One of the best parts about walking around big cities is watching not only how the restaurants, but how the bakeries, breads, and pastries change with the neighborhoods. Crunchy-creamy cannoli filling out the windows in Little Italy; gleaming frosted black and white cookies at the Kosher delis; dense rye and wheat loaves when the street names turn Eastern European.
In the heavily Southeast Asian Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul, it's tempting to peg the new Silhouette bakery and all that fills its cases as somehow traditional to the area. But Ericka Trinh, who owns the storefront with her brother Eric Huynh, disabused me of that notion right away.
"The best way to describe it is global fusion food. There's nothing authentic about it. Just good food."
She knows the neighborhood as well as anyone. Her mother opened Anh's Hair Stylist in a storefront three doors down from Silhouette 27 years ago, and now Trinh runs that salon as well as the bakery. The hairstylist-cum-baker says she went to "Le Cordon You Tube" to figure out how to bake. Huynh, who went the more formal culinary training route via Le Cordon Bleu, handles the savory side of the bakery/bistro.
Inside, you'll find snack-sized dishes like Korean beef and kimchee tacos, Chinese BBQ pork rice bowls, French fries, and their mom's recipe egg rolls. The bakery case is populated by lots and lots of diminutive cupcakes in flavors from taro to red velvet to strawberry confetti.
But it's the savory Japanese-style meat-filled buns (the likes of which we've only found locally at Keefer Court Chinese Bakery) and a few other fun oddballs that make the bakery worth seeking out. For something truly different, check out the water mochi, a gelatinous sugar drip with bubble-tea drops suspended within — think of it as Jello for the trendster.
We liked everything we tried, from the colorful Chinese pork rice bowl (above) to the diminutive but tasty Korean beef tacos in little handmade corn tortillas. The accompanying kimchee was some of the best we've had locally.
The savory buns were the real winners, stuffed with spiced pork or beef. Trinh says she was inspired to make them after receiving a batch from a Chicago bakery — a gift someone else in the house pilfered in the night. There was nothing left to do but jump online and learn how to make them herself.
The buns are served warm and make for a light meal in themselves. For sweet teeth, they're also filled with things like taro, vanilla custard, and green tea custard.
Silhouette has only been open two weeks, and in addition to their house-brewed root beer and nitro coffee on tap (both very good), they're thinking of adding old-fashioned phosphate sodas. Trinh says they're "not against" the idea of beer and wine, but they're not quite there yet.
For now, think of it as a good excuse to jump off the light rail see how the neighborhood changes when global-fusion comes to town.
Silhouette Bakery & Bistro
383 University Ave W., St. Paul