When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Ice Lab
Location: 1919 West Main Street, Mesa
Open: About two months, since mid-March
Eats: Coffee drinks and Bing Soo, a.k.a. Korean snowflake ice cream
The heat of summer is fast approaching (if you’re new to Phoenix, and think that it’s already here, we are so, so sorry to burst your bubble), but thankfully, ice cream shops and ice pop stands abound in the Valley of the Sun, and with the opening of Ice Lab in Mesa, we now have yet another frozen treat option available: Korean Bing Soo.
Ice Lab is the first (and to our knowledge, the only) place in Phoenix to exclusively offer Bing Soo, a Korean dessert that is kind of like shaved ice and kind of like milky snowflakes. According to the owner, Sean Shin, his is the only machine in Arizona that makes this particular type of Bing Soo.
Usually, the shaved-ice desert is made with water, resulting in a powdery texture similar to that of fresh snow. Shin’s particular machine uses condensed milk, which results in ice flakes that melt into a creamy consistency in your mouth. Tasty enough by itself, Ice Lab takes it to another level with several different flavor combinations available to add to your bowl of frosty flakes.
I tried the Strawberry Snowflake, which came piled with sliced strawberries and drizzled with strawberry syrup. It took a bite or two to get used to the delicate milk crystals that taste like ice cream, but had the look and texture of shaved ice. Once I got over the cognitive disconnect, I was able to really appreciate the kick of sweetness the fresh berried provided as a counterbalance to the more subtle sweetness of the unique frozen dessert. Other options included both traditional toppings, such as chocolate or mango, and more unusual add-ins like cereal, cheese, and injeolmi – a kind of Korean rice cake.
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Coffee is far from an afterthought at Ice Lab, with an espresso menu offering all the classics – cappuccino, caffe latte, espresso, macchiato – but with additional syrups you wouldn't normally find on a coffee house menu. Shin explained that many Koreans love mixing fruits with their coffee, both for the interesting flavor combination and the photo-worthy result. After he presented my iced orange latte, I saw exactly what he meant. It was certainly an Instagram-worthy drink, if not quite something I would order again.
Ice Lab is located in a strip mall at 1919 West Main Street, in Mesa. Rumor has it that the anchor property in this particular strip will soon be Arizona’s first H-Mart – an Asian megastore that specializes in Korean food and products. Add to this AZ International Marketplace (sister to Mekong Plaza), Lee Lee International Supermarket and several other Asian businesses popping up on or around Dobson Road in Mesa, and it looks like Ice Lab will be in very good company indeed. For more information, call them at 480-630-7679 or check out their Facebook page.