Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Chén Chè Teehaus - Berlin, Germany

 I was wandering through Berlin searching for outerwear, but found warmth of a different kind. Chén Chè Teehaus' sign caught my attention and I strolled through the long walkway into a courtyard. The decor, then the menu, fixated me.
From the glowing lanterns to the unique wooden chairs, I was visually arrested. The large bay windows let in light that settled nicely upon the tables and other guests. Also notice the open faced shelving against the wall. Over there, they have numerous pots (for their teas?) and homemade Vietnamese desserts. I wasn't the only one intrigued by this place. From my seat observing future guests, it look like many people were new here or appreciated the interior design with wondering eyes.
Since I was inadvertently here because of a German menu display board, we should talk about food. Once I could read the English descriptions of Vietnamese foods and teas, I began ordering. The menu variety astonished me, so I ordered an appetizer, tea, main course, and dessert.

Pictured above, we have the Bo Bia, a spring roll with watercress, spicy tofu, green papaya and vietnamese basil, rolled in rice paper with a fine roasted peanut and ginger sauce. Any dish should be able to stand on its own without an accompanying sauce. The translucent skin fell apart beneath my teeth to reveal crisp vegetables. Though the skin was thin, it was remarkable durable as it held well in my hand. Satisfied with the spring roll, I sampled the peanut and ginger sauce. It had an earthy taste masking a slight spice note. It was delicious.

Accompanying the fast service of the Bo Bia was the Che Thach Den, described as a creamy, fruity, black herbal-jelly tea from Hanoi made from a treasured family recipe, with sweet lycheese, roasted sesame and fresh ginger. I grasped the firm tea cup in both hands and gingerly sipped. It was slightly sweet with a gelatinous volume. The fresh ginger slightly spiced its October-suited warmth. The tea soaked lychee were a special treat.
60% done with my Bo Bia, this came out. Here we have the Bun Rieu, a hearty vegetable soup with rice noodles, spicy tofu and chicken, bean sprouts, tomatoes, and fresh coriander, seasoned with tamarind and fresh Chinese spinach. The noodle bowl slightly intimidated me when it arrived. I think I inadvertently ordered for two instead of one. Steam crested the the shredded sprouts as orange spice rimmed the dense bowl. The sprouts had a light sandpaper texture, the tomato disintegrated in my mouth, it felt more texture rich than broth rich. Only until I nearly ate all the noodles, vegetables, chicken, and tofu, did I realize the flavor complexity of the broth. The aforementioned ingredients had been perfect flavor recipients.
Last, but not least, was the Chen Che Thach, soft coconut milk panna cotta flavored with aromatic Pu Erh tea (contains a trace amount of caffeine) and fresh mango. Neither picture I took, including this one, does the dish justice. The Chen Che Thach was an amazingly dense dish, topped with mango. I do enjoy mango's dualing flavors of sweet with a slightly bitter aftertaste. The light pinkish orange body was speckled with black. My silver spoon sliced through this dairy based jello like a surgeon's knife. So good.

And what's the true test of a great meal? If you can run 800 meters to meet your party in 7 minutes without an upset stomach though you had food poisoning 5 days prior. Go Chén Chè Teehaus! You surpassed my expectations remarkably well. I only wish I didn't have to leave Berlin the next day.

Patara - London, England

Two weeks before visiting Patara, I was lamenting over uninspiring Pad Thai. Apparently, my friend took note because she said we were going to visit a Thai restaurant in Soho for my last London meal. I was nervously excited. I don't normally pursue Pad Thai, but I crave it after eating at Denver's Linger. I crave curry, inspiring flavor combinations, and palate challenging meals. Would Patara be it?

My friend reminisced about Patara as we walked there. Patara used to be a weekly destination when she was kicking ass at a high paying job. She still kicks ass, whipping creative ideas into fruition, organizing unorganized swing dancers, et cetera for London Swing Patrol, but misses her former frequent visits here.
Can you judge a restaurant solely by its silverware and tableware? Mmmmmm, yes. Muted colors, dense silverware, wonderfully weaved napkins. And compliments to the descriptively thorough memo.
I started with the Tuna Tartare, thin slices of raw tuna in spicy lemongrass and mint vinaigrette. I delicately picked up these tiny morsels and savored their piquant flavor. The broth was tasty too. I may have cleaned everything off that plate.
While I was admiring the Tuna Tartare, my friend ordered the Srangwah Hoy Shell, poached king scallops in spicy lime and chilli vinaigrette with lemongrass, mint and shallot. She reluctantly allowed me to try one. I can understand her reluctance after savoring the spicy tart scallop.
Appetizers eventually made way for the main courses. My friend ordered her favorite item, the Nua Tom Kati, which was slow braised beef in aromatic coconut reduction with fresh lime, lemongrass and chilli accompanied with coconut rice. The beef fell apart underneath my fork, having soaked, no bathed in the coconut reduction. The beef truly embodied the coconut. Simply savory.
My main course was the Gae Pad Grachai featuring wok-fried slices of lamb fillet in wild ginger and green peppercorn red curry sauce accompanied with brown rice. The brown rice was an extra charge, but well worth it. It was an amazingly savory dish. From the lamb fillet to the green peppercorns, I enjoyed every moment.
We still had room, miraculously, for dessert. Too many desserts tempted my eyes, so we ordered two. Here is the Tart Sangkaya, a lemongrass infused coconut tart served with homemade stem ginger ice cream. This is where factual knowledge trumps assumptions. I never thought about what lemongrass really was until I ate this dish. This tart lacks any standout flavor. After such tart dishes, I was expecting the same. It was a good balance, but not what I expected thanks to erroneous assumptions. Lemongrass, look it up. It was a good stem ginger ice cream and mixed well with the tart.
The finishing touches came thanks to the Gati Sod Sundae, a homemade coconut ice cream with exotic fruit. Instead of your typical exotic fruits, we enjoyed chewy sweet coconut, chinese plum, and chinese plum seed. Well delivered, Patara.

I thoroughly enjoyed my Patara experience. They did deny my request to live there, though. Their loss. It might be my new favorite Thai Restaurant. Sorry, TAC Quick. I'll be seeing you in December again, Patara. And maybe one day, I'll be visiting your Bangkok location.