Photo by Shannon SibayanA couple sits next to the window at Island Grill, slowly spooning through a multicolored column of shaved ice. The column rises from a large glass bowl and looks like the Devil's Tower Richard Dreyfuss carved out of mashed potatoes in CloseEncountersoftheThirdKind.The couple's chins are wet.
It's a humid, miserably hot day, and my charming companion and I are at this Hawaiian deli for the food, not the saving chill of a shaved ice—not yet. We order from Island Grill's menu, tacked on the wall and listing such island favorites as short ribs, saimin noodles and pork dumplings along with sushi, bento boxes and other Japanese selections. We settle on a chicken teriyaki bowl and vegetable curry. My companion's bowl is simple but filling—grilled chicken chunks glazed with a tart teriyaki sauce that soaks into the steaming mound of white rice below. She spikes this bowl with strips of pickled ginger and dabs of Sriracha Hot Sauce and wasabi. She offers me wasabi, but my vegetable curry doesn't need embellishment. It's murky, barely spicy and as gooey as gravy—perfect. The strong, beefy curry burnishes but doesn't overpower the accompanying steamed broccoli, carrots and cauliflower. I wash it down with an orange-mango Hawaiian Sun fruit punch; the combination of punch and vegetable curry in my mouth transforms the dish into something approaching the burnt sweetness of a Oaxacan mole negro.
My companion and I finish our meals in about half an hour. The sun still burns outside; the windowsill couple still work on their shaved ice. We're sweating. "Let's get one," she says. "But let's get the small."
We order the small—$1.75, with two flavors—and expect a small cup. What the waitress brings out a couple of minutes later is immense. There's no air conditioning at Island Grill, but the shaved-ice column will not melt; though sturdy, the chilled monolith is so delicate you could whittle it down with dental floss. It's frosty, not pebbly, and liquefies on our tongues as quickly as a snowflake. The flavors we selected, bubble gum and pineapple, worked their way through to the center, making each spoonful intense, sugary and refreshing.
Another couple walks into Island Grill. They see my companion and I still working on our shaved ice. Our chins are wet.
ISLAND GRILL, 4390 KATELLA AVE., LOS ALAMITOS, (562) 431-6496.