A former music manager, Kristine de la Cruz got her start in food by moonlighting at the farmers' markets of Los Angeles selling homemade bread puddings and purple yam-laced custards. Two and a half years after her vending adventures began, she opened her first brick and mortar in early September in Sherman Oaks.
The name: Crème Caramel LA
The eatery specializes in Filipino-inspired treats; the cornerstone of the menu is the namesake dish -- the lovely crème caramel ($4.50 each). Presented in a pool of caramelized syrup, it has just the right amount of resistance so it doesn't fall apart at the touch of a fork. In fact, the discs are just firm enough to divvy up among your friends.
The caramels are creamier than what most are accustomed to, but that's just because the recipes are based off of De la Cruz's Filipino aunt's rendition of leche flan. Gently cooked in a Bain-marie, Filipino flan traditionally has a heavier egg ratio; and De la Cruz has taken it upon herself to color them with the flavors of her heritage. She always has French custard, coffee, and chocolate varieties on tap, but if you you happen to stumble in on a good day, you'll spot some of the most colorful flans to ever grace the Valley. Lavender-colored and bright neon green variations sit side-by-side. They're made with fresh ube (purple yam) and buko pandan (young coconut), respectively. True to its tubular roots, the ube has an earthy, heavier taste -- a clear contrast to the sweeter dewy flavor profile of pandan. Try them both or order in advance for an eye-popping addendum to any dinner party or Instagram feed. They might even deliver if your zip code falls within an appropriate radius.
But as delicious as the crème caramels are, they don't provide much sustenance. Flan as tasty as hers only has a lifetime of a couple minutes before it disappears between bites. The true tour de force, then, is the upside-down pie; trailing in at a close second is the bread pudding. Rest assured, both are heavy enough to carry you through a sweet breakfast and then some.
The ube upside-down pie looks as if it were thoughtfully designed by a 12-year-old girl in a steady relationship with purple. On top is a graham cracker crumble that glistens with amethyst-hued sprinkles. Break through with your spoon and you'll hit of cloud of thick, creamy, lavender-colored custard. It's made with fresh yam and will most definitely change the way you taste purple.
"Filipino desserts are very colorful," De la Cruz said when I asked her to describe, simply, the food of her ethnicity.
And very natural. The colors are not brought out by artificial flavoring. They're a result of the brightly stained hues typical of tropical fruit and in this case, ube.
The bread pudding is great in between gulps of Mexican hot chocolate or freshly brewed iced Horchata, depending on the weather. There are a rainbow of variations available. Caramelized bacon and spam-flavored bread puddings are available for fad seekers and pumpkin is around long enough for those who like to chase season flavors. Just don't overlook the turon.
Turon is a traditional snack of the Philippines. Think of a regular deep-fried spring roll, but stuffed with bananas, a slice of jack fruit, and brown sugar. Crème Caramel's version of turon has the same flavor profile, but is instead in bread pudding form. It's spongy and warm, the most aromatic when freshly toasted, and makes the most sense when consumed near a crackling fireplace on a cool L.A. evening.
Crème Caramel LA is a good place to stop by for a snack before or after a long day at work. At first glance it'll look like any other artisan bakery in the Southland, but look closely for the Pinoy flavors. Rule of thumb? Gravitate toward the colors.
More on sweets from Clarissa:
Three Great Gluten-Free Bakeries In Los Angeles
Durian Served Four Ways -- And Where To Get It
Asian-Inspired Pastries at Oh My Pan Bakery and Tea
A Little Tokyo Food Crawl in 10 Stops