Do you know that friend of a friend you’ve always heard about, the one that elicits raves every time her name comes up — and then when you finally meet her, you realize that she truly is that amazing and you too are in awe?
Nuvrei Patisserie and Cafe is that girl.
I’d been hearing about this place and its perfectionist owner, Marius Pop, for years. Romanian-born but Portland-raised, Pop went to cooking school here but spent three years working for pastry guru Francois Payard in New York.
His Payard Patisserie background is evident; his creations are glorious, old-school paragons of baking excellence. No shortcuts. No wacky combinations. And he uses only superior ingredients — Valrhona chocolate, local fruits in season, premium butter.
Day old pastries? Forget it — I hear the few Nuvrei pastries that don’t sell at coffee shops around town (he does a rocking business in wholesale) are collected on the sheet pans on which they are delivered and donated to the Blanchet House for their nightly meal.
Now let’s start with the basics. The patisserie is located on 10th street right next to LexiDog Boutique (and just up the street from Jamison Fountain) and and if you are lucky you can snag one of the window seats.
Sitting in air-conditioned comfort with girlfriends and a pastry and people-watching? Sign me up.
Nuvrei also has a Mac bar downstairs (you can buy a single macaroon or a handsome box). I have yet to try one of those macaroons; so many diversions, so little stomach space! Next time, I swear.
For now, I’d like to begin with the cookies upstairs — I’ve now sampled almost every one and there are some spectacular beauties here.
The chocolate chip in the foreground was a reliable one, appropriately chewy and crunchy in equal measure, but it paled in the wake of deliciousness of the other two seen here.
The cookie on the right is a French Sable, an intensely buttery and crumbly cookie that tasted just like the best ones I had in Paris. I understand that they hail from Normandy, and are usually made with only butter, flour, salt and sugar. How can something so simple be so perfect?
The cookie in the background above is one for which Mr. Pop is justifiably famous — the Double Chocolate Brownie Cookie.
The woman at the counter described it as having the consistency of the corner bite on a brownie pan and there is something to that — it’s only about a 1/4 of an inch thick and it’s mostly crunchy with the occasional chewy pocket.
What’s so remarkable about this is not its commendable texture but its intensely, almost absurdly chocolaty nature, like a dark chocolate bar has been transformed into a baked good.
I’m pretty sure it was flourless (maybe with the tiniest bit of egg whites to bind?) and the quality of the chocolate is apparent in every bite — a chocoholic’s reverie.
I loved it so much that I ate one there at the counter and brought another one home for Charlotte and I to enjoy the next day. And I had to dig deep into my role as provider to split that cookie — every cell in my body wanted to deny its existence and then sneak into the laundry room and eat it greedily with nary a crumb for sharing.
Now get this — as enamored as I was with these last two cookies, there was perhaps an even more impressive one yet ahead.
The French Almond.
When the four of us gals oohed and ahhed over this cookie, I struggled how to describe it.
Then it dawned on me; if an almond sugar cookie and a shortbread had a love affair, this cookie would be their lovechild.
It was buttery, crunchy, chewy, almondy, and just on the right side of saltiness. Any more salt and it would have been too much, any less and the butter and almond flavor wouldn’t have been so eye-poppingly front forward.
It was a marvel of balance and one of the more intriguing cookies I’ve had in a very long time.
Cookies are just the beginning of what Nuvrei offers.
There are croissants of all kinds, pretzelwiches, scones, Danish, canneles, and more.
The pretzel was filled with a salmon cream cheese, and it was lovely. Without the filling, I could have eaten a half dozen of those bagel-rolls back-to-back.
The rose croissant was even better; somehow it managed to embody the essence and flavor of fresh roses without leaving you feeling like you had just sucked on a bar of guest soap.
My pal Amy said she detected multiple layers of rose flavor and Charlotte said that eating the croissant felt like walking through a summer garden –I was too busy scarfing down that almond cookie to get caught up in nuance, but I too swooned over its delicacy.
To be able to tackle such flavors with both aplomb and restraint is remarkable.
There was also a beguiling looking granola, excellent coffee and Valrhona hot chocolate.
Amy even found a chicken curry bun — something she hadn’t had since living in Japan.
Okay, Nuvrei, I’m sold. I’ve visited you three times in the last couple weeks and clearly you are living up to your much-lauded reputation.
I can’t wait to visit the newest addition, Pop Bagel — coming soon to a Big Pink near you.