Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sweet Heart Dessert House: True Love for Hong Kong Style Desserts

Not one for over-commercialized holidays, even for Palentine's just for the sake of an alternative during this sometimes challenging day for singles, today for me is more about indulging in and celebrating all manners of sweets.  And a recent favorite that hopefully more people will get to know and frequent is Sweet Heart Dessert House in Rosemead.  The owners are originally from Hong Kong, and seeing that while there were plenty of desserts being served in the San Gabriel Valley, that there were not many cafes to be found that are dedicated to Hong Kong style desserts. So, major disclaimer here that I may be biased as I grew up with these dishes and like the owners have been yearning for more places to serve them truly Hong Kong style.

So, first things first, given the focus of Sweet Heart they of course could not go without serving the iconic / nostalgic snack: Hong Kong Egg Waffle ($4) - while you can find these at Tasty Garden and several other restaurants in the SGV, I find Sweet Heart's version to be a bit more substantial / weighty in a good way while the outer shell is still nicely grilled to a delicate golden brown crisp.

Sweet Heart then gets creative with the egg waffle and offers various fondues built around the item, like chocolate fondue with egg waffles and fruit.  Need to try these next time I'm back.
The item that really jumped out as something I have yet to see on any other menu in the SGV is:  Deep Fried Milk Custard ($5.50).  While the name is quite literal, its simplicity belies the instantly addictive deliciousness that await. Various cultures have their own versions of this.  But I associate it with Hong Kong as this was one of my favorite desserts as a kid, probably partly due to my fascination with how "Fried Fresh Milk" (the literal name in Cantonese) could possibly happen - milk is liquid!  How can it be fried?  And what culinary wizardry must happen to make it taste so amazing (even to someone who hated milk in liquid form)?!  Every bite is fragrant crisp crunch yielding to hot, silky pudding-like decadence inside - just the right amount of sweet to balance the slight savory of the outer shell.

Apparently, the trick is to actually use milk custard (milk thickened with cornstarch with sugar added) so that it doesn't liquefy too quickly during the deep fry process.  The custard is cooled, then cut into cubes, battered, then deep fried.

While everything will ever taste immeasurably better through the lens of nostalgia, Sweet Heart's version does a commendable job of measuring up to my childhood memories (the first time, on a subsequent visit the custard had not softened enough and was a bit chewy - so full disclosure that consistency may be an issue, though Sweet Heart has only been open less than a year and may just need to find their rhythm).

Sweet Heart also has many mango based sweet soup desserts with various fixings that in concept remind me of HK dessert dynasties like Hui Lau San and Honeymoon Dessert, a perfect mix of traditional Chinese ingredients like bird's nest, glutinous rice and grass jelly, and modern western ingredients like cold fruit and boba.

Sweet Heart's menu is more focused, and as a young small boutique business they have a ways to go to find the right variety on their menu, but the quality is already far and above other longer-standing / more popular hotspots (yes, I'm looking at you Phoenix Desserts, which no, I'm not the biggest fan of).  The Mango Pomelo Sago Sweet Soup in Ice Bowl ($8) is a great case in point: every element tastes fresh and is served with generosity - there are juicy cubes of mango in abundance, and the balance of mango puree to coconut cream is skillfully controlled for a pleasing, light airy yet creamy at the same time consistency.  The sago (tapioca) is also fresh tasting and perfectly soft yet still structured.

And, they take it to the next level by presenting the soup in an ice bowl - which not only makes for a fun visual but also helps keep the soup chilled.  One of my favorites in the SGV, and it's been fantastic every time.

So, if you're looking for an off-the-beaten-path place to take your SO, pals or family this Valentine's Day - I'd definitely recommend Sweet Heart Dessert House. They're conveniently open late, til midnight seven days a week!

Bonus tips:  In the same plaza, there is Noodle Boy, another favorite of mine for authentic, soul-soothing Hong Kong style wonton noodle soup, and a modern tea house in the back that I also love: Le Arbre.  They have a giant menu of various teas that you can add boba, pudding, and flavored jellies to.  My favorite is iced Osthmanthus Green Tea with Lychee Jelly. Note both Noodle Boy and Le Arbre are cash only, which is probably also why they are able to keep prices very affordable.  So, make your own progressive casual HK style meal adventure: dinner at Noodle Boy, dessert at Sweet Heart, then tea at Le Arbre!

Sweet Heart Dessert House on a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites  
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience -  6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $ (1 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 100% 


Sweet Heart Dessert House 

8522 E Valley Blvd.,  Unit 106, Rosemead, CA 91770
Ph: 626.280.1618

Facebook page:  
Parking: free, in attached strip mall open air parking

Le Arbre Tea House

8508 E Valley Blvd., Unit 101, Rosemead, CA 91770
Ph: 626.307.8818


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