. The last time I got something unusual from PH, I didn’t like it too much, and this thing has cilantro in it? Don’t get me wrong, I love cilantro (hated till I was about 20, but once I started eating it, there’s no going back) but in my dessert? I expressed my concerns to the shop girl and she reassured me that it wasn’t an overpowering taste and was only there to bring out the flavors in the pineapple. I decided to take a risk.

That night after a dinner of lemongrass flavored fried tofu with rice, we sat down to find out just how exotic this Emotion is. Turned out the shop girl was exactly right. The cilantro and lime just made the pineapple extra refreshing without intruding on its flavor. The tapioca in coconut milk reminded me of my favorite dessert in Singapore – bobo chacha. One slight disappointment, however, was that the pistachio mousse, although flavorful on its own, was overshadowed by the coconut milk. And there’s this other teeny-weeny thing. Sure, it was very tasty and hit the spot, but it was not something I expected from a French patisserie. Take away the fancy presentation and the big name, this was not that much different from something you might find in a hawker stand. Then again, didn’t the name say “exotic?” Plus I really loved its look.

So did Jason the critic like it? He said it was really good without offering any critique. I’m not sure if that’s not due to his mind being occupied by the computer.

Note to self: this is one PH dessert I can try to imitate, sans pistachio mousse.

The Chocolate Bar

Past Pierre Herme entries:

Emotion Eden

Emotion Ludic & Inca


Emotion Ispahan


anna said...

hi lynn, love ur critique. it so funny i just saw another blog about PH ( makes me want to try it too!

Cathy said...

Hi Lynn- I saw the trio of mousses a couple of times in other sites, but I can't understand them because they are writen in Japanese. Regarding the emotion Exotic I saw this emotion before and though that it was really interesting. I think PH is gonna come up with another new collection this comming September, so maybe you want to try them. Another emotion of PH that caught my attention is the Depayse which have red bean, green lemon, and green tea I think. Thanks for your post I enjoy it very much.

rschraw said...

Hi there, I love reading your series on PH...your photos are great! I have a question- have you been to either of his shops in Paris? If so, how do they compare to the Aoyama shop as far as consistency? It seems you have a much larger selection with two floors and all!

Also I think the pinapple/cilantro pairing really is a good one. I had a dessert of pinapple financier with cilantro frozen yogurt at Trio (near Chicago) back in 2003 when Grant Achatz was still the chef. It was, as you said, very refreshing.

Looking forward to you next post, anyway!

Lynn said...

anna, you should definitely try it. I love how they look on top of the taste.

cathy, I don't think I've seen Depayse here yet. Also, I was looking for cake on a stick but doesn't seem to be available either =o( (In fact I was going to try that this time)

rschraw, glad you liked my entries and photos. Unfortunately I didn't have time to visit his store in Paris when I was there. I would assume the Paris store has more variety. The second floor is a cafe and doesn't really have anything that's not available on the first floor. Cilantro frozen yogurt? That sounds so interesting. I wonder if I could try to make it myself.

rschraw said...

About the cilantro frozen yogurt, it is really easy if you have an ice cream maker. I made it when I did a stage at the restaurant...

I believe the recipe was 1 qt. plain yogurt and 1 bunch of cilantro (cleaned and with the thicker stems removed.) Then you blend it together (I used a really nice immersion blender they had to do this, but an upright one will do) and put it through a chinois a couple times to get the green bits out after it has infused for a little while. Then add corn syrup or glucose until it is a little bit sweeter than you would want it to taste as a liquid (did this by tasting it so I don't know the exact amount.) Of course it won't be as sweet when frozen so that is to compensate and being invert sugar as well, it will help to stabilize it during freezing. Hope it works out if you decide to try it.

Cathy said...

Hi Lynn- thank you very much for replying. Iam not sure if the cake on the stick was available in Japan but Iam pretty sure that it was available in France together with the ice cream treats like Ms Gla Gla and the Sensation Ispahan and all. Iam really sorry for that.It seems that the varieties available in Japan and France were pretty much different.

Lynn said...

rschraw, thanks so much for the recipe! I will definitely try it.

Cathy, I think the selection is quite different, maybe to suit different palates.

keiko said...

Hi Lynn - thanks for the great post, I really enjoyed it. All of them look so good (even though they were tiny) and I'd love to try to make some of them myself. Looking forward to the next edition...

Lynn said...

Keiko, you are welcome. I do wish they weren't so tiny though...

I will be watching out for a post of your recreation too!

Cathy said...

Hi Lynn- I have good news for you because PH is gonna come up with his latest collection of dessert this September. The Autumn/Winter Desirs collection for 2005. I saw a couple of photos of the desserts that are gonna be available. There is a caramel millefeuille, Dune (a color white cake), macaron plenitude, chocolate tart, an emotion, and another cake that looks like a bonbon I think, which is similar to Kawaii and Suprise Mosaic). Another thing that I want to ask is that have you ever try Satsuki Patisserie at the New Otani Hotel. Somebody told me that the desserts there are also wonderful but more of a Japanese classic but with a twist. Thanks

Helen (AugustusGloop) said...

Congratulations on winning the Eatability crown in DMBLGiT! Great shot. I could definitely eat a tray of these!