REDMOND — Though the weather outside grows frightful, inside one Redmond dessert shop, the climate remains tropically delightful.
That’s because each week, even in the dead of winter, staff at Hui Lau Shan unpack an entire pallet of fresh mangoes.
In its home base of Hong Kong, the much-loved Hui Lau Shan chain is Starbucks-like in its ubiquity. What began as a roving snack trolley in the 1960s vaulted into global popularity a decade ago and now has nearly 300 branches across the Pacific Rim.
The cheery Redmond franchise, the first full-fledged Hui Lau Shan outpost in the U.S., opened in July. Owner Lisa Li is targeting a Dec. 8 opening day for a new branch in downtown Bellevue.
One pallet is 280 cases, as many as 5,040 mangoes — which Hui Lau Shan slices, dices and purees into fruity, iced dishes that left this eater with visions of mangoes (and pomelos, and passionfruit, and coconut) dancing in her head.
Iced dishes, you say? In temperatures hovering around freezing?
“I was worried, too, until recently,” Li said. “But every weekend we’re packed.”
Take it from this converted skeptic, who ventured on a cold, rainy night into that delightful warren of Redmond strip malls where gems of global cuisine live: Hui Lau Shan’s fruit ices are a cure for winter malaise.
Yes, the Pomelo & Mango With Sago ($8.50) — pearl-like balls of chewy sago hiding in the skirts of iced pureed mango with coconut milk, and topped with sliced mango, tart pomelo and a petite scoop of mango ice cream — would be a refreshing treat on a muggy, sticky-shirted afternoon.
But as it turns out, the dessert — and the dozens like it on offer at Hui Lau Shan — conjure humid air and crystalline skies even in the dark, chilly depths of a Pacific Northwest winter.
The iced dishes are variations on a theme: cold fruit, plus gumminess, in varying combinations of mango, coconut and passionfruit; rice-flour balls, sticky rice, aloe and sago. In summer, the mangoes come from Mexico; in winter, from Ecuador, Li said. They’re a trendy varietal called the Ataulfo, or “honey mango”; smaller and sweeter than what shoppers have generally been able to find in grocery stores, though lately, they’re sourceable on Seattle shelves.
Hui Lau Shan also dishes up warm and savory fare, including seasonal options.
We sprang for the Stewed Bird’s Nest & Harsmar in Coconut ($12.80), a seasonal coconut-milk-based dessert that felt like a velvety, tropical alternative to drinking hot chocolate in front of the fire. (Before you ask — bird’s nest is a kind of mushroom. Harsmar, also known as hasma or hashima, is a jelly made from fatty frog tissue.) It’s served piping hot and very cute, in a hollowed-out coconut.
Also tasted: The savory Pan-Fried Radish Cake ($6.50), firm rice-flour-based slabs with a garlicky topping.
Delicious — but in the running against mangoes galore, there’s a clear winner.
Hui Lau Shan, noon-11 p.m. Monday-Sunday; 15120 N.E. 24th St., Redmond; 425-449-8885, redmondhls.com