Saturday, July 19, 2008

Paulette: Life is like this box of macarons

My macaron destiny placed me a few mere blocks from another macaron bakery on the list of places in L.A. that make them, so I gave in to fate and made the pilgrimage to Paulette in Beverly Hills.  Reviews online by fans of French macarons were mostly negative, but I needed to see for myself how this bakery devoted exclusively to macarons would be.

Walking in the door, the sterilely modern white room simply housed a glass counter lined with 14 flavors of the cookies.  I ended up purchasing a box of 13 of the flavors, since I had a friend to help me eat them; I wanted only 12, but the lady threw in one for free since the box needed a 13th to keep them from moving around too much in the box while traveling.  At $18 for the box, I was fine with getting one free!

The one flavor I didn't get was peach; the rest were violet cassis, chocolate, chocolate coconut, vanilla, strawberry, lemon, coffee, raspberry rose, almond dragée, pistachio, caramel pecan, praline, and Earl Grey.  Varied offerings, and as it turned out, varied quality.  I was glad that I got as many as I did in order to sample the variety.

The first ones we ate were very, very chewy - not what one expects with what should be a light, airy bite of macaron.  My friend said that the chocolate one was like a brownie, and the praline I had was similar in texture.  The raspberry rose I took, however, was much lighter, and I enjoyed the rose flavoring.  Still, as we worked our way through the box, more chewy ones arose - caramel pecan, violet cassis, and vanilla - with some semi-chewy ones mixed in - pistachio and coffee (lest we sound like gluttons, this was over a period of time, and my friend only had 2...).  The most disappointing were the strawberry and lemon; the flavors were not very apparent at all (have they heard of lemon zest?).  I think my favorites in both texture and flavor were the chocolate coconut, raspberry rose, almond dragée, and the Earl Grey, to my surprise.

I think the most disappointing aspect of this experience for me was the inconsistency of the goods; it almost seems like they just haven't spent enough time working out how to make a quality cookie with each of their flavor recipes, and that seems irresponsible to me considering that they only make macarons.  Who knows if the same flavors are regularly better than others, or if the quality completely depends on the batch.  I agree with some of the online reviews that criticize the lack of flavor in the macarons, since about half of them could have been much improved in that regard. Others of the reviewers felt strongly that the cookies were far too sweet, which is something I admittedly am not very sensitive to: I have a high tolerance for very sweet baked goods.  I think the chewiness was the greatest downfall, however - by definition a macaron should not be thickly chewy as these were; it completely removed the idea that these are to be delicate and subtle vehicles of flavor with light but complex texture.

In the end, even though I enjoyed a few of these expensive treats, the experience was like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates: I never knew what I was going to get.  This is certainly not the end of my quest for good macarons in L.A.!

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