Before I went to live with my friend Helen in Brooklyn for a while last year, she texted me and asked, “What do you eat for breakfast?”
“Very little,” I replied. “Maybe some yogurt.”
The first morning in her apartment, I glanced inside the refrigerator and saw a stack of glass jars filled with clouds of yogurt, some with a base layer of jammy fruit. They were made by a company called White Moustache. I reached for one labeled “sour cherry” and skimmed a spoonful off the top.
It was dense and at the same time light, and sweet — not sugary sweet, pure-milk sweet. The pitted cherries underneath had been left whole, and their flavor still gripped a tart edge. The fruit’s juices mixed with the yogurt and created a slurry deliciousness. I had never tasted finer commercially made yogurt in America. Hello, new obsession.
When I knew I was moving to Los Angeles in the late fall, I was sad there would be no more White Moustache yogurt in my life. But I was wrong. Exactly one place sells it here: Eataly L.A. in Westfield Century City.
Homa Dashtaki started White Moustache in Southern California in 2011. Ironically, she had to move her business to Brooklyn before Angelenos could find her exquisite product. She first began making whole-milk yogurt in Orange County with her father, Goshtasb Dashtaki, whose fulsome facial hair inspired the company’s name. They used a family recipe; eating homemade yogurt was part of the diet in her Iranian family. Dashtaki set up shop at the Laguna Beach Farmers Market — and quickly began tangling with an inspector from the California Department of Food and Agriculture. By 2012, Brooklyn had proved a more hospitable business environment.
Manhattan’s branch of Eataly carries White Moustache, and when the company knew it was opening a Los Angeles store in late 2017, the principles asked Dashtaki if she’d be willing to make her yogurt on-site. The timing worked out: Dashtaki’s sister had recently moved to New York to help run operations at headquarters. When Dashtaki isn’t out West, her family members oversee production here.
They make yogurt using Straus milk from California dairies, and there are two fundamental styles: Greek, thicker and strained, and luscious with fruit; and Persian, traditionally a thinner yogurt with a more pronounced sourness. Fruit added to store-bought yogurt is a very American selling point. Dashtaki conceded to popular tastes by using fruits that are intrinsic to Iranian cuisine: a smooth puree of honeyed dates, no sugar needed; seasonal quince, with its juicy, slightly crisp texture and floral perfume; even more seasonal mulberries, left nearly intact in the preserves.
Dashtaki tells me there will be yogurt with peaches for only two weeks in September, just when the stone fruit is cresting in ripeness. She also sells a probiotic “tonic” made from yogurt whey, paired with bright flavors including pineapple and passion fruit. She’s not been surprised that the drink has found more of an audience on the West Coast than in New York.
I should say that the 8-ounce jars of yogurt cost $7.90 apiece. Yep. Not cheap. It’s a treat, and I never eat it all at once; a single jar stretches to two or three breakfasts for me.
Also, there have been varying media reports about Mario Batali’s current involvement with Eataly after allegations against him involving sexual misconduct and harassment of women. A publicist for Eataly confirmed that the company’s acquisition of Batali’s shares remains in play. I do not want my money to support Batali; I very much wish to support Dashtaki at the only place that provides her with equipment and retail space in California. “Mario has never meant Eataly to me,” Dashtaki said in a phone interview.
I asked about her favorite flavor of White Moustache yogurt. “Shallot,” she said with no hesitation. It’s a take on a classic Iranian yogurt dip, mast-o-moosir, often served with kebabs. Hooked on the fruit renditions, I had never tried it.
So I brought a bunch of White Moustache yogurt to The Times offices and my Food section colleagues descended. They’d heard me ramble about Dashtaki’s masterwork and now they understood my obsession; there was consensus that the shallot was the favorite. My breakfasts may be decidedly more savory quite soon.
Ask the critics
How should one educate themselves on different cuisines before entering an establishment?
— @marcusosorio, Instagram
This question felt relevant because this week I reviewed Aduke African Cuisine, a Nigerian restaurant in Mid-City. I’m hoping — trusting — that this decade brings more West African restaurants to Los Angeles and America in general. That said: I haven’t eaten much Nigerian food in restaurants! It was one of the reasons I was excited to write about Aduke Oluwafunmilayo Oyetibo and her egusi and jollof rice.
It would certainly make sense, if you’re having dinner at a restaurant serving any cuisine from any corner of the world with which you’re unfamiliar, to look up its menu and plug in some searches and get a feel for the ingredients of the dishes. I’ve been dining professionally for a long time, so maybe this sounds counterintuitive, but I just show up. I don’t want to know that much going in. I want to have conversations with the staff, or watch the tables of other customers, and get an organic feel for what’s happening in the kitchen, in the dining room, in the soul of the place.
The experience baptizes me. I turn the questions first on myself: What struck my taste buds as familiar, and not familiar, and where did that thunderbolt of fishy umami come from, or what gave the dish its slick and crunchy textures? If I loved the goat and not the whitefish, why?
The intellectual education — the researching of blogs, the studying of cookbooks — comes later. My philosophy in a nutshell: You educate yourself on different cuisines by actually entering the establishment, and your moments being present with the food and people and the culture will guide your schooling from there.
- Guest critic Gustavo Arellano visits Pikoh in West Los Angeles, where he’d like to see more of the Peruvian dishes that made Ricardo Zarate’s local and national reputation.
- Jamie Feldmar reports on Jason Fullilove, the new chef at Hollywood’s members-only Magic Castle. The reputation of the food has been mediocre at best over the years; Fullilove now aims to make taste buds levitate.
- Chef Angela Dimayuga throws a summer party inspired by the food and spirit of her Filipinx-American childhood; Genevieve Ko has the recipes.
- And a total pro tip for choosing a great bottle of wine: shopping by the importer.
One more thing! If you read this early on Saturday morning, it isn’t too late to join my colleagues Andrea Chang, Jenn Harris, Lucas Kwan Peterson and Ben Mims for Over Coffee: In Conversation with the Los Angeles Times Food Team. It’s happening today, Saturday, July 27, at Redbird downtown, 10-11:30 a.m. Tickets are only $5!