Away from all of the lines and hubbub of downtown Palo Alto exists the hidden dessert gem of Sno-Zen Shaved Snow & Dessert Cafe in Mountain View.
Unlike the typical fancy cupcake, froyo or ice cream sandwich, family-owned Sno-Zen offers unique desserts with a delectable Asian twist. The menu consists of two main dishes: shaved snow and shaved ice.
Only a ten minute drive from Palo Alto, this hole in the wall is hidden amongst a quiet apartment complex. The only difficulty of the journey is finding parking once you arrive. However, Sno-Zen is courteous enough to place flyers on its walls dictating the hours of parking lots and local attractions.
That courtesy is also entirely apparent in the wait staff. Upon arriving, I did not know what shaved snow was. The cashier was kind enough to describe at great length about this Asian treat, with more workers chiming in from the kitchen, talking about growing up with this dessert and their favorite memories and flavors.
When you sit down at the little tables, or at the couches by the television in the small room, it is clear that the cozy environment is not the most important aspect, but rather the food itself is.
The first thing I ordered was a small banana shaved snow with toffee bits and chocolate drizzle ($4.25). As it was presented to our table, I could not help but notice the immense, delicate mountain of dessert that was described as small.
Sticking my fork into it, I lifted up hollow rectangles of creamy snow, as the wait staff instructed that a spoon would not hold the form as well. From the first bite, the snow melted on my tongue in a delicious manner. The flavors of the crisp and sweet banana pair incredibly well with the deep, rich tones of the chocolate drizzle. The soft, silky texture of the snow provides a velvety base for the crunchy toffee to envelop itself in. The immense platter of shaved snow was merely a plate with chocolate smudges on it after mere two minutes.
The next dish I ordered is for the less adventurous eater, yet was surprisingly refreshing: a medium pink lemonade and honeydew shaved ice ($2.75). Much like the shaved snow, a fork cut right through the ice, but immediately it melted into sweet liquid when I ate it. The texture was much softer than that of a snow cone, and was much more appealing. The pink lemonade was amazingly sour, yet not too overpowering. It was perfect to pair with another flavor for no extra charge. The honeydew’s sweetness undercut the powerful sourness of the pink lemonade, providing a perfect match for any sweet tooth.
The last dish I ordered was a medium avocado shaved snow with almond slivers and a condensed milk sliver ($4.25). This fluffy, ethereal delight was unusual, but very rewarding. I trusted the staff with their recommendations, and it was the perfect balance of fragrant and savory with the avocado, and also nutty from the almonds. To contrast the avocado, the condensed milk added a sweet taste, and a creaminess to connect to the shaved snow itself. Eating the dessert, I could not help but smile as one of the owners told a story about the condensed milk being her favorite growing up on her shaved snow, all with a beaming smile.
Overall, Sno-Zen Shaved Snow & Dessert Cafe has easily become my new favorite dessert spot near Palo Alto. The family atmosphere made me feel happy and at home, and the shaved snow and shaved ice was out of this world. The incredibly low prices and the location made it a refreshing escape from the fast-paced University Avenue. I will be back soon for more.