Bacio di Latte Gelato


This blog is about dairy-free eating, but every so often I come across a dairy-full food that’s so good it’s worth cheating on my diet for — like the peanut butter pie at Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab in Las Vegas. This time it’s the vanilla & rose gelato at Bacio di Latte in the Century City mall.

I first wandered in looking for dairy-free sorbets. They do have quite a few, and they’re good. But when I saw the vanilla & rose gelato, I had to try it. The rosewater ice cream I once ate at Mashti Malone’s — a Persian ice cream shop in Hollywood — left a sweet memory.


Bacio di Latte is a clean, bright, inviting, and well-run ice cream parlor. My only pet peeve is their ordering system. You’re supposed to pay for your order before trying samples. Personally, I want to try flavors before deciding whether I want a cone or cup, how many scoops, etc. I did it my way and pissed off the staff.


Here’s a tip: Order a waffle cone rather than a cup. It costs the same, but you get more ice cream in the cone — a “cone scoop” is bigger than a “cup scoop.” Plus, the waffle cones are made fresh in-house and they’re delicious.


As you can see, the single scoop in a waffle cone is enormous. I ate every last bite, taking two Lactaid pills to be safe. The gelato was smooth, creamy, and delightfully rosy. What surprised me most was how it didn’t make me feel over-sugared the way many desserts do. It wasn’t until the last few bites of cone that I thought, “I need to stop eating this.” (By then it was too late!) I think this speaks to the freshness and quality of the ingredients.

True to form, I went back a few days later to chase the dragon. This time I got a cup: half vanilla & rose gelato, and half strawberry sorbet. The sorbet was fantastic — bursting with fresh strawberries, and creamy in texture even though dairy-free. It paired beautifully with the vanilla & rose.

Garnished with a rose petal.

There are many more flavors to choose from; the chocolate selection alone is mind-boggling. My husband is also a fan of the affogato — a scoop of gelato topped with a shot of espresso. Everything we’ve had there was top-notch. But the vanilla & rose is the stand-out. Try it and let me know what you think.


BACIO DI LATTE, Westfield Century City, 10250 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90067


Homemade Dairy-Free Lebanese Rose Milk Tea


In honor of the roses we all want to get on Valentine’s Day this week, I’m making a copycat version of the Lebanese Rose Milk Tea from Labobatory, a boba tea shop that I always visit when I’m in San Gabriel. Mine doesn’t contain boba, but that’s better for me anyway, as those starchy tapioca balls are bad news for my waistline.

I love copycat recipes because every time I make one of these, I think, “I’m saving five dollars!” Not to mention, a long drive out to San Gabriel.


All you need is Zhena’s Gypsy Rose Organic Black Tea (available at Whole Foods or online), rose water, ice, and a non-dairy creamer such as Coffeemate. The rose water is really the key — it’s what gives Labobatory’s rose milk tea that Middle Eastern flavor. You can find it at Persian or Indian grocery stores.

Labobatory uses non-dairy creamer, but you can substitute almond milk or coconut milk instead. You can also add sugar or another sweetener if you wish.


1 cup boiling water
1 tea bag of Zhena’s Gypsy Rose Organic Black Tea
1/2 teaspoon rose water
1 cup ice
non-dairy creamer, to taste

Steep the tea bag in boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove the tea bag, and let the tea cool for 20 to 30 minutes. If you like your tea strong, do this step a few hours before you plan to drink it, then refrigerate it (otherwise the warm tea will melt some of the ice and dilute your drink).

Add rose water to the tea and stir to combine. Fill a glass with the ice. Pour the tea over the ice, and add non-dairy creamer to taste. Stir and enjoy. Makes one serving.

Pistachio Snowballs


I’m taking a break from my Dairy-Free Breakfast Series to honor the Christmas tradition of sharing cookie recipes. I clipped this recipe from the Los Angeles Times a year ago and was excited to finally try it out yesterday. These cookies aren’t dairy-free — they contain butter — but there’s not enough lactose in one or two to upset my stomach.

I love these cookies because they’re slightly exotic and not too sweet… and I’m obsessed with spherical food. (I find rolling food into balls oddly therapeutic.) They taste a lot like shortbread, but the hint of rosewater and cardamom give them a Middle Eastern kick.

If you’re not a fan of pistachios, you’ll want to pass this one up. Those little green nuts make up much of the dough.

Adapted from a recipe by Beth Corman Lee

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/4 cup sifted powdered sugar, plus more for coating
1 teaspoon rosewater
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup sifted flour
1/2 cup finely chopped toasted pistachio nuts

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the rosewater, cardamom, and salt. Slowly beat in the flour until fully incorporated. Beat or stir in the nuts.

