24 April 2009


A senior and very conservative colleague once observed, to everyone's mild surprise, "One never regrets extravagance." He did not mean buying a McMansion. This was said during a fine meal.

I'm feeling a little extravagant just today, too, du fait de la cuisine, and not regretting it. I've posted before about my area's best bakery, Eliane's. I go there very rarely, in fact, due to cost and the calories. But yesterday I was driving by and stopped to get something to spoil our office staff. And, as it happened, I spoiled myself too with piece of flan.

I was shocked at how incredibly good that flan was, in every detail. I'm not a pastry crust connoisseur, but even the crust was just perfect to me. I paid $3 for it. I know they do most of their business as a provender. I'm sure other people are paying $8 for the same flan at some upscale Valley restaurants.

The extravagance, though, is that I went to Eliane's again today with my family. Two days in a row. It's too much bliss. And that was after lunch at Provo's best restaurant, the Chef's Table. Really, it's just too much bliss.

All this has me thinking back to a conference I attended in Boston last year. The conference was fine, but the weather was grim, and I saw little of Boston. However, I did take advantage of one conference excursion, a culinary tour of Little Italy in Boston's North End.

The first stop was (per my guide) the most authentic Italian bakery in Boston, Maria's Pastry Shop. As you can see here (click "Street View"), it's just a hole in the wall, but the pastry is authentic and wonderful. They had a few heavier pastries, more suited to American palates, but most were surprising light, as is traditional. While the Italian-American food we all know is very heavy, much real Italian cuisine (especially from the North) is comparatively light. They do not eat heavy pastries after a big meal. You're more likely to have millefoglie or cannoli at a wedding than after a huge spaghetti dinner. Cookies will most likely be set out with coffee.

Amaretti with pignoli nuts.

I sampled a little of a lot at Maria's but just had to bring home some Italian macaroons, called amaretti. You've never had a macaroon until you've had one of these, smothered in pignoli nuts. A favorite flavoring in Italian cookies is anise, which is a digestive. Whence the British term "digestives" for these kinds of "biscuits." Very distinctive flavor.

Our guide did not have a warm recommendation for Boston's most famous pastry shop, Mike's Pastry. He said it's not as authentic as Maria's. But I went there anyway, after the tour. It may not be as authentic, but it is not to be missed.

Cannoli and sfogliatelle (Lobster Tails) from Mike's.

Mike's is a pastry Disneyland. The store is not especially large and was (always is, I'm told) very crowded. But its wall-to-wall cases are packed with a huge variety pastry, of all kinds, but especially the heavy creamy kind.They have every kind of cannoli and sfogliatella imaginable. I tried a chocolate lobster tail and was in pastry nirvana.

The take-home message? One never regrets extravagance. If you have the chance to eat great pastry, forget budgets and waistlines. Just do it.