Thursday, November 23, 2017

Croquantchou Zakuzaku, Tokyo

Several years ago, when I went to Tokyo, my visit was all about fine dining.  I racked up Michelin stars, and I ate a lot of big, fancy meals.

This time around, I went to the other extreme - super casual.  I was all about the street food, convenience store items, and experiences where I was the only non-local.  Most of my meals cost <$10.  To that mix, I added plenty of dessert though.

I discovered my first day, at Silkream, that Japan has really embraced soft serve ice cream, and made some of the best I've ever had.  Let's just say ... I had soft serve nearly every single day.

And good soft serve turned out to be very easy to find.  We stumbled into one randomly one night, Mother Farm Milk Bar, that was absolutely incredible, after the cheesecake shop we ventured to was sold out.  Everywhere seemed to boast Hokkaido milk soft serve.  In that way, Zakuzaku didn't stand out at all.

But the soft serve isn't actually the primary attraction at Zakuzaku.  They do offer soft serve, and it comes with crispy bits as a topping, but the real star is a pastry item stuffed with cream, and coated in those same crispy bits.

Both items sounded like crowd pleasers, so it didn't take long for us to find our way there.
The Full Lineup.
"Baked fresh, right in front of you. CROQUANT CHOU ZAKUZAKU, born in Hokkaido. It’s normal to be particular about the cream within a chou a la crème (cream puff). The crunchy textured pastry of the new Croquant Chou came from the idea of “making the outside pastry more delicious”."

The marketing focuses on the three secrets to why their pastries are so fresh:
  1. Factory = Shop.
  2. Finest ingredients from hokkaido.
  3. Latest technology.
What does that mean, exactly?

The first refers to the fact that the pastries are baked on site throughout the day, and stuffed (basically) to order.  The second refers to the quality ingredients - free range cow milk and a special flour blend - both form Hokkaido.  And the third, to the way the cream is produced with a "high speed vacuum cooker Qbo", not in advance, not with preservatives.

The result?  Well, the pastry was ok, but I did love the soft serve.

Setting

There are several locations of Zaku Zaku, but we went to the one in Harajuku, in the middle of Sunday afternoon, a brave move.

The entire area was crowded and crazy.
Windows.
The stand is located on a crazy busy street, with big windows displaying the pastries (not yet stuffed).

We had a bit of a wait, probably 10 minutes, in a line that looked pretty long, but did move rapidly enough.
Ice Cream Display.
Like many Japanese establishments, there were models of the food for you to admire, like the fake ice cream cones.  I laugh at the tacky plastic food molds, but actually, it was nice to see the sizes.
Pastries ready to go.
Since the line of people was steady, they weren't really stuffing them to order, as advertised, but that wasn't necessary.

Trays of fairly fresh (but not warm) pastries were lined up, and a staff member was stuffing them at a steady rate.
Cream Injector.
This was the machine that injected the cream right into the pastries.

Food

Menu.
The menu is very, very simple.

Pastry sticks stuffed with cream, or ice cream.  The former are available in singles or 4 packs (but no more than 12 per person!), the later in a cup or cone.  One type of cream filling, one flavor of ice cream, always with crunchy bits, one type of cone.

A friend and I decided to just split one of each.  Easy decision making.
Packaging.
The pastry sticks come in bags with very clear instructions, and plenty of marketing.

The instructions are quite clear that you are to eat it immediately.  But if you do need to take it home, you are instructed to 1) preheat your toaster, 2) turn the power off and put the zakuzaku inside on a sheet of aluminum, 3) leave in the powered off toaster for 30 seconds.

The goal is to have hot crispy pastry, but cool cream.

Of course, we devoured them on the spot, so this was not necessary.
Single. ¥250.
"The zaku-zaku's best feature is "crispy" crisp as its name suggests. Its identity is almonds crocan coated with sugar and egg whites. Changing the image of the cream puff up to now, a more crackling feeling than it looks. Enjoy a surprising texture to visit in your mouth." 

Inside the bag was our pastry, easy to eat by pushing it up the bag, no napkins needed, no fear of touching it with grubby hands.

The pastry was ... fine.  It wasn't warm though, which I was expecting.  It was just choux pastry though, not something I particularly love.  I did like the crispy bits on it.
Inside.
"Inside the shoe fabric is a gentle taste of custard. I focused on delivering the flavor and richness of milk from Hokkaido as it is, finished in natural sweetness. It is perfect mouth around which it matches crisp texture."

The cream inside was not thick custard, rather, it was a bit runny.  It was fine I guess, but not particularly good.  It was also not cool as it was supposed to be.

Overall, this was fairly disappointing.  It didn't have the hot and cold contrasts I was expecting.  It wasn't anything special.  The cream was runny.  I did like the crispy coating, but that alone didn't make it worth getting.
Crisp soft milk. ¥450.
"Enjoy the rich and rich flavor of Hokkaido milk to your heart's content, a classic software with a sense of volume appeal."
The ice cream was much better.

Very rich, very creamy, it melted perfectly.  Just like the other Hokkaido milk soft serve I had during this trip.  The flavor was unlike American soft serve in a way I can't really describe.  It was good.

I didn't actually care for the crispy bits though, which really surprised me, as I'm usually all about textures, sweetness, and crunch.  I always get sprinkles on my ice cream.  But for some reason, I didn't like this.

The waffle cone was just a standard waffle cone.

So overall ... it was certainly good, but not any better than the other similar soft serve I had on the trip.
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