Vietnamese Coffee and Green Pastries at Parisian Bakery III

Rarely do I encounter a restaurant in Houston where the language barrier is so insurmountable that I can barely order a cup of coffee. But that was just one of the charms of Parisian Bakery III; stepping foot inside this airy bakery in the Viet Hoa strip center is like wandering into another country. I like that pleasant feeling of being knocked for a whirl, finding yourself suddenly out of place in your own city.

They don't need to speak English at Parisian Bakery III; most of their customers speak Vietnamese (or possibly Cambodian), and the few English-speaking customers get along by pointing and gesticulating, tracing the various shapes of pastries in the air with their hands.

In the case of ordering a coffee, it was an elaborate pantomime of me pointing to the coffee cups, then mimicking the pouring of a thermos into those cups, all while repeating "cafe?" like an elderly parrot. It eventually did the trick, though.

And because they don't speak any English here, it was difficult to get answers to any of my questions -- are they Vietnamese or Cambodian?, as asked above -- but I did have a friend along who could help. And two of the things he helped me learn about were pandan waffles and a pastry that my friend Brandi said resembled Flubber.

Both were bright green.

Of the two, I admired the pandan waffle the most. Soft and eggy, with a moist interior that made the idea of adding syrup to waffles seem almost offensive, it had an ever-so-slight coconut taste that was neither too cloying nor too sweet. This is because the pandan leaves are usually steeped in coconut milk before cooking, adding that light tropical note to the mild, grassy flavor of the stuff.

I was less impressed with the tapioca dessert, which featured a few slivers of coconut suspended inside the gel and a bean paste center which was too gritty for my tastes. But I did concede to my friend, Ricky, that the way the gel held together was fascinating.

Physics aside, I was glad to have pantomimed for that coffee so I could wash the taste of the tapioca and bean paste out of my mouth and go back to that pandan waffle. The little pastry and the sweet, milky coffee were almost meant to be consumed together, sitting in the sunny window of the bakery and watching the busy world outside on a Saturday afternoon.

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Katharine Shilcutt