I visit Paris often. I am one of those classic femmes Américaines gaga over Haussmann architecture, pink light, and the Marais. When I go to Paris, I don’t make plans. I throw my scarf over my shoulder, adjust my sunglasses, and simply head out. In Paris, like in London, Rome and New York, wandering is a plan. These cities are made for discovery, like that time I stumbled across a Jewish bakery in Trastevere and proudly ordered “Due fiorentino e uno caffe macchiato” only to discover what might be the most delicious Florentines in the world.
In Paris, while I don’t make plans, I do carry a list of patisseries (by arrondissement) that’s as long as my arm. And what I’m after, my white tiger, my white whale, is the perfect éclair. Slightly chewy pastry, luxurious vanilla scented crème patisserie, and a swath of chocolate that snaps when you bite. For me, this is the éclair classique and a good one is very hard to find. Even in Paris. Where I don’t speak French (I speak Fromage, ha ha!), so I am often unsure of exactly what I’ve ordered.I’ve had éclairs that are filled with caramel, coffee, orange, pistachio, raspberry, banana (!), and chocolate creams. Où est la vanille? I buy at least two éclairs per visit to Paris and have yet to find an éclair that meets my classique criteria or that is even memorable. (Apologies, Pierre, but your mille feuilles would be my last meal.)
If not in Paris, dear reader, where, oh where will one find the perfect éclair classique???
I’ll tell you where: At the afore-reviewed Joan’s on Third. Yes, in Los Angeles, a city not known for it’s bakery culture. I’d pretty much given up on ordering éclairs anywhere after so many disappointments. But one afternoon I decided to give Joan’s version a try.
Revelation! Celebration! The hint of a tear in my eye! Sooooooo delicious, everything I look for and more: The pastry is always fresh, the chocolate subtle with the desired crackle, and the filling, the FILLING! Smooth, velvety, luxurious, incredible. Maybe it’s vanilla but you can’t really tell the note is so subtle. It’s fantastic. I’m embarrassed to say just how many of these I have eaten since that first bite.
I’ve only visited the Studio City location, but I imagine these delectable nom-noms are available on Third Street as well. Locals and visitors alike, it’s well worth the journey from wherever you are to enjoy these beauties.
Note: I learned, whilst writing this piece, that “éclairs” are named for the French word for “lightning” because they are “eaten in a flash.” Buy a few because you will mourn the too-fast loss of just one.
Joan’s on Third, 12059 Ventura Place, Studio City, CA 91604; www.joansonthird.com