Part of being a restaurant writer is keeping abreast of trends; watching as avocado toast gives way to poke bowls gives way to fermented fusion. Frequently these new ideas arrive from distant shores, as is the case with Thai rolled ice cream.
A popular street dish in Southeast Asia, these tasty frozen tubes, the size of a roll of quarters, topped with jimmies or gummies or whatever fun bit of nonsense you prefer, are now sweeping across the country.
Rolling Zone Creamery is the first purveyor in the South Bay of rolled ice cream, located in a Lawndale strip mall just north of Hawthorne on Manhattan Beach Boulevard. I stopped in a few days after their soft open, to find the place already packing in people looking for something new, something fun, and something sweet to beat the heat.
Owner, Juan Jose Da Silva is the personification of the American entrepreneur. Trained as a chef in his home country of Columbia, he arrived in the U.S. and took the first restaurant gig he could find, cooking at a Benihana Japanese restaurant.
On the lookout for a place in the food world to stake his own claim, Da Silva became intrigued by some YouTube videos he found about Thai rolled ice cream's arrival in New York. He researched the model, invested in a quartet of anti-griddles—the ultra cold pizza sized pans used to freeze and form the rolls—and opened Rolling Zone Creamery.
The venture is a family affair with Da Silva developing the recipes, his wife Mishelle working the line; mother Liliana running the register, and his cousin Ingrid handling public relations.
From ordering to eating, the process takes about two minutes. A crewmember pours a cup of ice cream base—a mixture of cream and milk and sugar, which resembles pancake batter—into the freezing pan. Using paddles shaped like putty knifes, they work in the specific flavorings, some chopped brownie or banana or berries ... then spread the mixture in a thin even layer. Working from the edges, the now frozen ice cream is scraped like wallpaper into strips that curl into themselves, creating the rolls.
A serving is five rolls in a cup garnished with toppings, which guests can enjoy at one of the little bistro tables or counter seating, while enjoying the "show," as the crew, with incredible speed and dexterity, prepares roll after roll after roll.
There are a wide variety of flavors to choose from. You'll find the basics like cookies and cream, and the exotic, like matcha tea. I tried something called Tropical Night, a coconut-pineapple combo with the fresh flavor of pina colada, and the twist of a deep purple color from the added smidge of activated charcoal powder—another food trend touted for its aid in digestion and detoxification.
The wild concoction tastes wonderfully familiar—just like ice cream. Cups come in one generous size for $6.99.
Rolling Zone Creamery is located at 15732 Hawthorne Blvd., Lawndale. Open daily.
Manhattan Beach resident Eileen Shields is a regular restaurant profiler for The Beach Reporter. Aside from discovering fabulous beach city eats, she spends time traveling and writing fiction. Links to her work can be found at eileenshieldswriter.com.