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Food

We sent the world’s foremost fruit expert to inspect L.A.’s new fruit ‘museum’

L.A. Times Today airs Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Spectrum News 1. 

When I saw billboards recently advertising a new World of Fruit, I envisioned something like the architectural Fruit Museum in Japan or the kitschy International Banana Museum in Mecca, Calif. The reality – a series of rooms decorated with fruit-themed installations intended as backdrops for social media selfies – is something entirely different.

Opening Saturday on La Brea Avenue just north of Melrose Avenue, this “multi-sensory experience” is the inspiration of Andrew Zhou, 22, who was born in L.A. to a family of property developers.

“I’ve always loved fruit, and I wanted to do something new and fun, to introduce Angelenos to exotic tropical fruits they don’t usually see,” he said.

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Visitors do get to sample a mix of familiar and exotic fruits, all obtained from the downtown produce market, starting with a cone of blueberries, blackberries and strawberry slices in the first room.

Then the Instagram-pandering installations start. The Wardrobe of Fruits features cabinets with large acrylic fruit models in bright, fanciful colors: pink pear, blue banana, pineapple, black lemon. There’s a mirrored Infinity Grapes Room; a Holy Vines room with a fog machine and lights flooding down from the heavens; a Pineapple Disco Derby with music, strobe lights and neon; a Watermelon Play Garden with swings, seesaws and a stand offering Mexican-style watermelon popsicles; and a Tropical Desert Oasis, where visitors are offered acai bowls and invited to take off their shoes and play in a pool shaped like a dragon fruit half and filled with white and black plastic beads.

Stacy Ju (left) and Kwihn Pham (right) enjoy the Dragon Fruit Pool, filled with plastic beads, in th
Stacy Ju, left, and Kwihn Pham in the Dragon Fruit Pool in the Tropical Desert Oasis room at the World of Fruit pop-up.
(David Karp / For the Times)

Most of the actual fruit tasting takes place at a stand in the final World of Fruit Garden flanked by models of tropical foliage, fruit and revolving flowers. The slices of pineapple guava and “baby pineapple” are OK but nothing special, flavorwise; the horned kiwano melons look spectacular but are, as always, utterly insipid; and the rambutan, the hairy cousins of lychees, look weird and are pleasantly sweet.

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All these are imported, which seems clueless for a California venue opening just as great local summer fruit is peaking. It’s sort of like showcasing antipodean tipple in a Napa tasting room.

Clearly World of Fruit is not aimed at locavore cognoscenti. It’s part of a recent wave of pop-ups – such as Happy Place in Boston, the Museum of Selfies in Hollywood and the Museum of Ice Cream in San Francisco – all aimed at “Generation Z and millennials, who have grown up with iPhones,” said Brian Gold, 29, World of Fruit’s chief creative officer.

The museum has rented its space at 716 N. La Brea Ave. through October, assuming that prospective customers will find the experience worth the $35 cost for a 45-minute visit.

“If this became a profitable business, we do feel like we’ve built a foundation where we can scale globally,” said Zhou, visions of sugarplums in his eyes.

food@latimes.com


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