Lost in the smoky haze of cigarettes and Korean BBQ that envelops much of Koreatown is the most civilized, most quiet, most splendidly restful tea shop in town, where straw mats hang from the ceiling, separating tables, where chairs are covered in pillows and where lanterns are strewn throughout the room, a patchwork of gentle light. And on every table at Hwa Sun Ji Tea and Coffee -- from the middle-aged Koreans debating politics to the two Santa Monica College students quietly gossiping -- is a bowl of pat-bing soo, finely shaved ice underneath sweetened red beans, watermelon, honeydew, mochi bits, condensed milk and green tea ice cream.
While the room is staid and respectable, the pat-bing soo is fun and refreshing. Mixed up, it looks like pale green sludge, and it must be eaten quickly, before the ice melts, when the bowl is still crunchy, chewy and crisp. "I didn't expect this," says a friend, unclear whether he means the monastic room or the multitextured dessert. The others just nod and keep eating.
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