Saturday, November 6, 2010

Cha An, East Village, NYC

Cha An is a slice of heaven in the hustle and bustle of the East Village. The storefront is located in the Little Tokyo area that makes up 9th Street in between 3rd and 2nd Avenues. A set of stairs leads you up into a traditional Japanese Tea Parlor. It's so easy to forget you are in Manhattan after stepping into this other world. The staff is friendly and attentive and after I walked in from the chilly night air, I was quickly escorted to a private table in the back. I couldn't get over how much I was in love with the space. It was just beautiful. There is also a private room covered in tatami mats where a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony takes place. For a very reasonable charge, you can experience the art of matcha.

But, because I was a solo diner on this particular night, and I just wanted some "me time", I ordered dinner, "Set A" from the food menu. There are several sweets that I would have loved to try, but I will be back for that. There is also a huge book of tea that is not only informative, but also just plain fun to read. I was learning about all sorts of Japanese teas that I did not know about before. However, I settled for a Matcha Latte, as I have read wonderful things about their iced lattes, and I had to try one of my favorite drinks at this authentic spot. The latte was perfect! It came out promptly, extremely well mixed, blending the sweet and powerful taste of matcha with milk. The latte was smooth and delicately blended, and I certainly appreciated that. To make it even more indulgent, there is a dollop of azuki beans (red beans) on top of the latte that you are to mix in, and then enjoy as you sip them up through the straw with your matcha. Heaven.

My set meal came out not too long after my drink arrived and it was simply stunning, both visually and gastronomically. A big bowl of Japanese 15 Grain Rice Porridge takes center stage. It was great. Along with the rice porridge, I enjoyed a mackerel in miso broth, along with small Japanese assorted bowls of Chinese cabbage, egg, seaweed, and a daikon salad. Everything was delicious. I will admit, I sampled the bit of sour plum that sits at the side of the tray, however it was much too sour for me and I left it off to the side. I could have been in Japan though, that's how authentic the food tasted. It was really quite nice.

In the set meal, dessert of the house is included. It rotates, but this evening, I was presented with homemade vanilla bean ice cream studded with mixed berries, sandwiched between two puff pastry outer shells, creating a splendid homemade ice cream sandwich. Delicious! If they have this when you are there, order it! The vanilla bean ice cream is out of this world. Very high quality, indeed!

I really loved Cha An. The space, the food, the tea. I want to return to try some of the house blends and sample some of the other menu items. I must say, although the menu seems like it is expensive, my whole meal with tea came out to only about twenty dollars. Not too bad. Head over and try some traditional Japanese tea house fare for yourself!

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