It may be what passes for winter in Los Angeles at the moment, but it's never too cold — or certainly too hot — for ice cream or shave ice, particularly when the bowls of it are made by an excellent pastry chef.
You may remember that John Park, a veteran of the dessert kitchens at Lukshon, Providence and Water Grill, opened his ice cream shop Quenelle in Burbank back in August of 2013. In that tiny shop Park has been making small batches of passionfruit kaffir lime, hibiscus prickly pear and Mexican chocolate ice cream, among many flavors, as well as highly inventive popsicles.
On Tuesday, Park expanded to Alhambra, opening Ice Que, a shave ice shop. And in about two weeks, he's growing his business even further, opening a second Quenelle that will include a juicery and, eventually, pies in a larger space on Huntington Drive in San Marino.
Ice Que (Park likes the letter Q) is a cozy little shop at the corner of Main and 4th streets in Alhambra, in a spot that was previously also a shave ice shop. On Tuesday the place bore a considerable resemblance to a preschool, with toys and children's books along the walls, a few kids — including Park's young son — and the menu written in colorful block letters. It's a very welcoming place, and Park says he's already getting teenager traffic from the nearby high school.
Behind the counter are two enormous shave ice machines, both spotted to look kind of like pandas by the company that makes them. Why shave ice? "It's a lot less work than making ice cream," Park says. As a kid in Glendale from a Korean American family, he also grew up with the stuff. "Every culture has their version of it," he says, whether it's halo-halo or patbingsu.
The menu at Ice Que reflects that. Because, although you can make your own shave ice bowl with all the housemade toppings and sauces Park has available, he also offers nine combinations on what he playfully calls an "oma-QUE-se" menu. (Omakase being the Japanese term for chef's choice at a sushi restaurant.)
On that menu, there's the Milk & Honey bowl (the most popular so far), with vanilla ice, coffee caramel, housemade egg pudding and honey jelly, rice cakes and coconut flakes; and the Black & White bowl, with black sesame snow, condensed milk, coconut tapioca, rice cakes and black sesame flakes. Those two reflect a kind of Chinese take on the dish, while the Little Tokyo skews Japanese, with vanilla snow, jasmine milk, adzuki beans, mochi, coconut flakes and green tea ice cream.
Park also has his version of a Korean patbingsu, a horchata bowl — with cinnamon milk horchata ice ream, caramelized rice, vanilla ice and almond cookie butter — and two fruit-based bowls, the Blueberry Pie and something called a Strawberry Snowflake. And wait, there's more: apple pie ice cream bars, and Tuesday, yuzu lemongrass "Otter Pops". (A reminder to bring any available kids with you.)
Everything, perhaps needless to say, is made in-house, although just where that house will be is changing. Currently the main ice cream production is done in Burbank, but once Park opens his second Quenelle in San Marino he says he'll be making most everything there. Why move eastward? Park says, "On the Westside, they have everything already. We need more here."
Which brings us to the rest of the program, as Park says that not only will he be making ice cream in the San Marino shop, but he's also opening a pressed juice bar in the same location, called drinkJuice (he couldn't figure out how to put a Q into that name).
And as soon as things calm down a bit, he'll also be making pies there too. Because he's a pastry chef. ("Eventually we want to open a bakery.")
Just check out Park's Instagram feed for proof of that, and some pretty lovely pictures of pies, as well as popsicles, ice cream, shave ice — and his very cute son.
Ice Que is open 1-9 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 1-10 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and closed Sunday and Monday.
Ice Que: 401 W. Main St., Alhambra. Quenelle and drinkJuice: 2136 Huntington Dr., San Marino.
Some ice cream, more coffee and khao soi on Instagram @ascattergood.