Come now for the frozen yogurt. Return in May for the gelato.
WHITTIER — Overcome by sudden, mysterious hunger pangs? Struck with an insatiable craving for banh mi and bubble tea?
Look around: You may have entered the Jasmine Triangle.
There are no paranormal forces at work on Eat Street near the intersection of Nicollet Avenue and West 26th Street, just one very busy entrepreneurial family. The opening of Café Kem in early March made for three restaurants all within a one-block radius from the owners of Jasmine Deli.
Jasmine 26 — the larger, fancier sibling of the original Vietnamese banh mi and pho shop — opened several years ago, adding a full bar and a bit more culinary ambition to the Jasmine Deli recipe to create a hip dining destination. Café Kem goes back to the basics with a menu of very affordable banh mi and panini sandwiches, Vietnamese coffee, frozen yogurt and — later this spring — gelato.
The comfortable Café Kem space is just a few doors down from Jasmine Deli. There are a few booths by the window, a scattering of small tables and clusters of paintings brightening the dark walls.
The empty trays in the gelato case at the counter are a promise of things to come — by May, Café Kem employees assured a visitor in March. For now, satisfy your sweet tooth with some of Café Kem’s self-serve frozen yogurt.
The flavors rotate regularly, and on a recent visit included mango, lychee and plain yogurt. Fill up a cup at the frozen yogurt taps and then head to the mix-in bar, where a dozen choices included fruit, granola, cereal, candy and even those little green cubes of gelatin you sometimes find at the bottom of a bubble tea.
Sweet-tart lychee was the standout yogurt of the three, with a vibrant flavor that paired well with slices of kiwi fruit. Mango was mellower, sweet without the sour bite and creamy.
The plain frozen yogurt was very tangy with just a hint of sweetness — the perfect base for a scoop of crumbled Oreo cookies. Frozen yogurt cups are priced by the ounce, and two adult-sized servings came in at under $6.
“Kem,” we know, thanks to an online translation service, is Vietnamese for “cream” or “ice cream.” Frozen yogurt offerings like mango and lychee are a definite nod to East Asian flavors, and here’s hoping Café Kem does the same with its gelato.
Gelato is, of course, Italy’s gift to the world of frozen dairy products. But doesn’t a Vietnamese coffee flavored gelato sound delicious?
Is it May yet?
2524 Nicollet Ave. S.