With towering mounds of all-milk shaved ice and adorable fish-shaped pastries, Korean chain Snowy Village is a charming addition to the slow end of the Ave, where the student-focused chaos of University Way Northeast gives way to the lush greenery and quiet Craftsmen of Northeast Ravenna Boulevard.
Snowy Village specializes in two things: bingsoo, a Korean dessert that pairs toppings with a shaved-ice base made from milk, and taiyaki, a Japanese fish-shaped pastry that comes filled or plain and whose texture hybridizes croissants and pancakes. Both are intricate constructions in flavor and appearance; like the offerings at Milk Bar or Sugar Factory, they seem designed to be photographed.
And if you’re here for the Instagram experience, you’ve come to the right place. The shop’s interior will look great in your stories, with decor choices that are, at this point, almost social-media tropes. Think subway tiles, cacti in tiny white ceramic planters, those white scoop-back chairs that pair so well with Mac products, and — when I visited — a group of students wearing huge soft-looking fleeces in cool neutrals and various other forms of the normcore-meets-athleisure aesthetic currently metastasizing across social media. It’s a look that leans hard into the now-irrevocable overlap between consuming food and photographing it, and actually eating within its confines feels a bit like doing jumping jacks in front of a branded backdrop banner intended for still (and endless) photography.
But eat you should, because actually digging into a mound of milky shaved ice and sweet toppings is a delightful experience that can’t be captured by even the rosiest digital filter (unless you have cause to avoid dairy — all bingsoo options are made with milk and condensed milk). These colorful little mountains made of rainbows and sunshine (OK, more like sugar and matcha and fruit) are available in three sizes ($5.45/small, $7.95/regular, $10.95/large) and a staggering range of toppings including traditional red beans and rice cakes ($5.45-$10.95), Oreo cookie crumbs and whipped cream ($5.45-$10.95), coffee and cocoa powder (“one size only,” $8.95), the tantalizingly named “milk chocolate rocks” ($5.45-$10.95), and actual cheesecake ($5.98-$11.98).
The cashier I ordered from reported that the shop’s fruit flavors are especially popular, and while the mango variety was out of season with the fruit, the strawberry version was not. It’s the only frozen dessert I’ve eaten that looks like a Mario power-up Mushroom, streaked as it is in bright red berry juice, with a hat of whipped cream, and it tastes like a 5-year-old’s dream birthday cake, or a really good strawberry pie without the heaviness. I would, however, recommend the smallest size available. I’m capable of eating a lot of sugar and carbs in one sitting and even I struggled to finish a small serving — those little bowls hold a lot of shaved ice, and the portions are generous, with toppings piled gravity-mockingly high.
And while the bingsoo list is Snowy Village’s main event, ignore the rest of the menu at your peril — especially the French taiyaki. The filled fish-shaped pastries are available in a combo pack ($9.99 for three flavors) or a la carte ($3.75-$4); the Instagram experience is equally good (it’s a cute dough fish!); and that pastry-cakey texture is incredible. If I could eat the Nutella version ($3.75) every day, I would, but you can also order them plain or with fillings like red bean ($3.75) and bacon and cheese ($4).
Snowy Village knows its audience — the UW shop’s Instagram account is a veritable Bingo board for Instagram trends, with shots of a fluffy cat, a French bulldog with its own handle, and an anthropomorphized mango. It’s selling an aesthetic as well as an experience, something novelty dining experiences often do to the detriment of the food. But while the Instagram experience may be part of what brings people in to Snowy Village, unlike the Sugar Factories of the world, it’s possible to have one without the other. You really could come here just for dessert, not a picture of dessert. Besides, you wouldn’t want it to melt.
Snowy Village, 2-11 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 2 p.m.-midnight Friday, 1 p.m.-midnight Saturday, 1-11 p.m. Sunday; 5264 University Way, Seattle; 206-708-1111, snowyvillages.com