I don’t remember my first trip to Tutti Melon, but I like to imagine that it took place on a brisk October day in 2009, after Hook had just blown my mind by introducing me to Underdog, then further blew my mind by taking me to Wonderful Foods Co., whose selection of gummy candy is among the best in the city. Yes, my mind was being blown a lot in the fall of 09. I’d just moved here from a relative culinary wasteland. Every weekend, it seemed, Hook took me to a better sandwich shop, a divier bar, or a more perfect frozen yogurt stand than the last. I was in a state of perma-awe.
Oh, frozen yogurt, the redheaded stepchild of the frozen dessert world, how I adore you! To my mind, fro-yo gets a totally undeserved bad rap, being pigeonholed as a relic of the 80s or wrongly classified as a mall snack, similar to those giant, bready pretzels or Sbarro slices. True, it’s not as decadent [read: fat-laden] as ice cream, nor does it have the exotic allure of gelato. It’s not as vegan as sorbet, to be sure. But fro-yo deserves its day in the sun. Light, airy, and capable of making those badass swirls covered in fast food training videos, frozen yogurt is my dessert of choice.
Considering my love for fro-yo, it’s little wonder that Tutti Melon would skyrocket to the top of my (short) list of favorite SF dessert joints. Despite the steadfastness of this love, though, I harbored treasonous thoughts. That’s right: in my heart of hearts, I wondered whether my beloved TM would stand up to Pinkberry.
Last weekend, I had the chance to find out. Hook and I were in LA for a Jandek show, but before wending our way to an auditorium deep within the UC Irvine campus, we swung by the West Hollywood Pinkberry. I was expecting the shop to be huge, airy, and populated with groups of smiling, slender teens; no imagined scene could have been further from reality. About the size of a studio apartment*, the shop was relatively dim-lit and narrow. At the time of our arrival, Hook and I were the only customers there. Desperate to appear busy, the clerk urged us forward, offering us samples, which we declined.
You see, I knew immediately what I wanted — blood orange fro-yo. I’ve had blood orange reductions, olive oils, and fruits proper, but never blood orange fro-yo. The concept had me hooked. Of course, plain yogurt wouldn’t do — I got mine topped with sugar-encrusted gummi bears, chocolate krispies, and yogurt chips (for Hook). (Note: the best part of any frozen yogurt shop is the topping selection. It’s silly that I should even mention this as an aside, I realize, but somewhere, somebody probably thinks that plain frozen yogurt is an acceptable dessert. I’m here to put him (or her) in his/her place.)
How was it? The yogurt itself was dreamy: rich and denser than most yogurts, it had a vibrant flavor and a pretty peach hue. The toppings were standard. The price was higher than TM, but I chalked that up to the location of the shop. In summation, here’s my list of pros and cons for Pinkberry (as compared to Tutti Melon):
- The yogurt is higher quality than that served at Tutti Melon — it’s more deeply flavored and less runny than competing yogurts.
- The topping selection is a little more upscale: there was a better selection of fresh fruit available, and some of the sweet toppings were more exotic than others I’ve seen (i.e., crushed waffle cones, chocolate krispies, and the like).
- The decor, while similar to TM’s, was also sleeker. This Pinkberry had MoMA-gift-shop-esque tchotchkes lined along built-in & backlit shelving units facing the indoor seating area.
- The inability to portion one’s own toppings. Part of the draw of Tutti Melon is its open toppings bar. A person can wander in and load up their yogurt with half a cup of peanut M&Ms, if a person were inclined to do such a thing(!), but it’s not so at Pinkberry. Here, the clerk portions and serves the toppings — an unfortunate system that resulted in a too-great portion of yogurt chips and that also caused me to feel self-conscious about choosing more than three additives to my yogurt.
- Cost. At Tutti Melon, yogurt and toppings are sold by the ounce — in effect, you get what you pay for. At Pinkberry, yogurt is sold in standardized sizes with set prices per cup. What portion would have cost about $2.75 in San Francisco set me back almost $6.00 in West Hollywood. Not a huge gripe, but an annoyance nonetheless.
What’s my verdict, then? NEED YOU EVEN ASK?(!) Pinkberry’s glam status is no match for Tutti Melon’s real-life quality. Sure, Pinkberry has better decor and its employees wear visors, but knick-knacks and headgear aside, this chain’s got nothing on its lesser-known cousin. How glad I am to be back in San Francisco, land of Patagonia puff jackets, fixies, and my old reliable yogurt joint.
*That is, the dining area was about the size of a typical studio. Lord knows what sort of labyrinthine back room the yogurt shop has.