It was a warm day today, and I admit it: I'm hooked on frozen yogurt. I don't want to be. I'm kind of embarrassed to be. But I am. If I had good gelaterias or ice cream parlors near my apartment and/or office, I'm sure I could satisfy my cold dessert cravings with fattier, sugarier offerings. But then, it's probably for the best I'm enjoying froyo. Living closest to the Koreatown Pinkberry, my experience with the city's current food phenomenon started in earnest there. But lately, I've been scratching my itch at Pinkberry spin-offs Snowberry, Cantaloop, and CéFiore.
But it was too hot to ride the Red Line or Purple Line to get my fix today. I needed gratification I can get on foot, and the nearest froyo place I can walk to is Stinkberry, er, Pinkberry. As loath as I am to feed the beast the sweet, sweet money it craves, I really wanted some yogurt. Yes, even Pinkberry's "chilly bliss" - which, for all we know, could very well be made from gypsum dust and termite honey - would suffice. And I really should be familiar with the enemy, I mean, standard in the froyo competition. So off to Pinkberry I went.
The fact that the interior of a store in a newly-erected building selling frozen desserts is even hotter than the outdoors when it's in the upper-80s doesn't perplex me as much, at least in one sense. This store never has its air conditioning on. Never. The last time I visited, it was just as hot inside. Of course, I came at night, and it was below 70° outside then, yet still in the upper-80s inside then. And still - no AC, packed to the rafters. The Koreatown Pinkberry is the see-and-be-seen place, after all, so one endures the Louisiana-level mugginess inside. I wasn't at all surprised that Pinkberry was the first place I saw an iPhone, laid out in all its glory on the table for everyone passing by to see. (Why would its owner stash it in his pocket? He didn't pay all that money for it to be there!)
The fact that the store refuses to turn on its air conditioning is just another symptom of what seems to be the company's rampant penny-pinching. I'm definitely spoiled on the generous portions given by the three competitors I've been patronizing recently. Both Snowberry's and CéFiore's larges strike me to provide at least 25% more of both yogurt and toppings. (And today at Pinkberry, my large actually tipped the scale. I suppose the only reason I still received it was because actually making me another, less generous one would cost the company too much money.) The large at Pinkberry was actually less than the MEDIUM at Cantaloop. Yes, yes, American portions are too big, supersizing, etc., etc. But Pinkberry remains the most expensive frozen yogurt while consistently providing the smallest portions. I have yet to find another store that insists on weighing every portion dispensed, too.
The last time I went to Pinkberry, I was pretty sure it would be my last visit. The counterperson was fairly rude - in addition to the store's being sweltering, the high price, the long wait, and so on - and the sour taste in my mouth was from more than the yogurt. This time, the attitudes were much nicer. This isn't to say anyone wrote me a love sonnet or asked how my grandmother was; the store was, as it almost usually is, very busy. But both the cashiers and the staff preparing the food were courteous, had a welcoming (if harried) tone, used their pleasantries. They were also offering samples of the green tea flavor if asked. (I wonder if the company is trying to push it for the extra mark-up it brings.) I don't need the staff the be my buddies; I just don't want them to be hostile. Today showed a good turnaround.
The flavor of Pinkberry's plain really is excellent. When I started going there, I would always get the green tea, but I've realized now there's just no flavor to it, certainly not beyond two bites. The plain, though, has a light flavor that reminds me somewhat of a good buttermilk ice cream I had at a Sunday Supper at Lucques once. (The flavor of it - certainly not the texture.) The tartness is what all the Pinkberry partisans I know really appreciate, and it's the best thing about it. Who knows what it's made from - turnip greens, shark blood, recycled car batteries? But it does have a nice approximation of dairy flavor, at least.
The texture of the plain, on the other hand, is something I can't say I'm really excited about. In previous posts, I've described it as "sorbet-like." Today, eating the stuff after a long Pinkberry hiatus, I realize that's probably an overly kind turn of phrase. "Ice milk-like" is more accurate. Some folks love this texture, do they? It's so watery. It just seems like a cheap, low-grade version of a frozen yogurt to me. It's like ice milk. The green tea has less of the ice milk texture, I believe. The grains of matcha seem to give it more texture; that is the one superior quality it has. It's not worth the extra dollar (two dollars for a large), but it gives it something approaching creaminess. The creaminess is not something everyone wants, it seems. That puzzles me. If one said, "You can have a dessert with the texture of ice milk or one with the texture of ice cream," I doubt anyone would choose the former. But somehow, the ice milky texture at Pinkberry has fans.
I also have to wonder: Does anyone actually buy those Alessi doodads? Are they for sale? Otherwise, what's the point of them? Okay, Alessi has unique design, but the cases dedicated solely to another company's wacky kitchen implements - it strikes me as odd. I've never found a sign about how one can buy an item. None of them have ever disappeared from being bought or even moved, as if a customer has looked it over. There don't appear to be price tags. One doesn't find a decorative rack of Sony televisions at a Chevy dealership or cases of Hermès scarves at a law firm just because they look cool. The Alessi product placement cases at Pinkberry perplex me.
Well, I'm still not a Pinkberry fan. For one thing, there are still no walnuts. Everyone else has walnuts. Why doesn't Pinkberry? They used to have walnuts. I could deal with the hot store and the smaller portions and the higher prices if I thought their yogurt was the best. Of the four places I've frequented, Pinkberry's product is easily my least favorite. (And this week, I'm going to Yogotango, and I will be trying the tomato yogurt.) I don't think I feel quite so negative about Pinkberry, but their business model - blatantly cutting costs to make maximum profit, opening stores left and right to stand out in a neighborhood rather than fit in, creating a sudden forced ubiquity rather than a gradual earned success - still disturbs me, and it's hard to separate it from the food.
I wonder what the future holds for these companies, too. Just Friday, I was talking with a coworker about all these yogurt companies' opening up, and we began musing on boba. Boba was huge just a few years ago, and now it's all but forgotten. Will Korean-Italian frozen yogurt be the new boba? Is Pinkberry just the new Lollicup? And since when has a fast food product ever been about so much more than just the food?
Okay, I've thought about Pinkberry far too much now.