You Heard It Here First: Vampire PenguinMarch 10, 2014 • By Becky
In the last few years I have settled on a few consistent restaurants in South Sac and am not constantly on the prowl for the newnewnew. I tend to rely on recommendations (such as the one for Yang’s Noodles from Michele). Recently I kept hearing the name “Vampire Penguin” from many sources. When I heard “shaved ice” my ears didn’t exactly perk up. I’m not really a snow cone lover. I like my desserts full of fats and dairy. After a friend’s kid told me about the Wonka-esque flavor she had created I knew I had to check it out. With our new photographer Matt Maxwell in tow I took that Florin Road exit for the millionth time.
We were greeted by adorable smiling young employees who were eager to explain the concept and the flavors, including a “secret” menu that is written in Penguin language. One of the owners, Paolo San Luis, recommended the Mexican Candy and Halo Halo flavors.
I can’t decide which flavor is more delicious. The first taste was a shock. The snow is like the finest powder snow you can imagine – not grainy like a snow cone. The halo halo has taro-flavored shaved ice (hence the purple color), condensed milk, white and mung beans, and coconut and pineapple matchstick slices. It’s tooth-achingly sweet and a cavalcade of textures.
Sweet/salty has become a mainstream idea in the last 5 years or so – there’s probably a salted caramel flavor of Rite Aid ice cream now – but getting the perfect amount of salt can be a problem. Not only does the Mexican Candy flavor have the perfect amount but the large flakes of salt and chili powder provide a tiny bit of crunch, thereby adding a fun texture which elevates the dish above your typical dessert. It’s a molecular gastronomy version of a mango on a stick, with cubed watermelon on the side for visual flair. Somehow this dish is creamy and rich without dairy. Vegans are you listening?
Matt Maxwell chose to make his own flavor, and the cookies and cream shaved ice with strawberry was not the mouth party that the other flavors were. It tasted like a fudgesicle. Bad move, Maxwell.
Of all the Vampire Penguins I have encountered, be it in the jungles of Peru, the halls of Montezuma, the Lisbon Zoo, on the SF muni, or even just in my own nightmares, this Vampire Penguin is far and away the most delicious.