Word of Mouth

JinJu Is Your Neighborhood Master Patisserie

“People don’t give a shit what other people do in Portland. You don’t have to look a certain way here."

By Karen Brooks July 24, 2019 Published in the August 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

JinJu's Kyurim Lee and Jin Caldwell (with bonbons)

Image: Karen Brooks

Why did a skilled pastry chef and a master chocolatier, trained by dessert gods in opulently frosted Las Vegas, decamp for Portland, home of the vegan cheesecake? Bonbon ace Jin Caldwell and intricate dessert chef Kyurim Lee, the Korean-born charmers behind JinJu Patisserie (4063 N Williams Ave), put it succinctly.

“It’s not at all like Las Vegas,” says Caldwell. “People don’t give a shit what other people do in Portland. You don’t have to look a certain way here. You can go out in your PJs and get a croissant. I want to be that person.”

The patisserie/café/candy shop, opened in April, seems ready-made for our food scene, down to the couple’s “I love my ingredients like my children” devotion. But the real draw is the no-brakes selection: four kinds of croissants, savory tarts, Instagram-fancy desserts at around $5–6 a pop, dozens of artful, hand-decorated candies, and bulgogi grain bowls under one little roof.

What’s surprising it how well most of it works. Bite into a plain croissant and it shatters into a million little pastry crackles—as it should, but rarely does around here. I’m already a fool for the almond croissant, a dark, buttery beauty of a beast. The open-faced spinach-feta savory tart is somewhere between Paris and an everything bagel; a raft of expert pastry, vegetal intensity, and toasty, seedy undertow. Bodacious cookies are buff as gym rats, lifting three kinds of chocolate. Lee’s luscious, six-layered chocolate mousse cake once strutted out at the three-Michelin-starred Joël Robuchon Las Vegas, where she worked in the pastry kitchen. In Portland, it sports Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free flour.

Meanwhile, a world of dedication hides inside a glossy orange orb called “coconut exotic mousse.” Picture an architectural feat of coconut sponge, tangy curd, and coconut mousse crowned with a passion fruit cream flourish that looks like a soup dumpling filled with mango–passion fruit jelly. A pick-up stick of white chocolate teeters on top like a Calder mobile. Reminder: this costs $6.

The shop's elaborate coconut exotic mousse

Image: Karen Brooks

For her high-end bonbons, Caldwell airbrushes each one in a special mold, their impressively thin shells filled with carefully made ganache. Faves so far: the heart-shaped yuzu-lime (creamy, dreamy, and citrus-intensive) and spotted salted caramel, which looks like a quail’s egg. But all are elegant, beautiful, and
sophisticated. At four for $5, they’re a steal.

The shop’s most loyal “customers” stand outside daily, their necks taut with anticipation: the neighborhood dogs. Yes, even the free dog biscuits are house-made at JinJu, batched with organic peanut butter and pumpkin purée. “The dogs know,” says Caldwell. “They bark for them. We eat them, too. They’re so good.” How much more Portland can you get? 

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