Thursday, October 26, 2006

BOBA FETE

Viet "bakery" offers a sugar-coated sampling of teas and treats

Posted on Thu, Oct 26, 2006 at 4:00 AM

Given the seemingly unambiguous moniker of Boston Bakery & Café, one would expect to find display cases filled with mouthwatering cream pies, cupcakes, whoopee pies, molasses-sweetened brown bread and, perhaps, the odd patron or two downing frothy glass mugs of Irish coffee. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. Instead, this simple café on the fringes of Little Saigon is primarily a Vietnamese restaurant, and lies smack dab in the middle of what I like to call the CoFer District (Colonial Drive and Ferncreek Avenue).

Further digging revealed that the name isn't so cryptic after all. Owners Tony and Yolanda Vu ran a restaurant in the Boston suburb of Quincy before swapping nor'easters for sweltering zephyrs a year ago. The couple shares kitchen and cooking responsibilities, but it's Yolanda who handles the baking duties.

A large cake display case sits at the core of the square space, but upon entering, neither 'bakery� nor 'café� are descriptors that immediately leap to mind. In fact, the baby blue'colored walls and children milling about makes it feel more like a nursery or after-school daycare. Even so, I did glimpse a few baguettes resting on sheet pans behind the counter, undoubtedly prepared for one of their many banh mi, or Vietnamese sandwiches (ask for a side of their homemade butter if ordering one).

But the purpose of this assignment was to spotlight confections, not comestibles, and with Halloween looming, focusing on a place where those of us over the age of 13 could go and satisfy our sweet tooths seemed imperative. So, off to the display case I went in search of treats but, I have to say, I felt slightly tricked after perusing the offerings. Most were cake rolls, birthday cakes and Napoleons that weren't offered by the slice; and there was nary a tart, pie, turnover or éclair in sight.

Evidently, they were all sold out of personal-sized cakes, but a small, oval-shaped 'cheese cakeâ?� ($2) stared back at me, which I promptly ordered and devoured in four bites. Now this isn't your Cheesecake Factory brand of cheesecake; it's more like pound cake with a layer of soft cream cheese in the center, and rather delicious.

Pre-packaged cakes made by a friend of the owner are also available, but the plastic wrapping is a total buzz kill.

Still craving cake and cake-like products, I got myself a chocolate cake roll ($8), which resembled a log made of sponge. Light and airy with a hint of coffee flavoring, the roll embodied a minimalist ideal in both look and taste. I took it home and enjoyed it deeply with a dollop of double Devonshire cream. Simple, unaffected, not too sweet, but far from orgasmic.

The menu board beckoned to 'experience the slush magicâ?� so, on this particular visit, my accompanying beverage of choice was a perfectly tangy and refreshing passionfruit slushie ($3.50). Other flavors, ranging from mint-chocolate to watermelon, are also offered, each with the option to add chewy 'pearls,â?� or tapioca balls, to the mix for an additional 40 cents. Those rubbery orbs are often found dotting the bottoms of plastic cups filled with milk tea, thus the terms 'bubble tea,â?� 'pearl teaâ?� and 'boba tea.â?� The drink, hugely popular in cities with large Asian populations, was as trendy as Starbucks' lattes among high school and college students when I was growing up in Toronto, and it seems to have a burgeoning following here in Orlando. I enjoyed the sugary Thai bubble tea ($3) until the tapioca balls got stuck in my straw. Neophytes, take heed: When you're offered a straw from the decanter, be sure to choose one wide enough to suck up the balls. Uhh, yeah.

If sipping bubble tea through a broad, colorful straw seems too emasculating an act, might I suggest the red bean tea ($3.50), sans tapioca. The proteined potable (the sole nod to their Beantown roots) features red bean (or azuki) powder, producing a smoky slurp akin to liquid barbecue.

Vietnamese coffee ($2), meticulously prepared in a press pot by blending a chicory-flavored French roast with Vietnamese arabica and robusta grounds, will definitely turn your crank. Served in a small glass, the coffee is at once ridiculously strong, syrupy-sweet and glacially creamy thanks to the addition of sweetened condensed milk. Amusing side note: The brand of the chicory-flavored coffee, Café Demonte, is a blatant rip-off of Café du Monde and even comes in a can that looks remarkably similar to the one the venerable Big Easy coffeehouse produces.

Admittedly, I was a little disappointed in this bakery, especially when, on a return visit, the display case was, once again, devoid of individually portioned baked goods. Pissa! If sweet treats are what you crave this Halloween, avoid being tricked and take your chances at the Publix across the street.

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