Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Pretty in Pinkberry

PASADENA
I’ve been Pinkberried. I am no longer a Pinkberry virgin. Does that now make me a Pinkhead?

After first reading about the long lines and parking violations circling the original Pinkberry frozen yogurt shop in West Hollywood, I’ve been dying to see for myself what the big fuss was all about.

Since then, the store—opened in 2005 by two Korean-Americans—has become a swirly movement. It has spawned nearly 60 locations in Southern California and New York. Its owners have starred in their very own American Express commercial.

But it has yet to open in the San Francisco Bay Area. So despite all the various Pinkberry copycats that have popped up in the last year, I couldn’t really relate when people would say “it’s not the same like Pinkberry.”

Last week when I had to fly down to Pasadena for work, I made it my mission to find a Pinkberry. Luckily, one was just a few blocks from my hotel. After our meeting ended one day, I went with my colleague Tammy for some fro-yo before we had to head off for dinner with the rest of our colleagues. Yes, I was determined to try the fro-yo even if it turned out to be a pre-dinner snack.

The Pinkberry store in Pasadena is on the small side, with only a couple of tables. Already wary of the copycats and media frenzy swirling around them, Pinkberry has banned cameras at their stores as noted by the big red circle and slash sign at the door. (Still, that didn’t stop me from sneaking in shots of my actual purchase.)

The store has the bright contemporary design that has set the mold for fro-yo shops since. What was interesting was that on the right wall before you hit the counter you see a rack of little knick-nacks for purchase that I don’t normally see at fro-yo shops. (They’re cute little animal figurines and neon-glowing items.)

Pinkberry started with just two flavors: original (which is on the tart side like the ones in Korea) and green tea. It has now added a third flavor: coffee. (It also sells smoothies and shaved ice.)

I got myself a small cup of the original. I could have topped it with a variety of fruits (mango or lychee?) and crunch (granola or coco pebbles?), but I wanted to keep it simple so I just topped it with fresh strawberries.

The fro-yo was definitely creamy and cooling, with no hint of the iciness that I’ve come to hate in my fro-yo. Its taste was tart, but in a good way. When mixed with the fresh strawberries, it was a satisfying cup of goodness. The taste and consistency was very similar to Red Mango, which I consider one of the better fro-yos out there. Pinkberry and Red Mango are creamy but there’s a difference that I couldn’t put my finger on. The only way I can describe it is Red Mango seems to have more body in the yogurt while Pinkberry might be a tad lighter.

Since I didn’t know when I would try Pinkberry again and wasn’t sure when it would open in the Bay Area, I decided to go for another cup. This time the green tea.

I got a small cup of the green tea (which I’m not sure why it needs to be more expensive than the original but it is) without any toppings because I just wanted to taste the complex flavors of green tea. The Pinkberry version, or at least the one I had that day, was a bit odd. It had a strong tart flavor at first bite, but then a calming robust green tea flavor when it’s in your mouth, and finally an odd aftertaste that wasn’t necessarily tart or green tea. I’m not sure if I’m a fan of the green tea as I am of the original, but I can see how it can grow on you.

Because Pinkberry has become so big, it’s also been the target of criticism. Often nicknamed “Crackberry” for its long lines, it was also a target of a lawsuit questioning its healthy claims. For me, I’m not concerned about watching my waistline, so I’m not particular about the ingredients as long as they’re fresh and not artificial. In the end, I just want a creamy fro-yo with a nice twang to it.

Pinkberry does it and many others follow suit. I can see why Pinkberry was so popular when it was the only player in town, but now with all the copycats the options for consumers are plentiful and varied. And that’s a good thing. I can’t say Pinkberry is the king of all things fro-yo, but it definitely has set the standard.

Single Guy's Fro-yo Rankings:

1. Red Mango, Palo Alto
2. Pinkberry, Southern California
3. Fraiche, Palo Alto
4. Icebee, San Francisco
5. Jubili, San Francisco
6. Yogurt Harmony, Berkeley
7. Yogen Früz, San Francisco

Pinkberry. 19 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena. PH: 626.744.0505. Additional locations throughout Southern California and New York. Check its Web site for locations and hours of operation.

8 comments:

Verena said...

i had pinkberry when i was in LA too, but didn't find the froyo as tart as i had heard and wanted. i wonder if they had changed their formula after they were made to reveal their ingredients (there were claims that their products didn't constitute as real froyo).

pinkberry's froyo was pretty creamy, but i seemed to notice a slight chalky, chemical-like aftertaste. did u?

Chef Ben said...

I think I got that aftertaste you described more on the green tea, but not really the original. Again, like all fro-yo, it also depends on how it's mixed by the workers. Some shops say they do it on-site so it can vary from cup to cup. Unfortunately, I can't go back to Pinkberry often to do an average. Plus, I'm getting really full on fro-yo. Ha! :)

SteamyKitchen said...

Hey, have you ever had the Chinese yogurt drink that came in itty bitty plastic containers? They come in packs for 5 I think, and each is only like 2 ounces. Plastic container is creamy color and the cap is tin foil red.

Anyways, the Pinkberry reminds me of that yogurty drink.

Why can't I think of the name for the drink???

SteamyKitchen said...

ben - this!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yakult

i bet their yogurt uses that strain of bacteria

Chef Ben said...

Steamy, I don't know if I'd like to "drink" my yogurt. ;-)

agent713 said...

Blah! I've been craving fro-yo all summer and I can't find any up here. This isn't helping!!!

Kathy H said...

Have you tried Dolci Mango in Montrose? (at Oceanview and Honolulu) It has lots of flavors of frozen yogurt and toppings, and you serve yourself. You get charged by the weight. It's much yummier and cheaper than other places I've been to.

PS - I didn't realize that Pinkberry in La Canada had a photo ban when I took the pictures for my blog. The owner ran out of the store yelling at me, but I was on the sidewalk, so he couldn't stop me at that point. See
http://www.kchristieh.com/blog/?p=831
I think they put their no photos sign up soon after that.

Chef Ben said...

Kathy, I don't live in Southern California so haven't been to Dolci Mango, although it sounds cute. And yes, I think Pinkberry banned photos after the incident with you! Ha, just kidding! I think they're concerned of competitors copying their design. I have to say, the La Canada location does look pretty fancy. Pinkberry is finally opening in the Bay Area with its first store in Santana Row in San Jose. Hopefully it'll be as fancy looking as the La Canada store.