If you have the sort of sweet tooth that compels you to seek out some sort of dessert after every meal, you could do worse than to be dropped in the middle of Koreatown, where you'll find sweets pretty much everywhere: There are cinnamon-dusted pancakes called hotteoks served cartside at Gook Hwa House, and pastries at Paris Baguette.
But one of the most popular, and certainly the most fun, desserts in the neighborhood is patbingsoo, a Korean take on shaved ice that's topped with the type of sweets and savories you'd find at Yogurtland (usually fruit, red beans and condensed milk; occasionally, Fruity Pebbles and Cap'n Crunch), plus a scoop of ice cream and maybe a garnish of whipped cream. The toppings will be neatly arranged around the ice cream on a bed of shaved ice; you are to mix everything together as you would a bowl of bibimbap, which, depending on where you fall on the scale of preferring order to chaos, you will do with great reluctance or with great glee.
The kids these days seem to be most excited about the patbingsoo at Miss Coffee, where the dessert arrives in a huge Pyrex measuring cup, topped with a seemingly endless amount of syrup, strawberries, bananas, kiwis and bits of mochi. Purists, introverts and minimalists, however, likely would much prefer the version at Hwa Sun Ji Tea House.
An improbably tranquil spot on Wilshire Boulevard, Hwa Sun Ji is fashioned after a traditional teahouse. A bamboo screen separates your table from the one next to you, full of Korean grandmas, and you'll be handed a booklet of a menu, which includes an assortment of medicinal and herbal teas.
That the patbingsoo here is an exercise in restraint rather than excess probably won't surprise you in the least. Next to Miss Coffee, in fact, it's practically ascetic: a small bowl – not made out of Pyrex – of finely shaved ice, decorated simply with a layer of red beans; neatly diced watermelon, melon and mochi; and a golf ball – size scoop of very good green tea ice cream. It's quite enough to satisfy two or three people after a meal, especially with the hot barley tea, which arrives after the last spoonful of the icy slush is gone.
Hwa Sun Ji Tea House, like many coffee, tea and dessert shops in Koreatown, is open late – well past 10 p.m. on most days. Meaning you can take your time with the roast gui and kimchi fried rice at Dong Il Jang and still have plenty of time to have your dessert and eat it, too. Miss Coffee, 300 S. Hobart Blvd., #101, Koreatown. (213) 380-7574. Hwa Sun Ji Tea & Coffee, 3960 Wilshire Blvd., #100, Koreatown. (213) 382-5302.