Since moving to New York City four years ago, I’ve rarely, if ever, missed anything about where I’m from in Orange County, Calif. (aside from family, of course, hi mom!). I’ve found suitable, if not better, replacements for all my favorite restaurants. I’ve stopped teaching yoga, and started teaching rock climbing. I get around by bike now. And I find Shake Shack to be way better than In-N-Out (there, I said it, don’t @ me).
But, there are a few things I look forward to when I visit home, things that are truly unique to California. Like picking fruit with my grandmother in her backyard. Having the two mini lobster special at China Garden with my parents on a weeknight. And last but certainly not least, going to Banzai Bowl on Pacific Coast Highway. Theirs has, is, and always will be, the ultimate açaí bowl. It’s thick, never icy—thanks to their super-powered blenders—more so the texture of gelato than a smoothie. It’s always so artfully topped with slippery kiwi, chewy coconut, and freakishly crisp granola, that I can’t help but sneak a photo.
The fruits I went with for this recipe best replicate Banzai’s eponymous bowl, but feel free to go with any freezer fruit you have stashed. The only requirement is that they be just that—frozen. Blending all frozen ingredients, with just a splash of liquid to get things going in the blender, makes for hugely superior texture. It’s what distinguishes a bowl (spoonable) from a smoothie (slurpable). Go with a brand of frozen fruit that you trust to have been flash-frozen and stored properly. Icy berries will read as—you guessed it—icy in the bowl. Açaí puree can be found in the frozen aisle, along with all the frozen fruits I call for below.
A super-powered blender, like a Vitamix, will transform your frozen chunks into frozen bowl with little to no struggle. But, if you’re like me (Vitamix-less, perpetually waiting for that next sale), just make sure to break up the banana and the açaí puree into thirds before tossing them in. If the blade gets caught, stop the blender, stir the contents around, and try again.
Now back to the freakishly crisp granola: It is more "crushed cookie" than "healthful, seedy cereal." I’ve tried to recreate it at home. I’ve tried many store-bought brands. I’ve still not found it. (The closest I got was the Kirkland Signature Ancient Grains granola, which was correct in texture and flavor, but also had a plastic taste that was hard to ignore.) If you want to make your own granola for this, check out Purely Elizabeth Original granola—which is nutless, and more airy-crisp than hearty-crunch—but let me know in the comments below if there’s another brand you swear by.
Though I’d never dare replace Banzai Bowl, this is the bowl I’ll happily, wistfully nurse in my Vitamix-less but really-wonderful-nonetheless new home in Brooklyn. —Coral Lee
Test Kitchen Notes
This is one of Food52’s Best Recipes. In this series, our test kitchen sets out to create the ultimate version of your favorite recipes. Let us know on the Hotline if there's one you'd love to see next. —The Editors
1 acai bowl
nutless, seedless granola, such as Purely Elizabeth Original (see note)
frozen, unsweetened açaí puree (such as Sambazon), broken into thirds
frozen banana, cut into thirds
extra-creamy dairy-free milk, such as Oatly barista
Line the bottom of a serving bowl with the granola. Combine açaí, frozen banana, frozen strawberries, and oat milk in a high-powered blender, and blend on High, plunging contents as needed, until the texture of ice cream.
Plop blender contents onto granola in bowl; smooth and level surface with the back of a spoon. Artfully top with sliced bananas, strawberries, and kiwi. Sprinkle with blueberries, shredded coconut, and bee pollen, and zig-zag with honey.
Coral Lee is an Associate Editor at Food52. Before this, she cooked food solely for photos. Before that, she cooked food solely for customers. And before that, she shot lasers at frescoes in Herculaneum and taught yoga.
When she's not writing about or making food, she's thinking about it. Her Heritage Radio Network show, "Meant to be Eaten," explores cross-cultural exchange as afforded by food. You can follow her on Instagram @meanttobeeaten.