From the moment Daeho Kalbijjim first landed in Japantown two years ago, its namesake dish — a stellar version of the spicy-sweet Korean short rib stew known as kalbijjim — became one of the the most coveted dishes in San Francisco. Kalbijjim lovers would devour their bubbling-hot stew over a big bowl of white rice, with glass noodles, or with chewy rice cakes — and now, for the first time, they can also enjoy it on top of a buttery French croissant.
Yes, you read that correctly: In what might be a first-of-its-kind creation, Jina Bakes, a new Japantown bakery, is collaborating with Daeho to make a kalbijjim croissant — an eye-catching addition to the Bay Area’s rich tradition of stunt pastries.
As pastry chef Jina Kim explains it, the croissant is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Kim shreds a portion of the short rib stew and adds it on top of a square croissant prior to baking. When the pastry is almost fully baked, she sprinkles shredded mozzarella cheese on top — and then, as the final step, she torches the cheese until it browns and caramelizes. It’s the same show-stopping move Daeho’s staff pulls when customers order their kalbijjim with cheese at the restaurant.
The result is a pastry that would make for a fine meal all on its: a crisp, flaky croissant topped with savory, spicy-sweet stew that stays notably moist. “I imagine someone eating it for lunch,” Kim says. And while the kalbijjim has a slight kick — Kim uses the kalbijjim with a “level 2” spiciness (on Daeho’s three-tiered scale) — it doesn’t taste overly spicy when eaten together with the croissant.
Kim is debuting the croissant as part of the biweekly Saturday “quarantine boxes” that she’s been selling since about a month into the pandemic — $35 for a box of seven or eight treats. She started the new business after she was laid off from her job as a pastry chef at Dropbox. (Prior to that, she had been a sous pastry chef at Alexander’s Patisserie in Mountain View.) It was a way for her to keep busy — and to feel like she was contributing something to the community at large.
“People need something sweet at the end of the week when they’ve just been stuck at home,” Kim says. “It’s exciting to bring people joy, even just in a small way.”
The boxes cultivated enough of a following that Kim eventually decided to turn Jina Bakes into a full-fledged bakery. Over the summer, she signed a lease on the former Ichi Sando spot in the Japan Center mall. She’s baking the quarantine boxes out of the kitchen there while the space is under renovation, but she expects to open soon — perhaps by March.
Kim, who is Korean-American, explains that her training was in French pastry. In her previous pastry chef gigs, she worked a lot with French-Japanese fusion, and that’s what she decided Jina Bakes would focus on as well — classic French pastries, often made with Japanese and Korean flavors.
So, for instance, Kim makes a very traditionally French kouign amann. But she also makes cream puffs and other cakes and pastries with Japanese flavors like matcha and black sesame. For the quarantine boxes, she’s also started making milk rusks — a kind of sweet biscuit made by dipping slices of baguette in milk and then rebaking them. They’re an immensely popular snack in Japan and India, Kim says, but she’s rarely seen them in the Bay Area.
As for the Daeho kalbijjim croissant, Kim says that if it catches on, she’ll consider adding it as a more regular menu item. So far the signs are good: This weekend’s quarantine box — the first to feature the croissants — sold out completely in less than one day. But kalbijjim diehards and croissant enthusiasts needn’t despair: They’ll have their next opportunity to try the meaty pastries in Kim’s next quarantine box, which drops on Saturday, February 13 — Valentine’s Day weekend. Preordering opens at 10 a.m. on February 7 — always the Sunday before. Otherwise, follow Jina Bakes on Instagram for updates.
The Jina Bakes quarantine boxes can be pre-ordered via the bakery’s website; the boxes are available for pickup on Saturdays at the Japantown storefront (inside the Japan Center at 1581 Webster Street), with limited delivery within SF and parts of the South Bay.