There is perhaps no more polarizing fruit than the durian, a bulbous, spiky monstrosity that is revered by some and reviled by others. It grows best in Southeast Asia, so it’s possible you’ve lived your whole life without even seeing one. It’s widely renown for its smell—something like yoga gear after a bikram class—and has a custardy flesh that tastes a little like, well, flesh. But despite this unappetizing description, durian is regularly referred to as the King of Fruits, and it’s widely popular in Asia. And one family-run Malaysian café in Kirkland is out to make sure locals learn to love it, too: They’ve created a durian mille crêpes cake that has fans going crazy.
Reunion Malaysian Café and Kitchen offers a menu of predictable American midday fare like brunch plates, sandwiches and salads plus—and this is the main reason to go—great Malaysian food that you can’t find easily in Seattle. (Get the laksa or the nasi lemak for lunch; dinner is available only Wednesdays through Fridays.) In addition to these savory options, there are always a few sweets in the pastry case, ranging from morning croissants to just-out-of-the-oven macaroons to the impressively tall and precise mille crêpes cakes.
Grace Ting, who makes all the pastries and owns Reunion with her brother Francis Ting and husband Richard Tju, says it takes about three hours to construct one of these cakes. They’re named for a thousand crepes, but really feature 20. She makes a durian paste out of real fruit (flash frozen before importing for maximum freshness, she says) and combines it with heavy cream for a light-as-air, lightly sweet pastry cream to layer between the crepes. The result is unlike anything I’ve had before—just barely sweet, a trait of Asian desserts I really enjoy, but with a subtle savory note thanks to the durian’s unmistakable… funk.
Durian is definitely an acquired taste. Ting says it reminds her of growing up on Borneo—her father would pick buckets of the spiky, stinky fruits, and they’d skip dinner and gorge themselves on durian. And there have been plenty of funky flavors that American palates have embraced—kimchi, pickled fish, kombucha, etc. Folding durian into cake, particularly one as trendy as a mille crêpes cake, seems a brilliant way to introduce it.
Get your hands on a slice Thursday through Sunday; whole cakes are available by request, in other flavors like chocolate or mango as well.