I'll admit I have a little weakness. Although I don't really appreciate the hyper-sweetened desserts ubiquitous in the United States, I'm a pushover for a nice pastry, lightly sweetened cheesecake, or torte.
This list includes a lot of Asian style pastry shops because even in the U.S., these shops tend to use a lighter hand with sugar and sell more sane portion sizes, so that I don't feel I'm risking a heart attack every time I'm eating.
Hiroki. Hiroki Inouye makes a beautiful matcha tiramisu, which is served in the style of a cake, made with Japanese green tea. Other great things you might find here are include an Earl Grey cheesecake, and, on occasion, a mont blanc-style chestnut pastry. It reminds me of the French-ish cake shops I found in Japan, with slightly larger portion sizes and perhaps a slightly more European flavor. The good thing is that he tends to avoid the hyper-sweet exaggerations that are common in American style cakes, in favor of clean, refreshing flavors. 2224 North 56th Street, Seattle, WA. (206) 547-4128. Open Wednesday-Sunday.
Cafe Besalu. You need to come here for a light weekend brunch. Order a slice of quiche and a brioche, or one of their fantastically flaky croissants. They have sweet pastries and not-so-sweet, and they make espresso drinks using Lighthouse Coffee (based in Fremont; see also my Coffee in Seattle notes). You're probably craving sweets, so order an orange brioche or one of their strawberry danishes. If you're having a simple afternoon espresso, they also have a nice selection of cookies to accompany it, but get there before 3pm. Keep in mind this is really a daytime place and they are closed Mondays and Tuesdays. If you're up for something savory, the word is that the first quiche of the day comes out at about 10:30 am. 5909 24th Ave NW. Phone 789-1463.
Fresh Flours. Think standard coffee shop fare with a Japanese approach. Keiji Minematsu produces freshly-made scones, muffins, slices of pound cake, and little cookies; in theory, you could find such items anywhere, but not likely made like this. Don't expect to find a replica of a Japanese style bakery, but you will find Japanese accents, such as a satsumaimo (sweet potato) tart, a kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) muffin, Parisian-style macarons flavored with matcha (ground tea ceremony tea), black sesame seed cookies, and azuki-cream filled brioche. Sugar is used in judicious moderation. Countertops and some of the seating area are made from a reclaimed bowling alley. 6015 Phinney Ave N. Phone (206) 790-6296. Full Disclosure: Fresh flours is a customer of mine; accordingly, I've tried to be more descriptive here than evaluative. Added 7/21/2005.
Le Fournil. Some people are convinced that the best croissant in Seattle is found here. I don't have much cause to disagree with them. They have a nice lemon pastry made with the same laminated dough used for croissants, they have amandine, and a huge selection of French-style cakes. As for the atmosphere, you'll feel like you're in any of a number of counter-service coffee shops in Seattle; a little sterile, but the new digs about two doors down from their original location are a little bit hipper than before. 3230 Eastlake Ave E #A, Seattle, WA. Phone (206) 328-6523. Parking in building.
Belle Pastry. Old Bellevue, the area on Main Street west of Bellevue Way, had been a sleepy business district for the last several years, but things have been looking up recently. Fran's chocolates moved their Bellevue store to this area, another entrepreneurial chocolate maker opened its doors, and Belle Pastry replaced a wedding cake company here. The French owner of Belle Pastry offers probably the best Eastside options for European-style cakes and pastries. For the most part, he avoids a heavy hand with the sugar, though most options are sweeter than what Hiroki makes. Keep in mind the hours are also very old Bellevue. 10246-A Main Street, Bellevue, WA. Phone (425) 289-0015.
Fran's Chocolates. Fran's produces some of the nicest chocolates in Seattle. The stores are really retail shops, not cafes, so you're coming here on a mission. You want one of the hazelnut stuffed figs or maybe the gray-salt topped chocolate caramels. They have two bittersweet filled chocolates which are perfect if you like chocolate more than sugar. I've been nibbling on their chocolate covered cocoa nibs recently, and it's a good thing I buy small containers or I might not be able to stop. University Village in Seattle or on Main Street in Old Bellevue.
Regent Cafe Bakery. If you happen to be in the Overlake area of Bellevue, not far from Microsoft or Sears, this Taiwanese-style cake shop and bakery offers a pleasant strawberry mousse cake, a Chinese-American take on Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (black forest cherry cake), and various sugary breads. 15159 NE 24th Redmond, WA. Phone 425 378-1498.
Sweet & Fresh Bakery. I used to come to this place promptly at 9:30 am when working at a newspaper which was a couple blocks down the street, then buy an inexpensive croissant right out of the oven. At other times, this place offers sweet Hong Kong style breads. I get the feeling the owners are not the same as 10 years ago, but it's still pleasant enough. 610 8th Ave. S., Seattle 98104.
Seabell Bakery. Seabell offers Japanese-style breads like an-pan (sweet azuki bean stuffed bread), uguisu (sweet mung bean stuffed bread), cream pan, mocha pan, and so on. It's not open on Sundays, so if you want a weekend fix, pop in on a Saturday. 12816 SE 38th
Bellevue, WA 98006. Phone (425) 644-2616.
Cake Fuji. Cake Fuji isn't anything like Fuji-ya, the legendary cake shop in Tokyo whose name Cake Fuji references, but it does have a good selection of Japanese style cakes, like a matcha mousse cake (green tea mousse cake) and a strawberry cake. As I recall, the portion size of a single slice of cake is just about right for one healthy adult; you will see none of the gut-busting exaggerations that you might find at a typical US cake shop. No atmosphere, limited hours, average quality, but sometimes I need a matcha mousse cake. 1502 145th Pl SE Bellevue, WA 98005. Phone (425) 641-3889.
Dilettante. The Broadway location of Dilettante is a full-service cafe featuring cakes, “grown up“ milkshakes made with spirits, espresso drinks, and various other desserts in addition to their signature chocolate lineup. For best results, stick with things made with chocolate, though some people enjoy their fruit parfaits. Non-chocolate cakes tend to be a little heavy on sugar for my taste, and I can't quite handle the sugar level in their “hot schmocha“ (peppermint schnapps mocha), but there are some things worth coming for. The Rigo Jansci is pretty nice, but make sure to eat light before coming in or plan to share with someone. Alternatively, order a plate with six filled chocolates of your choice and overindulge with an intimate friend. 416 Broadway East, Seattle, WA 98102. Phone (206) 329-6463.
B&O Espresso has two locations, but the one with more sweets to choose from is at the intersection of Belmont and Olive on Capitol Hill. It's one of the few full-service coffee shops in Seattle, and the atmosphere is sort of diner-like but with better food (at least at dinner time). Most of the sweets are very American and accordingly quite sweet, but you'll get nice results by ordering one of the Greek specialties in the evening. I am fond of the Greek style “pudding” in filo pastry. 204 Belmont Ave. E, Seattle, WA. Phone (206) 322-5028.
Masalisa. (Closed May 29, 2005; sold to new owners, Floating Leaves Tea, using Macrina products). Masalisa is first and foremost a tea shop, but if you're craving Japanese-style cream roll cakes, with matcha (green tea flavor), mocha flavor, or any of several occasional varieties, this is a great option. You'll even find a few Japanese sweets from time to time (zenzai or oshiroko, sweetened azuki bean soup) and a selection of homemade cookies. Masalisa has a pleasant atmosphere for sitting and chatting. 2213 NW Market Street Seattle, WA 98107. Full Disclosure Notice: This comment was written about a year ago, but I've since established a business relationship with the owners of Masalisa involving selling their tea products online and at wholesale.