Shaved Ice Is the Next Cool Trend in Chicago

By Sarah Freeman  |  July 23, 2014
Credit: Nick Murway

If you can stand the brain freeze, shaved ice has become the vessel of choice for chefs and bartenders when it comes to serving seasonal syrups and cocktails. Appearing on dessert, drink and dinner menus, this dish comes in many forms, using different methods to coax ice-cold liquid into a flaky form.

Like a kid in a candy shop, chef Gene Kato can’t help but show off the newest toy at Sumi Robata Bar. The Kakigori shaved ice-maker is a Japanese machine reminiscent of the one popularized in mid-20th-century Japan. The hand-cranked machine spins a cylindrical block of ice over a blade that produces large sheetlike flakes of ice. At Sumi, the ice is made with a seasonal fruit purée with sugar and milk that is frozen, shaved and served for dessert. The current version of the dessert features caramelized pineapple ice with puffed rice coated with coconut milk.


Leave it to Richie Farina at Moto to make savory shaved ice. Please hold, it gets weirder. An experiment gone right had Farina freezing raw salmon in nitrogen before putting it into the food processor until it turned into “salmon snow.” The flaky pink snow is served with shaved cucumber ice, cream cheese, smoked salmon roe, Pampalo leaf, anise blooms and sorrel. This high-tech dish was inspired by the old-school canapé, the ever-changing flavors of the one-bite dish that often includes the classic combination of seafood, vegetables and dairy.

In Hawaii, ice is shaved extra-thin to allow a rainbow of syrups to adhere to the cold flakes. Hawaiian native Nate Chung uses a similar technique to make his shaved-ice cocktails at Mott St. Each cup is shaved to order, piled high in a coupe glass and covered in one of two flavor combinations — Gin and Juice with Letherbee Vernal gin and hibiscus-tea syrup, or Ants on a Log with Lambrusco and celery syrup. Punch House is also taking a nostalgic approach to its frozen cocktail by breaking out the retro Sno Kone machine. Each sno-cone is served in the familiar paper cones and can be covered with any of the house punches on tap.


A lot of thought went into making the perfect shaved-ice cocktail at Luxbar. Principal bartender Matthew Lipsky enlisted the help of a Manitowoc Ice Maker out of Wisconsin to create the perfect shaved ice for his Moscow mule. The flakes of ice are designed to dilute the cocktail without overly watering it down. The cocktail, made with Russian Standard vodka, Goose Island ginger beer, orange bitters and lime, is not shaken nor stirred, so dilution is key. Each one is served in a custom copper mug. All of this work paid off — it was the most popular drink served last year, with 16,000 of them sold.

Next time you sit down at the bar, don’t be surprised if you bartender asks: do want that cocktail shaken, stirred or shaved?