Roll the dough into a ball and wrap tightly with plastic. Refrigerate the dough until chilled, at least one hour.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Break off and form the dough into one-inch balls. Place the cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet so they’re not touching each other. Bake until set but not browned, about 8 to 12 minutes.

Transfer the cookies to a wire rack. After they’re cool enough to handle but still warm, roll them in powdered sugar to coat. Return them to the wire rack to cool completely. Makes about 18 cookies.


Labobatory’s Lebanese Rose Milk Tea

No, that’s not a typo. It is, in fact, Labobatory, as in “boba.” You may have read my review of Boba 7, a boba shop in Downtown Los Angeles that served alcoholic boba drinks. Unfortunately, Boba 7 closed at the end of last year, but its owner opened a shop in San Gabriel that rocks just as hard.


The drinks at Labobatory are just as fantastic, even though they don’t contain alcohol. What makes them so good? Interesting recipes, fresh ingredients, customizable without being confusing. As a bonus, the whole shop has a cheeky attitude about it that I enjoy.

They sell funny T-shirts, too.

My favorite drink is the Lebanese Rose Milk Tea, which the boba-ista told me is their most popular offering. It’s dairy-free; they use non-dairy creamer that doesn’t taste artificial or weird. (You can ask for regular milk if you wish).

Most boba places use a nasty-tasting rose syrup to make rose milk tea, but Labobatory uses Lebanese rose water. It tastes better and doesn’t add any sweetness. And the boba balls are perfectly chewy. But even without boba, this drink is divine. Don’t let the light color fool you — this tea is strong as hell and packed with caffeine.


I’ve also sampled the Bobatella, a boba drink made with Nutella, and the Yoli, a yogurt green tea with lychee jelly. Both were delicious, but the Lebanese Rose Milk still wins. A couple of the best drinks from Boba 7 — the Horchata and the Creamsicle — have migrated to Labobatory’s menu, now made without alcohol.

Once a month, Labobatory does an alcoholic boba pop-up in Downtown LA at Seven Bar & Lounge, close to the original Boba 7 location. I haven’t had a chance to go yet, but it’s on my must-do list.


By the way, I hear you can get your boba drink in an Erlenmeyer flask at Labobatory, unless you’re getting it to go. Just another fun scientific touch, along with the microscope on the counter. I won’t tell you what you’ll see when you look into the eyepiece — you’ll just have to find out for yourself.


LABOBATORY, 819 W. Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel, CA 91776



Rose Watermelon Juice


It’s summer, and chances are you’ve sliced open a watermelon for a barbecue and ended up with more leftover watermelon than you know what to do with. Well, here is a simple and delicious answer: watermelon juice. It’s a healthy beverage that is, of course, dairy-free.

My cousin Jane told me that an Indian friend of hers would add rose water to her watermelon juice to give it a little something extra. I tried this and it’s genius! If you’ve been following my blog, you know I love rose-flavored drinks, and this touch of floral works perfectly with the naturally sweet taste of watermelon.


Obviously, watermelon has a high water content, so you don’t need to add a lot of liquid to the blender. You can use plain water or, if you want some extra nutrition, coconut water. Keep the juice in a pitcher in the fridge and you’ll have a fresh, healthy beverage on hand that tastes way better than any soda.


So, without further ado, here is the recipe. I guarantee you’ll love it so much that you’ll be hoping for leftover watermelon.

Rose Watermelon Juice Recipe

4 cups seedless watermelon chunks
1 teaspoon rose water
1 cup water or coconut water

Put all the ingredients into a blender. Blend until smooth and frothy. Serve ice cold. Makes 2-4 servings.

The Loose Teas Café and Gifts


One day, looking for a boba place in Monrovia, I came across The Loose Teas Café and Gifts in a strip mall on Huntington Drive. This is not your typical boba place. It’s more of a traditional tea shop, specializing in a large selection of fine loose teas. I ordered my usual — lychee iced tea — and had to send it back because it was too sweet (this happens a lot with me). But the barista adjusted it until I was happy. And I was thrilled by the boba: super fresh with just the right amount of chewiness.

Since then, I have become a big fan of The Loose Teas Café. They make tea the right way: by brewing each cup fresh to order. And for those of us who don’t eat dairy, they offer soy and almond milk, rather than the non-dairy creamer that most boba shops use (yuck).



