Asian restaurants are upping their dessert game with a flaming cake, banana tempura and a crepe that tastes like a donut
By Jessica Koslow
When you think of sushi, Thai or Chinese food, dessert is probably not the first image that comes to mind. You might top off your meal with a fortune cookie or some orange slices — maybe some ice cream — but it’s not the dessert you covet when you dine at an Asian restaurant. Not like a slice of tiramisu or a pot of crème brûlée.
But more and more these days I prefer the sweets being served at Asian restaurants, including these four Westside standouts worth every bite:
Carnival Cake at Sushi Roku
Sushi Roku is one of those restaurants where you can’t help but feel like you’re on vacation, gazing out at the ocean and the animated crowd in every direction. The air is pulsing with excitement as you sit on the enclosed patio looking out over Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica.
The Carnival Cake is the perfect end to your evening — like the finale of a Broadway show. When it arrives at your table, all you see is an inflated mound of cotton candy, which is then lit on fire and burns theatrically to reveal a New York-style cheesecake with strawberries, cookies-and-cream ice cream and a hint of Bacardi 151 rum.
According to the restaurant, the inspiration behind the dessert was to combine a few nostalgic desserts from our youth (cotton candy, ice cream and cheesecake) that would please the sweet tooth and also complement meals that are typically focused on saltier, more umami flavors.
Banana Fritters a la mode at Hama Sushi
For almost 40 years, Hama Sushi has been a happening spot on Windward Circle. The bar is always packed at happy hour, you can be sure they’ll play the Beatles’ “Birthday” song when it’s your special day, and there’s likely to be a surf movie or sports game projected on the big screen above the bar.
The local hang has expanded their tempura options beyond shrimp and vegetables. You can now order tempura cheesecake and ice cream, but in my book the real winner is fresh banana tempura served with vanilla ice cream and topped with chocolate syrup.
Every bite includes both warm banana tempura and cold ice cream, drizzled with chocolate. The best part is when the vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup begin to melt together, and you can glide the warm bananas back and forth, soaking up the sauce.
Sweet Milky Roti at Celadon Thai Kitchen
In the past year, Celadon has changed ownership. You can still expect the same delicious food and good service, but the new owners decided to add one dessert — because they personally love it.
Shaped sort of like a crepe, this sweet treat tastes more like a donut: crispy on the outside and doughy inside. Poured all over the top is sweet, thick condensed milk. Like a funnel cake, the dessert is right at home at an amusement park and ideal to share in groups.
Apparently, this popular Thai dessert (you can also find a version of it at Night + Market Sahm on Lincoln Boulevard) has its roots in India.
Mango Sticky Rice at Thai Vegan
Although Thai Vegan sits in just the right spot to attract tourists, it’s mostly locals who frequent this neighborhood favorite. You order at the window, take a number and sit inside or at one of the two benches or table outside. Outdoor dining is exceptional on hot summer nights.
The food is served on trays and paper plates with plastic cutlery — like from a cafeteria — but the food is much better than its presentation. The appearance just adds to the urban charm of the eatery, which is located at the end of a row of buildings abutting a string of parking spaces. The people-watching is awesome as you sit chomping on your vegan Thai cuisine. There’s probably not a better place to perch on Main Street.
Only one dessert is offered on the menu, and it’s the most popular one at Thai restaurants: sticky rice with mango. You can also order some form of this deliciousness at Ayara Thai Cuisine in Westchester and Wirin Thai in Venice, if those are closer to home, but I’ve found that at Thai Vegan the soft-and-sweet mango is the perfect pairing for the chewy coconut sticky rice. This dessert is seasonal, however, because it tastes so much better when the mango is perfectly ripe.