The "box set" of Nuvrei 2.0's new mini caneles, flavored with everything from vanilla rum to coconut curry.

Most bakers want their sweets to taste good. Marius Pop wants his pastries to wreck you. “I want people to be happy when they come in to Nuvrei and ecstatic when they leave,” he says, motioning to one of his just baked croissants, a craggy flavor monster pocked with an asteroid belt of walnuts, Valrhona dark chocolate, and banana. “I want tasting my pastries to be a 'Holy Shit' moment.”

The longtime local baker made a major leap toward that goal this week, when his Pearl cafe/bakery reopened with a chic new look and some ridiculously deft new treats.

The sleek aesthetic of Nuvrei’s year and a half old “Mac Bar” macaron counter has crept upstairs to the newly remodeled café, which ditches every extraneous gadget, shelf, and brick façade in favor of a cleaner, slicker space that draws the eye toward Nuvrei’s glowing pastry case, where a glossy lineup of baked fantasies idle in neat rows like European luxury autos.

The makeover isn't skin deep. More than 50 percent of Nuvrei’s menu is new, from sweet and savory Danishes to a riot of mini canelés; the crunchy-shelled French treats served in teeny paper cups for street side munching. The throughline is a return to focus on technique. With eight variations on croissants alone, each with its own custom filling and dough, Pop says he’s “digging deeper” into each type of pastry—buy any three and you’ve essentially got a master class on taste and texture from a dude who can wax poetic for an hour on the importance of proper emulsification in macaron filling and unorthodox eclair shapes.

“I want Nuvrei to be the pastry mecca of Portland,” he says with a smile. 

Nuvrei's remodel puts the focus on its sweets.

Pop exploded onto the Portland bake scene in 2004, carting some epic croissant dough and unnervingly matter-of-fact bravado with him when he returned to his hometown after paying his dues for a few years at New York's lauded Payard Patisserie. His technically rigorous treats backed up his talk, from habit forming midnight dark double chocolate cookies to those intensely flavored macarons.

Nuvrei has remained a favorite for years, first as the go-to treat wholesaler for local coffee shops and since 2011, as a full service cafe. But over the course of the past decade the baker says he felt spread thin with wholesale accounts. He made business minded decisions toward ballooning menus that leaned on lunch fare like salads and hot sandwiches while streamlining baking processes that pushed Nuvrei away from his labor intensive core passions and affected quality. That all ended this week, when Nuvrei reopened its doors.

Nuvrei already quit all its wholesale accounts last year. Now, the shop’s coveted pretzel bagels will move 10 blocks over to Nuvrei’s new mini-shop on the ground floor of the U.S. Bancorp tower, which is scheduled to open in a few months with an abbreviated lineup of bagels, cookies, and coffee. The Pearl location's popular rainbow of macarons will only be sold downstairs at the Mac Bar. The café space will instead showcase pastries “on a whole new level” as Pop puts it; ditching the bloated lunch menu to free up more real estate for sweet stuff and just a few savory eats, including a dynamite maple-brushed bacon, goat cheese, and very caramelized onion topped flatbread made from their signature bagel dough.

The changes are promising. New treats include a textbook croissant with sweet, crackly glaze that blooms with rose essence with every springy bite, courtesy of rose water and aroma worked right into the dough. It gives Blue Star’s blueberry bourbon basil doughnut a run for its money as the Rose City’s highbrow sugar mascot. Another version comes kissed with Earl Grey syrup and slathered with house ground pistachio cream for a nuttier, heftier bite.  

Nuvrei's rose croissants. Photo courtesy Nuvrei.

Eclairs, from chocolate to violet, are coming soon, while a handful of old faves, like berry-crowned brioche and the excellent cinnamon Danish, fragrant with orange glaze, aren’t going anywhere. And those mini canelés? They’re a hit for fans of the old school French dome pastry’s chewy-crunchy shells, although purists will bemoan the lack the super spongy interior that is a hallmark of full-sized canelés (Nuvrei also sells those). Pop is promising seven or eight flavors of the diminutive treats, including lemon, mango, and a spicy-sweet coconut curry that reminds me a little bit of Portland’s Masala Pop caramel corn (pretty much the highest compliment I can give a food).  

“I’m really excited,” says Pop. “I screwed up and took my baby down the wrong street. And now I feel l like I’ve come back with all this passion and drive. This rebirth feels so good.”

Get a taste of the new, new Nuvrei today:  the cafe is handing out those heavenly rose croissants for free noon to 5 pm Friday, May 22, or until they run out.

Nuvrei
404 NW 10th Ave
503-972-1700, nuvrei.com
7 am-5 pm Wednesday-Saturday, 8 am-5 pm Sunday

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