Meet Mio Asaka, the Farmers Market's Queen of Tarts
Mio Asaka approaches desserts the way Werner Herzog directs a film: like an active volcano, stopping at nothing to get the details right in challenging terrain. Every Saturday, the petite baker mounts an ingenious, labor-intensive bakery operation—French-Japanese in style and Portland-fruit-centric—in the middle of the farmers market at Portland State University. You may not have heard of Mio’s Delectables, but you will. I defy you to walk by this booth without stopping in your tracks.
Instagram-worthy fruit tarts line Mio’s makeshift shelves. She makes around 15 options, each individually tricked out with garnishes from Asaka’s garden, rosebuds to thyme flowers. The overall selection changes weekly, but the haul typically includes a basket of scones, several foot-long galettes, fruit-jutting jellies, puddings in mini-mason jars, a trio of one-bite macarons, bags of chouquettes au chocolat, four quiches sporting vegetables foraged from nearby vendors, and, at last count, 10 kinds of teeny shortbread cookies, among them bitter chocolate and sake-kuse with smoked black pepper. Oh, and for good measure, she also makes “gluten free N.Y.-style baked cheesecake.”
A few years ago, Asaka was an occasional market presence with a cookie spread and a lone tart. Now, with a secured weekly spot, her far-flung inspirations blossom under one (plastic tented) roof. That includes a Tokyo baking school degree, graphic design skills, a best-ingredients-only philosophy gleaned from her cookbook hero Alice Waters, and a love of Portland—her adopted home since 2011—where she’s clearly joined the DIY movement.
Not everything works. The scones are, alas, too hard. Farm quiches could use more flavor pop. Poke around and find what you like. I’m hooked on the roasted sesame wafers baked with local Jorinji miso. But the tarts ($5.50–7) are Mio’s raison d’être. You might find a Japanese satsumaimo tart tasting like new wave sweet potato pie, in a shade of purple cooler than your nail polish. An orange tart clad in leaf-green pistachio crumbs flaunts caramelized black fruit edges that channel flower stems. Capped with a baby rose, it should be enshrined in the International Rose Test Garden.
There’s nothing quite like Mio’s in Portland. Think what Asaka might do with a brick-and-mortar bakery.
Find Mio’s at the Saturday Portland Farmers Market at PSU and a smaller collection of her wares at the Wednesday Portland Farmers Market at Shemanski Park, miosdelectables.com.