Have you ever been to Pinkberry on a balmy Saturday? It’s really a scene. Lines spill down the block and through the kind of crowd-control stanchions you may have seen at Disneyland, while a big-shouldered security guard regulates admission as carefully as any club bouncer, under signs prohibiting photography. At the West Hollywood shop, buzzing swarms of white parking-enforcement vehicles roam tiny Huntley Drive, waiting to sting any car unfortunate enough to nose into an illegal parking space, which seems to happen about twice a minute — to regulars, the sight is as compelling as watching insects fly into a glowing bug zapper at dusk. And while devotees have been known to wonder whether they prefer Pinkberry’s frozen yogurt to sex, it is obvious by the raunchy demeanor of the line ’round about closing time at 11 p.m. that some of the regulars refuse to choose. (The ordinarily sensible food blogger known as Colleen Cuisine writes about Pinkberry like a 13-year-old MySpacer obsessed with Orlando Bloom.)
Although it sells nothing but yogurt and a few toppings — unless you count yogurt flavored with the bitter powdered Japanese green tea matcha as a foodstuff unto itself — Pinkberry, which come to think of it does sound a little like the title of a specialist porn magazine, puts the neighborhood in the mood for love.
Love hurts: “We no longer have walnuts,” sneers a counterboy in a tone of voice you may associate with Parisian maitre d’s and the salesclerks at Maxfield. “Perhaps you would like slivered al-monds.”
In case you have been hanging out in either Mongolia or Pasadena for the last year, Pinkberry is the tiny West Hollywood shop that has single-handedly brought the ’80s frozen-yogurt craze back to a rolling boil, piping sugary, supertart swirls into art-directed cups — nonfat, protein-rich globs that taste like the platonic version of something you’d get at a health spa: fresh raspberries, blueberries, banana, mango, kiwi. It’s what a Vogue staffer might eat for breakfast in the Condé Nast cafeteria, but colder.
Pinkberry yogurt is as pure and smooth and white as the Carrara marble from which Michelangelo carved his David, a perfection probably attained through the use of powdered nonfat milk, which is a Korean obsession. If you are what you eat, Pinkberry may be the ideal food. Unless you happen to like your yogurt, as many Pinkberry customers do, sprinkled with Fruity Pebbles.
Pinkberry, owned by Sherry Hwang, who opened the stand when she was denied permits to open either a wine and cheese shop or small tearoom in the space, was reputedly inspired by the frozen-yogurt chains Red Mango and Iceberry in Korea. Like Iceberry, her store is dominated by a splash of ultramodern kiwi green, a display of green apples and Philippe Starck furniture plucked straight from the Design Within Reach catalog. Like Red Mango, it specializes in artful swirls of tart yogurt decorated with fresh fruit, handfuls of breakfast cereal, and nuts. Pinkberry’s yogurt parfaits are reduced versions of the Korean dessert bingsu, a rather maximalist concoction of shaved ice, cereal, fruit, cream and syrup that in fact is served at the new Koreatown branch of Pinkberry, which is decorated with an array of bright Alessi kitchen tools that is as vast as the one at Alessi-heavy design stores like Fitzsu. Nothing apparently says yogurt like a collection of plastic fly swatters.
If I had a few extra dollars in my jeans, I’d invest in the company that manufactures the Taylor soft-serve machines that Pinkberry uses. Kiwiberri, now open in Claremont and on Third Street near the Beverly Center, copies Pinkberry right down to the vegetal flavor of the green-tea yogurt, the list of yogurt’s healthful properties and the kiwi-dominated color scheme, although it seems off somehow, cheap, as if a couple of the chromosomes had twisted the wrong way. A poster in the store announces many, many new Kiwiberries to come nationwide. Fiore, in the Japanese Village Plaza, is actually art directed as if in homage to Red Mango (or at least to Red Mango’s Web site), with Asianesque squiggles on the wall paneling, and a spare, proto-Zen vibe that is undercut by the yogurt itself, which is lemony where Pinkberry’s is milk-tart, liquid where Pinkberry’s has a pleasant packed-snow firmness. (Also, the green-tea yogurt tastes like a low-tar cigarette.)
There is even a new kosher take on the phenomenon, Berri Good, in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood — it wasn’t open yet when I stopped by, but the logo was in the same Pinkberry font, and the color scheme featured a liberal dose of kiwi green. Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Then Ms. Hwang, who is in the process of opening dozens of new locations herself, must feel like the most beautiful freshman at the dance.
Pinkberry, 868 Huntley Dr., West Hollywood, (310) 659-8285; also at 3300 W. Sixth St., Koreatown, (323) 730-9889; 7123 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 935-2958; 10911 Lindbrook Dr., Westwood, (310) 208-3620.
Kiwiberri, 8474 W. Third St., Los Angeles, (323) 951-0675.
Fiore, 134 Japanese Village Plaza, Little Tokyo, (213) 626-0806.
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