Jet Tila Chills Out with Kuma Snow Cream
Ever since departing from Wazuzu, the pan-Asian restaurant he opened at Wynn Las Vegas, Chef Jet Tila has been on a tear. When the Thai LA native isn't running his comfort food cabaret The Charleston in Santa Monica, he's been giving tours of Thaitown to Anthony Bourdain, teaching cooking classes, demonstrating and competing on dozens of TV food shows, hosting his own radio show, setting Guinness World Records, getting declared the Thai food ambassador (or something like that), perfecting recipes for his ChefJet home delivery frozen foods, or...last but not least, taking care of his new family. Enough? Hardly.
Most recently, Tila partnered up on a new frozen dessert concept: Snow Cream. As luck would have it, I happened to be in Vegas on the morning Kuma Snow Cream's doors opened, and barged my way into being the first (unofficial) customer [The first official customer is pictured here, ordering--and the second one with her snow cream, which was too colorful not to include]
Slightly Westernized from xue hua bing, an incredibly popular treat in Taiwan (yes, Taiwan--not Tila's home Thailand, different places for those of you who confuse easily), Snow Cream might best be described as a hybrid between Hawaiian shave ice and American ice milk. Actually, for those who are familiar, it's closest in texture to classic Philadelphia Italian Ice--but instead of being scooped, it's shaved in ribbons in a special machine [I asked Jet if he could adapt the contraption for jamon Iberico or gyros, and I'd bet you he's working on it!].
Due to both the water content and texture from shaving, snow cream is necessarily a 'lighter' experience than most other frozen treats, making it a great foundation for flavors. The signature kuma snow does in fact bear a close resemblance to actual snow on the palate, with just a mild bit of sweetness. They also offer mango and strawberry flavors, but the ones that intrigued me most were the Asian-style purple taro and green tea. Purple taro is naturally high in vitamin A, so combined with the right toppings it could actually be relatively nutritious (they didn't have their nutrition facts posted yet). Plus, hey, it's purple, naturally. The green tea had really intense flavor--and if it's made with actual green tea, who knows, maybe that has some healthful properties as well.
The two-sided topping bar (half fresh, half shelf-stable) had a lot of the typical fro-yo toppings--crushed Butterfingers, gummy bears, nuts, fruit preserves, sprinkles--but again, what drew me in were the lychee, red bean paste, molecular popping pearls (these are kind of a must) and little custard balls. Combining textures is as rewarding here as combining flavors. There are squeeze bottles of condensed milk, mango, strawberry and chocolate sauces, but it's a bit unnecessary. Oh, who am I kidding? The whole thing is unnecessary! That's the point.
KSC only comes in two sizes now--Ninja (20 oz) and Sumo (32 oz), both of which are big enough to be considered "share plates," especially after you add the three included toppings. Apparently a kids size is coming, which would be my preference. They offer some suggested combos with names like Bruce Tea and Mangozilla, but oddly enough, not a Tila Monster. That one would probably require some sriracha. And by the way, let me drop that in the suggestion box.
Vegas has no shortage of ice cream and frozen yogurt, is home to a beloved frozen custard stand (and a few more) and probably sports more gelato on the Strip than any place outside of Italy. Still, Kuma is a nice alternative, potentially a bit healthier and certainly unique, at least for now. Check it out on your next Spring Mountain excursion. Or, bring your "seen it all" kids on a little field trip.