Norimoto Bakery’s storefront at Deering Center is as unassuming as its gifted owner and head baker, Atsuko Fujimoto.
The bakery does not have large signage on its facade to advertise itself. You could easily miss it, just pass by without noticing it, if it weren’t for two things: its display case full of perfect pastries and the impatient line of masked customers waiting to order takeout at the window.
Norimoto does not offer indoor dining and asks customers to wear masks when ordering. These minor inconveniences are irrelevant to Norimoto’s loyal and loving fan base that stretches across the city, because before moving its bakery last year to Stevens Avenue, Fujimoto also wholesaled its products to restaurants such as Woodford F&B and Boda. Deering Center’s zoning no longer allows him to do wholesale business, so his bakery has become something of a mecca for baking pilgrims.
Fujimoto is a finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Baker Award, competing with four other star bakers from across the country. The winner will be named in June, so it seemed like time to explore some of Fujimoto’s offerings.
Norimoto had 11 items on the menu on a recent weekday morning, with a sample of each displayed in the front window. I was looking to prepare a kind of brunch of savory and sweet pastries. The display included golden croissants, a half-loaf of shokupan (sweet, white Japanese milk bread) and kouign amann, a French puff pastry that Norimoto flavors with toasted pecans and honey caramel.
My gaze lingered on a slice of gluten-free carrot cake with a fluffy cream cheese mousse. Then I caught myself staring at a shimmering lemon-pistachio meyer danish, grateful that my mask hid my open, salivating mouth. Then I was just staring at a gluten-free French crumb cake, Vistadine, flavored with almonds, brown butter and dark chocolate chips. I hadn’t even looked at the savory dishes yet. If you arrive at Norimoto with a growling stomach, it may be difficult to narrow down your order.
What separates Fujimoto from the pack is its ability to fuse classic European pastries and baked goods with Asian flavors in a seamless package greater than the sum of its parts. The single-serve mini quiche with grape tomatoes, spinach and dashi cream ($7.50) is a prime example. Dashi is a basic Japanese broth, often vegan and made with mushrooms or kombu seaweed. In the Norimoto quiche, the dashi gives the velvety cream a subtle depth of umami to balance the sweet flavor of the tomatoes and the light, green flavor of the fresh spinach.
The crust is the star of the show, however. Flared to about 5 inches in diameter, the beautifully browned crust was tender yet flaky, buttery and airy, and its superb quality made the whole egg tart feel like a special occasion dish.
I also tried the jalapeno sausage roll ($4.25), featured in the window display like a pig in a blanket. The “pig” here is a thin, mildly spiced sausage that nestles against a thin, whole jalapeno inside the “blanket,” a strip of sesame and poppy seed coated crescent pastry that wraps around meat and roasted pepper. The seeds add textural interest to the spicy roll, while the crispy batter and succulent sausage left me wanting more.
But together, the mini quiche and the roll made a pretty satisfying meal. I was almost full and hadn’t even started the dessert. I had ordered a Gooey Butter Cinnamon Roll ($4.25) and a Strawberry Ricotta Cornmeal Cake ($6), so I had to make room.
The cinnamon roll was gooey as advertised, but not covered with the usual white cream cheese frosting you find on many cinnamon rolls. The goo here is restrained, but wonderfully effective. The cinnamon flavor was fully and evenly distributed throughout the rolled, fluffy dough, and the top was wet and gooey. This is a cinnamon bun for adults, with a delicious sweetness that doesn’t feel too sweet and won’t worry you about the dentist afterwards.
Fujimoto is said to use the fruit she grows at home in her cooking, although she said it’s still too early in the season to supply strawberries and rhubarb for the cornmeal cake. with ricotta. Either way, his true knack for flavor balance is evident in the cake’s generous fruit mix, which offers a perfect blend of sweet berries and tart rhubarb. The light corn flavor of the soft cake itself complements the spring produce without dampening the vibrant taste of the fruit.
My total order would have made a fun and light brunch or lunch for two, served al desko or enjoyed al fresco as a picnic, nothing more needed than drinks and napkins. Norimoto Bakery’s line of take-out display cases moves fast and the service is quick and friendly. If Fujimoto wins the Outstanding Baker award next month, the line should get a little bigger; Now is the perfect time to offer you his exquisite work.