A Sweet Symphony
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Love at first bite begins right here at Patisserie La Palme D’or. Owner Hiromi Tanaka brought this Japanese pastry concept to Ala Moana Center in 2006, and since then has offered customers here at home and around the world a decadent blend of French flavor and Japanese craftsmanship. Whether it be cakes, pastries, croissants, sandwiches or drinks, Patisserie La Palme D’or certainly caters to your sweet tooth.
The superwoman behind it all is head chef Akiko Kimura. Trained in Osaka, Japan, Kimura has perfected her baking over a span of 14 years and has no plans to stop anytime soon. For Kimura, quality is key; therefore, she only utilizes the best available ingredients, even if it means gathering them directly from Japan. In fact, Kimura uses her own personal recipes to create the majority of the items found at Patisserie La Palme D’or.
This week, Dining Out sought out Kimura and store manager Hiromi Okura and, much to our delight, they took us for a ride on the sweeter side of life.
DO: Patisserie La Palme D’or seems to be loved by all. How did the inspiration for this patisserie come about?
Okura: This store actually originated in Mie, Japan, as a franchise and then was later brought to Hawaii.
DO: Can you talk about the concept for La Palme D’or and what customers can expect?
Okura: It’s a high-end French pastry store with Japanese inspiration. The desserts are usually less sweet as compared to other dessert establishments, and the chef imports the green tea and flour from Japan to maintain continuity in the quality of the desserts. We don’t use rich butter, cream or lots of sugar, and a lot of the desserts have fresh fruits. The jelly drink is something you won’t find elsewhere.
DO: Indeed, your jelly drinks are popular. What is it about this drink that has customers coming back for more?
Okura: The bottom layer of the drink is coffee jelly and then we have whipped cream. On top we pour our chocolate milk that’s made in-house. Customers can choose from the Jelly au Lait and Jelly Mocha au Lait, but it’s actually our Plantation Tea Jelly that’s a big hit. It’s made out of 100 percent pineapple juice jelly with sweetened black tea.
DO: What are some of your other top sellers?
Okura: The sandwiches sell really well for $3.95. People come back for those, especially the tuna croissant sandwich — and they’re made fresh every morning.
DO: How many different varieties of desserts are offered here at La Palme D’or?
Okura: We probably have between 20 and 30 desserts. The Strawberry Shortcake is definitely very popular. We use strawberries and whipped cream, and the whipped cream is specially ordered by Chef Akiko. The Framboise Fromage features cheesecake with homemade raspberry jam. The Mont Blanc is also one of the best. It consists of smooth, rich chestnut cream with a hint of rum piped over a dollop of fresh whipped cream and almond cake, baked with chunks of chestnuts and tart cassis (gooseberry). It’s really an amazing combination of flavors. People love it and we usually quickly sell that out.
DO: Is there a time of the day when customers should arrive in order to enjoy the best selection of product?
Okura: Yes. They should definitely come in the morning, because by the end of the day, we usually sell out of a lot of items.
DO: Chef Akiko’s presentation is so lovely. She creates wedding cakes as well?
Okura: Yes, we have a whole album of different cakes we have made in the past, so you can either choose from that or we can work with the customer to make a custom cake. We have a lot of Japanese wedding companies that purchase our wedding cakes as well.
We also cater to those who desire a custom cake and we ask for one to two weeks of advanced notice. But then, depending on the cake and the design, we can have it ready in two to three days.
DO: What is it about La Palme D’or that draws such a loyal following from repeat customers?
Okura: Definitely the product and Hiromi, the owner, who really stresses the importance of great customer service.
DO: Valentine’s Day is really a day to savor decadent sweets and desserts. Is La Palme D’or featuring anything specific to celebrate this day of love?
Okura: We have our Valentine’s Day cakes — Rose and Kona Chocolate (extra small, 2-4 servings, $22; small, 4-6 servings, $33). The Rose Cake features a rose essence in a lychee-flavored white chocolate mousse, which sits inside a rich chocolate sponge cake and is intertwined with strawberry jelly.
Kimura: The combination of rose and lychee is a popular pairing in Japan; they really complement each other. One reason I added lychee to the white chocolate mousse is to cut the heavy sweetness of the white chocolate. The aftertaste is light and doesn’t have a clingy sweetness left over on your tongue like you usually do after eating white chocolate.
Okura: The Kona Chocolate cake consists of rich Kona coffee ganache layered with milk chocolate cream and our famous hazelnut crunch nestled in between almond chocolate sponge cake. This cake has a really nice layer of textures.
DO: You produce such extravagant desserts. You must spend countless number of hours in the kitchen.
Kimura: I have a crew that helps me, but I come in at 7 in the morning and usually work till 7 or 9 p.m. So I guess you could say I put in 12 to 14 hour days.
DO: Chef, it’s evident that you’re so passionate about baking. Where does this passion come from?
Kimura: I like to eat desserts to begin with, so it really makes me happy to be surrounded by desserts. I’m always thinking of new creations and I really don’t like to see what other people are doing, I try to see what would work best for the people of Hawaii.
DO: Do you use any local ingredients in your baking?
Kimura: Yes. I utilize local products like papaya and pineapple.
DO: What is the one La Palme D’or creation that you like the most?
Kimura: (Laughs) Everything!
DO: Of course! It’s hard to pick just one, isn’t it? Well, everything is so beautiful. How important is presentation?
Kimura: The presentation to me is as important as the quality of the taste. There’s actually a saying in Japan along the lines of “You also eat with your eyes,” so it’s always important that everything looks immaculate.
DO: Most items here are a result of your own original recipes. Are there any that aren’t?
Kimura: Yes, the Cheese D’or and the Palme Chocolat are the only two in which I don’t touch the recipe. The Cheese D’or is a souffle cheese-cake, very light in texture and has a delicate flavor. The Palme Chocolat, on the other hand, is a flourless chocolate cake with a brownie-like texture that’s rich and moist. It’s a dessert popular with all ages.
DO: For those foodies not too familiar with Japanese desserts, how would you describe the taste and texture compared to American desserts?
Kimura: I think Japanese desserts are more delicate, sophisticated, well balanced and attractive/appealing to the eyes, with layers of flavor and texture compared to a bold, straight-forward “American” dessert. The desserts here have so much character.
Framboise Fromage, for instance, has a base with a denser sponge, cookie crust made with hazel-nut and almonds. It also has a super-silky smooth, light cream cheese mousse, a perfect combination of flavors — acidity of cream cheese and sweetness and tartness of the raspberry, buttery sponge, nuttiness from the crust-perfect melody of flavors! Or La Maccha has a dark chocolate fine sponge that complements the slightly bitter and strong yet airy green tea mousse, and it works like magic!
DO: You cater to both locals and tourists, primarily Japanese tourists. Are there certain items that locals tend to gravitate toward? Are there others that the Japanese tourists prefer?
Okura: Locals really seem to enjoy our croissants, whereas tourists always seem to order the jelly drink.
DO: Where do you see La Palme D’or headed in the near future?
Okura: I think the owner’s dream is to one day expand — not necessarily all over the place, but maybe to a bigger place, where people can really sit down and enjoy the desserts.
Patisserie La Palme D’or
- Ala Moana Shopping Center
- 1450 Ala Moana Boulevard
- Honolulu, HI 96813
- (808) 941-6161