I will start this extremely belated second half of my Ode to Worth-It Desserts with a eulogy.
It is with a heavy heart that I report what was to be my #1 on my outer L.A. list, the chunky mango ice cream sandwiched between two gooey-crisp hot chocolate chip cookies at Honey Badger Cafe in Alhambra, is no longer with us. I stopped by today, and the dessert page had been diminished to include durian and taro ice cream only. (Bo-ring!... just kidding.) Rest in peace, mango ice cream sandwich. I grouched at the waiter in your honor (then apologized).
Our moment of silence will be brief, though, and we may as well spend it only one block to the west, at Perfectly Sweet, a bakery/confectioner whose modest display window is stuffed with cakes, truffles, puffs, macarons, cookies, and tarts. Its prices seem average upon first glance, but upon biting into something and realizing it may take you a couple hours for your stomach be able to process the level of richness in, for example, one single chocolate truffle, you suddenly realize just how good of a deal you're getting. Everything here is excellent - no exceptions discovered yet - but the truffles are sublime, with bitterness just on the edge of fine wine. Plus, the cream puffs are filled with real custard - none of this whipped cream or frosting nonsense. The clouds, however, are filled with something rather more ethereal. When bitten, they festively explode their wispy filling all over the place like a second grade science project volcano. I clearly remember running my finger over the table to get all the foam, then licking it off my finger, with no regard at all for hygiene. That's how good the clouds are.
Phoenix Dessert is in Alhambra, too, exactly where you'd expect it to be: Valley Blvd, a street practically paved with delicious Chinese food. I hear tell that Phoenix Dessert is attached to a not-so-great restaurant, but I have quite literally never noticed, as I head straight for the dessert display. One of its offerings is a sampler with four flavors of jiggly jello-esque pudding, separated by the kind of dividers you find in sock drawers. The flavors consist of things like hibiscus petals: reddish specks suspended in a clear gelatinous solution. Or black sesame and coconut - slightly gritty, volcanic-sand-sweet mouthfuls. Or simply mango - a delightfully bright sunny square, a dim sum dessert plate writ large.
Once your mouth is accustomed to the jiggle, you're ready to try this one particular dessert at one of the many Thạch Chè Hiển Khánhs in Westminster and Garden Grove. My friends and I have dubbed it 'Banana Snot'. Wait, don't skip this one! Just because the bananas are oddly slimy and the coconut milk sauce is somehow viscous and watery at the same time, or just because the clear tapioca balls are invisible and thus surprise your tongue every time by being all squishy between your teeth all of a sudden (and sometimes they're shaped like caterpillars) doesn't mean it's not delicious. It is. It's worth the texture mishmash. I don't know the Vietnamese name for this dish; I know how to say 'banana' and 'coconut milk', but putting these two words together never works as well as just pointing. Look for the tray of white goo with yellow banana chunks floating around like water-wings-wearing kids in a swimming pool. Make sure they put sesame seeds on top.
As long as you're in Little Saigon, you might want to head over to Dong Phuong Tofu, which supplies all the nearby grocery stories with their hot tofu and hot soymilk trays. It's better from the source, though. Soybeans make great appetizers at sushi bars; their milk makes a delicious drink; puffy and fried, they go better in drunken noodles than most meat; and apparently they also shape up well as pandan-green tofu custard with coconut milk and ginger syrup! One of their large (16oz) cups will last you a week of desserts in the fridge and costs under $5. Out of the tub, it looks like Nickelodeon Gak. In your mouth, it tastes like the achingly sweet tropics.
Also in Little Saigon (and in the San Gabriel Valley) is a dried-fruit-and-beef-jerky chain called Vua Khô Bò. Shopping there is an exercise in active restraint. Do you like being followed around at the elbow by two extremely friendly yet extremely pushy dried-foods-saleswomen? Do you like delicious free samples (tea, dried fruit, jerky, everything!) followed by a pointed snapping open of a purchase bag? I hope you do, because that's what's going to happen. However, if you're going for dessert, do what I do: take the proffered sample of grass jelly (you won't get away without it) and make a beeline for the ginger. Request a quarter pound of every variety of ginger. Watch them when they weigh it. They will try to make you buy a pound of each. Firmly insist that they dump it out and give you a quarter pound. They'll laugh. Laugh with them! You both know the game you're playing - no need to get frustrated or defensive. If you insist, you will get your quarter pound.
Now take it all home and binge on ginger. (I have been dubbed 'The Ginger Binger' for this very reason.)
Finally, a perhaps oddball suggestion (as though banana snot and green tofu weren't): eat goat cheese for dessert. Soledad Goats has stands at farmers markets all over the Southland, and I have often stood in front of my fridge at night and spooned their pear-honey-walnut goat cheese straight into my mouth from the container.