All About Food: A hot new way to eat cool, healthy

What's the hot (or should we say cold) new craze that's good for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and everything in between? The answer, which will soon be on everybody's lips and in everyone's tummies, is Banzai Bowl — the brainchild of Joe Bard and his wife, Tiana. Their first shop in Costa Mesa about a year ago and their newest branch, in what is likely to become a chain, has just opened in Laguna.

Joe was in the surfing industry for 18 years and Tiana, who is from Hawaii's North Shore, worked in fashion but when the recession hit they decided to point their lives in a new direction. On a camping trip to Big Sur, they spent their time brainstorming.

Their neighbor in Newport Beach was the owner of Samazon, the first company to import the acai berry. (This berry grown in Brazil, a relative newcomer on the health food scene, is known for its high anti-oxidant properties as well as fatty acids, fiber, protein and minerals.) Joe was in the habit of using their frozen puree to make breakfast before work. Eventually he was making bowls for all his surfing buddies who found them to be the perfect solution to after-surfing munchies.

These bowls became the idea for a new business, which they named in honor of the Banzai Pipeline and after the term "Banzai Bowl" that skateboarders call the empty pools where they skate.

Since Joe is a healthy eater and his wife a vegetarian, they decided to use all natural, all fresh, all healthy ingredients — organic whenever possible.

"Nothing stays in the shop for more than a day," Joe said.

So just what is a Banzai Bowl? What it isn't is a hot Japanese rice dish. Joe and Tiana call their shops acai cafés. If that doesn't clear everything up, let us explain. Their bowls or smoothies use acai berry puree for the base, blended with bananas and other fruit. They can be made with soymilk for creaminess or apple juice for extra sweetness. They contain no sugar, yogurt or sorbet and no ice to dilute them. Fruit, honey and granola top the bowls.

There is also a long list of additional ingredients to choose from, including kale and spinach, other juices, fruits, almonds, chocolate and protein powder etc. to customize the pre-set bowls and smoothies. For example, the eponymous Banzai Bowl is made with a thick puree of Martinelli's organic apple juice or plain soymilk, acai, banana, papaya and strawberry. It's then topped with banana, blueberries, strawberries, kiwi, granola, coconut shreds, honey and bee pollen.

Joe made us a customized version of his Diamond Head bowl using almond milk, kale, and bee pollen in addition to the regular ingredients of acai, banana, blueberries, celery and spinach. The toppings were strawberries, blueberries, bananas, granola and honey. (Joe gets his raw organic honey from a bee man who lives in an isolated part of the San Bernardino Mountains and is very exclusive about his customers. It takes Joe five hours to make the monthly round trip.)

We shared a small bowl, huge by any standard and absolutely delicious. We were very curious about the flavor of spinach, kale and celery in a fruit puree (we're talking about two cups here) but they were undetectable. What a painless way to get your greens. The small bowl can be a meal in itself and a healthy one at that! All the bowls we saw were very appetizing and attractively presented. The bowls are priced at $5 to $9.25.

We want to congratulate Joe and Tiana on their receiving myfoxla's HOT LIST, No. 1 rating for the category "Cheap Eats, Healthy Lunch" from 4,000 entries. More congratulations are also in order for the new Laguna store and the baby girl they are expecting on Jan. 1.

The Costa Mesa store at 488 E. 17th St. is open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Call (949) 722-8329.

The new Laguna Beach store, 1100 S. Coast Hwy., is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Call (949) 715-8989.

Banzai Bowl is on Facebook.

Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at

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