Fuji Bakery is back in business after a long absence that was largely due to the loss of Taka Hirai, their esteemed baker who previously worked as a pastry chef with Joël Robuchon. This much-beloved Japanese bakery first opened in Bellevue in 2009, later adding a location in Seattle's International District. Both closed temporarily last year, opening recently after moving production to the site of Fuji's newest bakery, in the Queen Anne neighborhood. Fans wonder whether man and machine can recapture the quality of croissants and more from Hirai's days at the bakery.
Fuji is an East-meets-West endeavor, combining ingredients and techniques from Japan and France to create wonders like the Yuzu Bacon Epi. Many people visit Fuji for its savory breads and pastries, such as Kare-Pan (curry bun) and Brioche Saumon (salmon brioche). Some items from the "old days" have yet to resurface, but are expected to roll out soon.
I was excited for Fuji's reopening so I could sample some sweets. As with the savories, some sweet items like Kouign Amann (with apples sautéed in caramel and cardamom, an interesting twist) are still on hiatus. But I found five sweets worth trying, including a plain croissant, two other pastries utilizing croissant dough (one with green tea), a Japanese sweet roll filled with red bean paste, and, oddly, a Milanese sweet bread loaf.
Anpan ($2.50) is a Japanese bun that here is filled with tsubuan, which is a "rustic" version of red bean paste. The glazed bun itself is a bit dry like brioche can be, but the focus is on the anko filling. Some prefer the smooth texture of koshian, but it's said that true gourmands prefer tsubuan, in appreciation of the skins and the partial to whole beans within.
The Fraise ($3.00) is made with croissant dough, but its crust is far flakier than what's found in the plain croissant. Subtly sweetened vanilla custard cream makes a soft bed for slices of fresh, juicy strawberries.
Also made with croissant dough, the Green Tea Danish ($3.00) offers less crackle in the crust than the croissant does. The green color is a swirl of matcha powder filling. It has a strong green tea flavor that is enticingly bitter.
Panettone ($3.00) is a sweet bread loaf originating in Milan that many see only during the Christmas holiday season. Fuji Bakery gifts panettone to its customers throughout the year, changing the filling according to seasonal trends. This version is cranberry raisin with macaroon topping, and its moistness made the panettone a tasty fruity treat.
Recommended With Reservations
The plain croissant ($2.25) is much like Fuji Bakery itself, earning a "B" score in my book. The quality is good, though it doesn't quite rise to the level of compelling. The croissant is pretty buttery, with some contrast between fairly crisp crust and soft crumb, but I found it's a little small and light.
About the author: Jay Friedman is a Seattle-based freelance food writer who happens to travel extensively as a sex educator. An avid fan of noodles (some call him "The Mein Man"), he sees sensuality in all foods, and blogs about it at his Gastrolust website. You can follow him on Twitter @jayfriedman.