I was in Manhattan recently to visit a couple of friends. Originally, we were going to check out Ippudo, a popular ramen restaurant, but we didn’t feel like waiting the 30 minutes to get seated. So, our second choice was a Japanese tea house called Cha-an, located in the East Village.
It turned out to be the best decision ever. The friend who is an East Village resident had been there before, but I had not (which amazed both of us considering my great respect for Japanese art, culture, and food).
It’s not a large restaurant, but it doesn’t need to be. There’s a small side room seems to be dedicated for tea ceremonies. We sat at the counter in the main room, and I loved the dark warm tones of the decor. On the other side of the counter, you can see all their jars of tea and get a glimpse of the kitchen.
The food at Cha-an is seasonal and you’re never 100% sure of what you’re eating. The staff asks before you order if you have any food allergies, because the menu just says things like “today’s soup” or “today’s appetizer.”
Some of the lunch sets change according to the day of the week. I had the Unagi Hitsumabushi Don set (available only on weekends) which was seasoned eel serve over a chiffonade of egg and a bed of mixed grains. I think it was their 15 grain rice which you can order off of their appetizers list. I suspect that the rice is cooked with tea as well, as there was a subtle floral fragrance to it. As for the herb garnish, it might have been shiso? The only reason why I’m confused is that it was a much milder flavor than I’m accustomed to. But then again the only shiso I have at my disposal is the Korean variety so perhaps the strength of flavor is different. The lower left dish is a side of pickles and the side dish of the day, on the top left, seemed to be a hot soup made of carrots, napa cabbage and scallions.
Not pictured is the the Cha-an Set B which someone in my party ordered. Wow, it was lovely! It starts with a soymilk quiche. And then, a tray came along with the soup, pickles, a side dish of simmered vegetables that none of us could identify, the 15 grain rice, and a small dish of tea smoked salmon over a bed of watercress. The tea smoked salmon was really sublime. I want to try to make some at home.
We all ordered dessert with our sets. It’s cheaper to do so (instead of ordering off the dessert list) but you can’t pick out your dessert. The kitchen picks it out for you. However, I think everyone got a dessert that best suited their taste buds. The dessert I got, shown above, is black sesame creme brulee with a small scoop of black sesame ice cream. Not shown is a plate of green tea cake roll and a plate of soymilk flan. I didn’t taste the flan but it looked very pretty. And I can tell you that the green tea cake roll was delicious – I always like it when green tea is the dominant flavor. However, the black sesame creme brulee was my favorite so much so that I was happy on it all afternoon.
It’s not a cheap restaurant, but I feel like none of the restaurants in the area are that cheap. I do think that it’s worth the money I spent ($16 not including tax and tip). I can’t wait to go back again when I’m in the area… maybe check out their dinner menu next time? (^_^)
Chan-an is located at 230 East 9th Street New York, NY 10003.