I've mentioned the Japanese love affair with French culture and cuisine before. Among the venerable French pastry shops to have established an outpost in Tokyo is Laduree. This old-Paris bastion of beautiful sweets claims to have invented the modern macaron, the sandwich cookie that's taken Paris by storm in the same way the cupcake overtook New York a few years ago. There's an ongoing debate among macaron aficionados as to whether Laduree or Pierre Herme makes the penultimate incarnation of this little sweet. While Pierre Herme's macarons are fatter, chewier, and more exotic (they come in flavors like olive oil, elderberry, and mango coconut), I have to come down on the side of Laduree. Their macarons are shatteringly crisp and light, the ganache filling is thick and smooth, and the flavors, while restricted to about 18 classics, are pure and strong. Every time I'm in Ginza, I have to go into the Mitsukoshi department store and at least walk past the Laduree shop-cum-tea salon on the second floor. If I'm feeling self-indulgent, I'll treat myself to macarons or a pastry as well.
The whole shop looks like the box - everything is pink on robin's egg or robin's egg on pink, or gold on green, with lots of swags and loopy writing. It's the most gorgeously over-the-top place I know, definitely a close cousin to Versailles. In fact, if you saw the Sofia Coppola movie about Marie Antoinette, you might remember her being surrounded by fabulous cakes and pastries. Laduree designed those for the film.
Unlike Pierre Herme, who often fills his macarons with a contrasting flavor, Laduree makes each flavor homogenous, with the textural contrast between the crackly, light-as-air cookie and the smooth, buttery filling providing interest in a staid but classic fashion. From left to right, the flavors in the lineup above are Dark Chocolate, Rose, Bergamot, Yuzu, Cafe, Pistachio, Salted Caramel, and Raspberry. Most are filled with ganache, but the Salted Caramel (also shown below) has a delicious, chewy caramel inside, and Raspberry contains raspberry jam. If absolutely forced to pick a favorite, I'd probably go with Rose. Its sweet fragrance (not at all soapy) and its delicate taste are simply heavenly, as well as unusual. And - yes, I'm a girly girl - it's pink! But Bergamot (the flavor of Earl Grey tea) is also amazing, floral and citrusy at the same time. I've always loved coffee and pistachio flavors in anything. And who could argue against caramel? Luckily no one is making me choose just one.
Ginza Mitsukoshi 2F