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Saturday, October 17, 2015

Ice Monster on Omotesando: A Shaved Ice Sensation

 アイス・モンスター 表参道

Ice Monster is a very slick and hugely popular shaved ice cafe on Tokyo's ultra-chic Omotesando boulevard, and opened just this spring, on April 29.

Ice Monster branch, Omotesando, Jingumae, Tokyo.
Ice Monster, on Omotesando Boulevard, Jingumae, Tokyo
Occupying a corner spot on the boulevard, this sole branch in Japan, so far, of the Taiwanese chain draws the eye with its cute and cutting edge design, and, during the day, with the crowds that line up waiting for a coveted seat inside.

We dropped in tonight at around dinner time, when most people are looking for a meal rather than a snack, so we got a seat right away.

A truly monster Mango Sensation, at Ice Monster, Tokyo, Japan.
A truly monster Mango Sensation, at Ice Monster, Tokyo (and a napkin with the cute MS logo)

We were struck by the very stylish woodwork ceiling, set off by an almost equally stylish (in the context) bare concrete floor, for an overall clean, mod black, white, brown and gray decor.

The menu was equally simple, with only about half a dozen things on the menu: four shaved ices (called "Sensations") and a handful of soft serve ice creams.

First floor of Ice Monster Omotesando, Tokyo, with woodwork ceiling.
First floor of Ice Monster, Omotesando
We went for the Mango Sensation and a coffee-and-Kahlua soft serve. The Mango Sensation was a somewhat startling 1,500 yen, but more startling was the size of it when it arrived at our table about 5 minutes later - along with a glass of subtly flavored warm water, reflecting the Chinese eschewing of cold water in favor of warm for health reasons.

Ice Monster's "Sensations" are huge! And they redefine "shaved ice." Forget the corny, forgettable funfair idea of super-cold miniature shards of frozen water that melt immediately and unremarkably the moment they hit your tongue, and are gone in a fake-tasting, sugary blur.

Mango Sensation at Ice Monster, Omotesando, Tokyo, partway through.
Partway through our Mango Sensation - note the panettone-like texture
No. The mountainous shaved ices served at Ice Monster are more like that Italian treat that is a mix between bread and cake: panettone. Yes, somehow the Ice Monster alchemy transforms frozen water into an incredibly flavorsome, almost chewy, mouthful that stays tasty and maintains its body while you savor the very real (capital-S) "Sensation" of, in our case, mango: big, ripe, orange, juicy mango. You get through a mouthful, nice and slowly, and it's still very much there, still making you go "Mmm!" even by the time you're eventually, and reluctantly, sending it on its way down.

Toward its base, the towering icy mound is complemented with a scoop of two of mango ice cream, embedded with actual pieces of mango, and with a chunk of what looked and tasted like sweetened tofu. A melody of textures.

Coffee & Kahlua soft serve ice cream at Ice Monster, Omotesando, Tokyo.
Coffee & Kahlua soft serve ice cream at Ice Monster
The coffee-kahlua soft serve deserves a paragraph of its own, too. As soft cream, it was way up there in terms of any soft cream I've ever had in terms of purity of flavor. All that was evident was the advertised coffee and Kahlua: no milkiness nor any extraneous, additive-inspired underflavors.

Second floor of Ice Monster, Omotesando, Tokyo.
Upstairs at Ice Monster - with distinctive ceiling feature
We savored the coffee-and-Kahlua soft serve first, as an entrée to the Sensation; but, looking back, it would have been better at the end, as a small dessert to the big dessert. Yet, temporal misgivings fade beside the main topic: flavor, which this soft serve was solidly endowed with. One slurp of the first fragrant spoonful and the hour hand fast-forwarded to the wee hours, the chair turned to velvet, a jazz singer sweetly slurred before me on a dimly lit stage. Snap, snap, wake up! Where am I? My partner comes sharply back into my vision, wanting his share too.

All good things must end, and after a good twenty or so minutes we left our table, and couldn't resist a peek upstairs. The eye-catcher upstairs was, again, the ceiling, but with a different twist: artfully suspended wooden balls.

Ice Monster, Omotesando, Tokyo, occupies a conspicuous corner site.
Ice Monster, Omotesando, on its conspicuous corner site.
Oh, and how can you talk about Ice Monster without mentioning the Ice Monster logo? A cute little mustachioed sketch-face that could be expressing any of a number of feelings. How about "gustatory delight"?

Ice Monster on Omotesando is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day, with last orders at 8:30 p.m.

Lucas's Tokyo Dining Guide

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