You can easily find sweet slabs of candied yam at soul food emporiums like Flossie’s, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with those versions, but other L.A. chefs have taken the versatile tuber to new levels. The yam shouldn’t be confused with the sweet potato; it’s sweeter, has darker skin and better lends itself to sweet desserts. Given that, you’ll typically find the yam at the end of your meal, but not always.
Wilshire Restaurant pastry chef Jen Shen keeps her desserts seasonal in Santa Monica. Her glazed red garnet yam doughnuts ($9) are airy, yam-flavored rings and holes are garnished with crushed pecans, plated with candied pecans, syrupy diced yams and a cooling scoop of pecan praline ice cream. This is autumn on a plate.
For dineLA Restaurant Week, La Casita Mexicana chef-owners Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu prepared a Flan Lover’s Delight: corn, sweet yam and vanilla, each with a different texture and flavor. Sweet corn was fluffy and reminiscent of Southern style corn pudding; vanilla was the densest of the bunch; yam achieved a near perfect balance, with sweet, earthy notes and custardy texture.
Nobu Matsuhisa gets raves for his yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno and black cod with miso, but on a recent visit to Nobu in West Hollywood, it was pastry chef Gabriele Riva who warranted the most attention for her Kamameshi ($14). The vanilla risotto was a refined rice pudding that walked the fussy tightrope but never teetered. The hot risotto was topped with chewy, marble-sized mochi pearls, crispy soba pop corn that was reminiscent of Rice Krispies, and two variations on Okinawa purple yam: earthy cubes and silky purple yam ice cream that melted into the . The only mystery was why Riva decided to plate the dessert in a dish that required a butane burner; the fumes nearly overpowered the dessert.
Chef Nadav Bashan used purple Okinawa yam mash to complement what might be L.A.’s best short ribs. He braises fingers of short ribs in Cabernet, Port and veal stock until they become caramelized and concentrated. The sweet, earthy and colorful mash paired well with the rich meat and other compelling accompaniments: pesto, sugar snap peas, broccolini and a roasted cippollini onion.
Keep in mind that all of these dishes are subject to availability.
If you have a favorite yam dish that wasn’t listed, please let me know in the Comments section.