Once upon a time I made a right turn onto Beverly Boulevard. I was looking for street number 7122, but somehow I went by without noticing it. Parking, I backtracked on foot, trudging past a whole strip mall full of tchotchke stores and dry cleaners -- still too far. I crossed Detroit Street and rounded the Starbucks on the corner. And then I smelled sugar -- hot, cooked sugar -- and large wooden doors with gleaming glass appeared out of nowhere. Opening them, I stepped into the perfect, twinkling world of Sugarplum Bakery. Candies! Cakes! Cookies! Tarts! I almost checked to see if Id left a trail of bread crumbs behind me.
A friend had brought me a box of Sugarplums tiny cookies, and thats what lured me in. I spotted them just inside the door, tiny pignola cookies filled with marzipan; chocolate swirls sandwiching a thin layer of ganache, then dipped in white chocolate; vanilla swirls held together with jam, dipped in dark chocolate -- all wee, one bite, two if youre chary. Chocolate hazelnut rounds, madeleines the size of cat tongues, round shortbreads with the diameter of quarters, and many more, all of them adorable and delicious.
Today, however, I am meeting friends, and lunch comes before any sweets. Once everyone arrives, it takes us a while to settle down on the pretty paisley banquette -- too much to look at. Sugarplum sells an impressive selection of candies -- saltwater taffy from Atlantic City, artisanal marshmallows (!) and caramels from the local Little Flowers candy maker, French pastilles in charming tins, small sacks of malted-milk balls, mint lentils, raspberry candies, peas and carrots, licorice of all sorts. Plus candy canes of every stripe, and beautiful, heavy (and expensive!) dragees imported from France in many colors -- red, silver, green, chocolate, even some that look uncannily like black and green olives.
Sugarplum is the dream come true of two young women, Jenna Lise Turner and Anna Delorefice, and the attention to every little detail in the room is impressive and beguiling: charming belle-epoque woodwork and wrought iron whose twists and turns incorporate the plump, cleft shape of a sugarplum; beaded chandeliers and sconces sparkle overhead; old-fashioned green and yellow tile covers the floor. Turner, who buys the candy and handles the business end of things, grew up in her mothers bakery -- also called Sugarplum -- in New Jersey. Since then, shes worked in management and helped to open many Wolfgang Puck Cafes. Delorefice, the baker, is a veteran of the pastry kitchens of both Spago Beverly Hills and Spago Hollywood. Her father, Larry, is the fine craftsman responsible for all that gorgeous woodwork -- really, the counters and cabinets look as if they couldve been airlifted from some magical art-nouveau Parisian cafe, only cleaner.
When our sandwiches arrive, each is carefully, distinctly composed. I love the tomato with good Cheddar -- especially where the Cheddar oozes out, roasted from the grill. The prosciutto with fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers and spinach, when pressed, turns juicy and bigger-flavored than the sum of its parts. The Black Forest ham with grainy mustard and fontina-cheese sandwich is a high-quality take on the old standby. The only sandwich Im not mad for is the bland roasted veggie with goat cheese -- the vegetables keep sliding out.
Unfortunately, the fancy estate teas -- gunpowder green tea and blood-orange green tea -- served in little press pots, are punishingly strong, and the medium-size lattes are too weak. Breakfast scones, especially the pumpkin-raisin ones, are a bit heavy and moist.
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That said, the croissants, shatteringly crisp, are just right, especially the bittersweet-chocolate kind. Bite-size fruit tarts look like jeweled brooches -- the best is topped with pomegranate seeds. Bite into that short crust, and soft pastry cream fills your mouth, followed by the crunch of seeds and the tiny spurts of tart juice.
Dont miss the Berry Blossom cake, a fluffy, not-too-sweet layered mass of vanilla sponge cake, white-chocolate mousse, fresh berries and, surprise, crunchy bits of meringue. Chocolate eaters will prefer the simply named Bear, devils food, chocolate mousse, a hint of rum, again, not offensively sweet.
At this time of year, Sugarplum offers convenient one-stop shopping. Pick up a cake or tart or 10 (pumpkin, say, or roasted-apple and quince, or cranberry orange) for your party, grab a few gifts, meet friends for lunch, and dont forget a sack of chocolate-covered almonds. Or ribbon candy. Or red-hots. Oh, and ask Jenna Turners Aunt Jackie for a tarot-card reading; at $25 it takes about half an hour -- and shes good.
Sugarplum Bakery, 7122 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 934-7900. Lunch and dinner Mon.--Fri. 7 a.m.--7 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m.--7 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m.--6 p.m. Sandwiches $7. Lot parking. AE, MC, V.