Last week I ordered an unsweetened iced tea latte made with rose black tea and almond milk.  It was totally on point. Most boba shops that make rose iced tea use rose-flavored syrup that tastes artificial and sickly sweet, instead of tea that’s flavored naturally with rose petals. This makes a huge difference.


Iced tea latte with rose black tea and almond milk

Most boba shops have snacks like popcorn chicken, Taiwanese sausage, and spicy fried fish balls. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some spicy fried fish balls, but they’re a sometimes treat. The Loose Teas Café makes super fresh, healthy sandwiches. They have a turkey sandwich called the “Flaming Bird” that doesn’t come with cheese and yet still tastes great, thanks to their seasoned mayo and house-made hot garlic chili flakes.

I don’t know about you, but I love not having to say, “Hold the cheese.”

Look at those chili flakes! Sprouts, cukes, avocado… heaven!

THE LOOSE TEAS CAFE AND GIFTS, 666 W. Huntington Dr., Monrovia, CA 91016

Tea Bar’s Rose Grapefruit Green Tea


Over the past three months since my mom’s stroke, she’s been in a transitional care facility in Glendora. She’s going home soon — yay! — which means I won’t be patronizing restaurants in the area much longer. This is no big tragedy, as most of them aren’t great. But there’s one I will definitely go out of my way to hit, and that’s Tea Bar, an easy-to-miss boba tea shop in a strip mall near Azusa Pacific University.

What makes Tea Bar stand out in this college town filled with boba? Well, the first time I walked in, I ordered the rose grapefruit green tea because I love the flavors of rose and red grapefruit. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Tea Bar uses freshly squeezed grapefruit juice.

The secret to awesomeness: freshly squeezed juice made to order.

This makes all the difference between a run-of-the-mill iced tea and a superb one. Seriously, every time I’m about to visit my mom, I start thinking about getting a rose grapefruit green tea. Does this make me an addict? Probably.

But I try not to feel guilty about this treat because fresh grapefruit juice is filled with vitamin C, and green tea has antioxidants. I always ask for no sugar. (At Tea Bar, like most boba shops, you can specify the sweetness level of any drink.) The grapefruit juice gives this iced tea a tartness that some people may find too intense, but I personally love it. I always say the American diet needs less sweet, more sour.

You can also add boba to all their drinks, of course. Tea Bar’s boba pearls are made in-house, which makes them good but also means they tend to run out often. No problem — the tea is so fantastic that adding boba to it is like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

TEA BAR, 954 E. Alosta Ave, Azusa, CA 91702



Volcano Tea House

There’s a boba tea shop in West LA, on the stretch of Sawtelle Boulevard known as Little Osaka, that makes a lychee iced tea that’s the bane of my existence. Why? Because it’s so addictive that, at one time in my not-so-distant past, I thought about it almost every day and often found myself planning my whole day around getting one.

The monkey on my back

After getting the lychee iced tea dozens of times, I finally decided to branch out and try the milk tea, since theirs is made without dairy. Boba tea (sometimes called “bubble tea”) originated in Taiwan (land of my peeps) in the 1980s. It usually contains a tea base mixed or shaken with milk. The “boba pearls” added to it are chewy tapioca balls.

Because Volcano Tea House uses non-dairy creamer instead of milk, I knew I could drink their milk tea with impunity and I was curious to see what it was like. I tried two flavors — rose and almond — and both had a distinctly artificial taste. I’m usually into rose-flavored anything, but Volcano’s rose milk tea tasted like perfume. When I made my husband try it, he grimaced and said, “It tastes like the air freshener in my grandmother’s bathroom.”

Milk tea made with non-dairy creamer

One thing I like about Volcano is you can ask for less or no sugar in your drink. But when I ordered the almond milk tea, I asked for no sugar and the barista told me, “Then it won’t taste like almond at all.” So I got it with one-third sugar, and I could still barely taste the almond.

However, the boba pearls at Volcano are beyond reproach: wonderfully soft and chewy. I like the “tiny boba” because they’re easier to suck up the straw than the regular-sized ones. But if you’re watching your weight, opt for no boba — they’re pure starch. You don’t want to know how many calories are in those little things.

Volcano’s handy guide for boba virgins

Final verdict: Volcano Tea House misses the mark with their non-dairy milk teas, but makes the best flavored tea without milk. My favorite: iced jasmine green tea with lychee, no sugar, half syrup. You can customize your drink in all sorts of ways, and what’s amazing is that, in all the years I’ve been going there, the industrious employees at Volcano have never messed up my order.

VOLCANO TEA HOUSE, 2111 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025