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Mar 18, 2009 06:04 PM

Chapel Hill: The Heartbreaking Case of Miel Bon Bons

I had my first taste of Miel Bon Bons, the refined French patisserie that opened about a year ago in Carrmill Mall. I had been meaning to go for quite a while, but I could never quite justify either the calories or the expense. My wife and I ordered two coffees, a chocolate-covered hazelnut and chocolate mousse pyramid, and an apple tart. The pastries were flawless, easily the most sophisticated and visually lovely and professionally executed French pastry I've had in the Triangle. My wife and I used to be regulars at Payard in New York, and I would say that Miel Bon Bons is not terribly far off the Payard standard. The heartbreak of the situation is that it's very hard to see the place surviving. The pastries sell for $5-$7, and they are distinctly petite; they can be shared but they are not really meant to be. The beautiful and equally petite truffles sell for $2-$3 each. These prices are unlikely to appeal to those looking for a snack, especially with so many options in the immediate vicinity, and Carrboro, with its hippy/BOBO ethos, is not likely to be won over by this kind of refined and formal pastry. I talked for a while with the owner/chef -- a pleasant woman from Hong Kong -- and it was not hard to infer that she is struggling. It's a damned shame, because she is both talented and committed to executing her craft at a high and serious level.

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  1. Thanks for reporting back. I have to admit that I've wondered whether a patisserie like Miell Bon Bons could really succeed in that location. I would disagree that Carrboro can't sustain refined cuisine - but I do feel like something that precious can not afford to be hidden away inside Carr Mill, with little pedestrian traffic compared to Main St. It's not on the way anywhere, it's not visible as you pass by on the street...anyone would really have to promote heavily and loudly in order to make a go of it. Very sad.

    1. I should be their best customer ... I love the *kind* of thing they do, but the one time we went in we were ignored for about 5 minutes, then not treated particularly well. The chocolates we bought were very expensive. They were good though. But I was mostly excited about the macaroons. When I asked about particular flavors, I was told that they only have 3 a week, and only at certain times. Given that none of the 3 flavors especially appealled to me (and the lackluster service), I haven't bothered to go back.

      4 Replies
          1. re: LulusMom

            Out of curiosity, do you remember what the flavors were for this week? I have never had a macaron, and they're on my lists of foods to try.

            1. re: avivi

              They are wonderful. I know that one was papaya and I think maybe one was banana; I was looking for non-fruity ones (just a preference on my part) and I have a feeling all were fruit. I love chocolate, vanilla, caramel, pistachio ... any of those would have had me jumping.

      1. I enjoyed our one visit there but I remember scratching my head wondering what I had just spent $15 on. Given that I'm a beer guy and within walking distance there are Weaver St. Market, Tyler's Taproom and the bottle shop, TJ's, and Milltown Miel just doesn't win out.

        1. While I wholeheartedly concur with your assessment of the caliber of the myriad delectable offerings at Miel Bon Bons and the obvious dedication to excellence they represent I must take issue with your contention that "heartbreak" is inevitable. There is a very steady clientele, myself included, who make weekly if not more frequent visits for coffee and sweets, often taking a few along to share with friends. There are regulars who have "their" table and preferred confection/beverage combination although opportunities to adopt new favorites abound. For us Miel Bon Bons is a destination not an afterthought and while the atmosphere is often quiet--much to my delight and that of many friends who have made the pilgrimage with me--I have been in attendance when foot traffic has been brisk. Bonnie Lau is consistently upbeat, friendly and accommodating, often providing my mother and me with samples to go with our customary biscotti--mildly sweet, perched perfectly between crunch and crumble--and drip coffee, always rich without a hint of bitterness (French press is also served). Today, in fact, she plied us with two flavors of her transcendent macaroons, so light and delicate as to border on the ethereal. Her work is not only flavorful but imaginative and tinged with whimsy. She delights in designing special orders for events large and small. She is currently preparing an order of her specialty custom cookies for us and we find her style of collaborative creation very much to our liking. To those who refer to inattentive service I offer the observation that this is essentially a one woman shop in spite of the sporadic presence of an assistant or two and if a choice must be made on occasion between counter duty and culinary focus I vote for the latter every time. Selection varies daily so it is important to check back for your favorites. We are so used to the ready availability of mediocrity; we could all benefit from remembering that rarity and quality are worth appreciating, savoring and supporting--and well worth the wait.

          1 Reply
          1. re: glamourcat

            Hmm wish I could change the thread title, as they are doing fine!

            And Bonnie made me the most fabulous birthday cake, my fave French classic: Gateau St. is a pastry ring with creme patisserie then topped with little cream puffs, stuffed with creme patisserie. This was genius Gateau St. Honore.
            I'm definitely ordering something for the holidays from her. She is a great baker, using first class ingrediants, even the strawberry was ripe and delicious.