Ice Monster, the Taiwanese dessert chain whose shave ice creations draw lines out the door in Asia, is set to debut this Friday, Feb. 1 at Waikiki's Hyatt Centric Hotel. While they've been popping up in their food truck since September, this is their first U.S. location and as a shave ice fanatic, I'm so excited that a dessert of this caliber has made it to our shores. This is next-level shave ice.
It all started in 1997 when Frank Lo created an icy dessert that combined his beloved fresh mango with pudding and mango sorbet, just how he liked it. Different from the red bean and peanut with milk offerings that dominated Taiwan's shave ice stalls, it took a while to catch on, but Lo's Ice Monster now ranks as one of Taiwan's most popular foodie destinations.
The Waikiki location will seat 70 with table service, and plans to offer takeout later. You can also get shave ice at Ice Monster's truck, which is parked for an indefinite period at Don Quijote Kaheka, but I'll be honest with you, you're going to want the real Ice Monster experience.
While standard shave ice is often crunchy or soupy, the texture of Ice Monster blurs the line between fluffy cotton candy and freshly fallen snow. Flavors are made using fresh fruit, brewed coffee or tea and filtered water, blended to a proprietary consistency and frozen. I was told that for every 15 pounds of fruit, only one pound of ice is created, which explains why it tastes like you're biting into frozen fruit, only smoother and richer.
The six flavors are mango, strawberry, papaya milk, matcha, bubble milk tea and coffee. Each is topped with pudding and sorbet and either fresh fruit, boba pearls or coffee jelly made daily in-house. Papaya milk and matcha are exclusive to Hawaii and have replaced my former favorites, milk tea and mango, but for different reasons.
The matcha ice is made with tea imported from Uji, just outside of Kyoto, and has just the right amount of grassiness. It's sweetened with two layers of caramel drizzles.
Although I'm a total matcha fiend, the actual reason I'd order this is the black sesame gelato it's paired with. The roasted, nutty sesame is the perfect mellow match to the slightly sweet green tea ice. Eventually the store will sell scoops of gelato ala carte, but until that happens, this is the only way to get Ice Monster's black sesame gelato.
The papaya milk flavor is the lightest in the lineup with a delicate papaya base enhanced with touches of cream and lime. It tastes like breakfast at my grandparents' house, a fresh papaya half served with a squeeze of lemon juice. It's made using rainbow papayas from the Big Island, the only fruit abundant enough to source locally.
Ice Monster is looking at adding seasonal flavors like pineapple and lilikoi made with local fruit and I can't wait to try them.
Doors open at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 1 and the first 100 customers in line at will receive a free full-size shave ice of their choice. If you're not one of them, don't sweat it because they're running a 25 percent discount all weekend until Sunday, Feb. 3. Kamaaina can show their local I.D. for a standing 20 percent discount at any time, which puts these premium shave ice creations in line with Nana's Green Tea and Island Vintage's shave ice bowls.
Ice Monster Hawaii
2255 Kuhio Avenue (Hyatt Centric)
Daily 10 a.m.-10 p.m.