Alexander Nham wrote “An Ode to Chinese Pastries” in City of Ate last week, and pointed Observer readers to Vivian Bakery located in the New Chinatown in Richardson. Not sure why he called it “new” when Chinatown has been there forever. I mean, I was probably too young to even walk when my mother brought me along with her to shop there. That was twenty-something-odd years ago. The only thing that’s new are those knock-off Terracotta soldiers they added to make the place look less dumpy. Plenty of bakeries have come and gone since then, but Vivian Bakery, to which Nham references, has been there for more than a few years now, attached to the hip of a Chinese grocery store called Tian Tian Super Market.
It’s rare when this happens (because I’m a sucker for every kind of carb), but I walked into Vivian Bakery two weeks ago and walked out empty-handed. It was a Saturday afternoon and the breads didn’t look fresh; they were shriveled up in their plastic wrappings. I was willing to give the place a shot until I caught an offensive glimpse of cheese (like the Kraft singles you buy at Wal-Mart) melted on top of a pastry. After reading Nham’s review of Vivian Bakery, I considered the fact that I might have just… you know… imagined that slice of cheese. Wanting to give Vivian’s another chance, I returned for a second trip last Friday. This time I found a “chocolate” bread covered in brown goop with multicolored sprinkles. Don’t get me wrong, I love sprinkles. They’re wonderful on donuts and cupcakes and cookies. But sprinkles do not belong on Asian bread. Period.
Instead of harping on Vivian’s, let me direct you to places where I go to get my carb fix. These bakeries, I assure you, will not scare you off with the sight of sprinkles and Kraft singles.
Jeng Chi – This is actually a restaurant, but the front doors open to a bakery corner where you can buy sweet pastries and desserts made by the owners’ son. It’s almost impossible for me to walk through Chinatown without stopping by Jeng Chi and grabbing either an egg tart (one of the best in Dallas), fluffy roll cake (remember to keep it in the fridge after you take it home), savory curry pies (I was obsessed with these as a kid and still am), or mini sponge cakes. A woman standing next to me in line once asked if the egg tarts are any good, and after hearing me go on and on about their flaky crusts and eggy middles, she was completely sold.
Désir Bakery – I wrote about its breads extensively back in November. This place still gives me the goosebumps every time I go inside. Fresh bread is constantly making its way to the shelves, and the prices are unbeatable.
Aroma Cake House – We bought a cake from here a few months back, and it was a big hit among the elderly ladies and gents at the party who have a sweet tooth, but don’t like their sponge cakes too sugary. Aroma Cake House, this bakery located in a bright red-and-yellow building that could be a marketing ad for McDonald’s, offers a plentiful selection of Asian pastries (like the wife cakes above) that are solid. But it’s really the cakes – which you can order with either red bean, taro, mixed fruit, or coconut filling – that make this shop a stand-out. Plus, it’s only a second’s drive away from Vivian Bakery, and you won’t walk out empty-handed.