For the past year, a Japanese-American bakery run out of an Italian restaurant in Cleveland Park has been wowing customers with exceptionally crackly, flaky pastries stuffed with unorthodox fillings. From the yuzu flower croissant to the cardamom rose bun and a lemon meringue pie “cruffin,” each of baker Yuri Oberbillig’s creations at SakuSaku Flakerie are packed with delicate, seasonal flavors.
Despite trying opening conditions in the midst of a pandemic, the small pastry shop run out of Trattoria Al Volo built up a loyal fanbase of croissant lovers. The regular menu includes a za’atar Gruyere croissant ($5.50) in which the rich, nutty cheese complements the herb-and-sumac tang of the Middle Eastern spice blend. Another croissant pairs a pistachio spread stuffing with two bars of dark chocolate. The bakery recently partnered with Lost Sock Roasters for coffee. It takes custom pie and cake orders for special occasions.
The idea of making a twice-baked peanut butter and jelly croissant — filled with a layer of chunky peanut butter, roasted peanuts, and a spread of raspberry jelly — came from Oberbillig observing her father-in-law’s lunch routine. “I thought, I could turn this into a croissant!” she says with a laugh.
SakuSaku Flakerie (3417 Connecticut Ave NW) also offers traditional shokupan, a milk bread loaf typically found in any good konbini (Japanese convenience stores). Oberbillig is from Kobe, Japan. She started working in the restaurant industry 10 years ago, teaching herself how to bake from videos of chefs whose techniques she admired. While her Japanese hometown is world-renowned for its beef, baked goods are a lesser-known specialty.
“Kobe has the most bakeries in all of Japan,” Oberbillig says. “Because of its very old history and its huge port, it attracted different cultures. That’s why we have a lot of European-style bakeries and cake shops there.”
The 32-year-old pastry chef has cultivated her talent internationally, first by moving to Vancouver, Canada. She came to the U.S. in late 2017 after a few years working at bakeries back in Japan. Her attention to detail and precision stems from an early desire to become a fashion designer. “Like in fashion, the shapes and designs are very important to me when I bake,” she says.
Oberbillig’s husband, Jason, helps her at the store and says she’s “obsessive” about practicing techniques. After a long day at the shop, she will often bring her work home, trying on new recipes until she’s satisfied with the results. Every morning, she monitors the weather forecast, the level of humidity in the air, and the temperature of the kitchen in order to adapt her oven settings for maximum flakiness.
This fall, the chef went apple picking at Homestead Farm in Maryland. Salted caramel apple turnovers and classic apple pies will make an appearance as limited specials at SakuSaku throughout the season.
Oberbillig previously worked at several D.C. bakeries, including A Baked Joint and French chain Maison Kayser. When Firehook Bakery closed next-door to Trattoria Al Volo in the summer of 2020, the owners of the pasta place seized the opportunity to expand. Partner Rolando Frias approached Oberbillig, giving her carte blanche to pick a name and develop a menu. “When I tasted her croissants, I was amazed,” Frias says.
Like the pastries, the bakery’s name borrows from different cultures. “SakuSaku” is a Japanese word that describes the typical crackly sound when eating a freshly-made, flaky pastry. Jason Oberbillig came up with the “Flakerie” tag as a portmanteau of flaky, bakery, and patisserie.