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Mar 20, 2008 12:48 PM

Tapioca Thé?!

Today's Mirror has a review -- wait, make that a rave -- of Tapioca Thé, a place that had slipped under my radar until now. And more's the pity, from the sounds of it: "But don’t let the twee décor fool you: Tapioca Thé may look like a kitten—in fact, it may look kind of Hello Kitty—but a tiger lurks within. You see, like pretty much every other bubble tea establishment in town, Tapioca Thé offered snacks and light meals to go along with their impressive selection of hot and cold teas, but unlike any other bubble tea establishment in town that I know of, the owner of Tapioca Thé decided to raise the stakes, bringing in a certified Szechwanese chef to man the kitchen. Not only have they successfully raised the stakes, they’re raising the roof with their fiery Szechwan cuisine."

Lots of mouth-watering -- and thoroughly unMontrealish -- descriptors: "explosive broth ... swimming with hot chilies and laced with chili oil", "mind-altering qualities of Szechwan peppercorns", "chilies setting your mouth ablaze", "our mouths literally tingling from the sensory overload", "highly flavourful soft tofu with ground pork and copious amounts of ground chilies", "no holds barred". Sounds like a new Niu Kee. On steroids.

Last one there is a thousand year egg!

Tapioca Thé
1672 de Maisonneuve W.
514 223-4095

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  1. Carswell, I think you just picked what I'm having for lunch tomorrow.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Moosemeat

      The food here iis amazing, really authentic, flavourful and not too expensive. I loved the cumin lamb, sadly they didn't have it when I went the second time. I also had the cucumber and jellyfish salad, twice. The hot and sour soup was apparently amazing as well. I recommend as much if not more than Cuisine Szechuan.

    2. Went there this afternoon. Tried their hot chili wonton soup & twice-cooked pork. Both dishes excellent. The best wonton soup I have ever tasted. Both dishes were very spicy(around the same level as original incarnation of Niu Kee). What a find! Thanks to A.J. Kinik for his Montreal Mirror review.

      5 Replies
      1. re: BLM

        When were you there? I went this afternoon as well. I had the cumin & chilli chicken. I too was very impressed. The only thing that bothered me was that the chicken was chopped very small, with the bone still in. This meant a lot of little bone shards.

        I know that's the style of the food, but if they had just chopped it slightly larger, it would have been easier to pick out the bone. Anyways, this is a minor complaint, and it certainly won't stop me from returning again.

        1. re: Moosemeat

          I was there approx. from 2pm to 3:15pm or so. What time were you there? I also got one of the bubble tea drinks along with the 2 dishes. I want to try them again later today.

          1. re: BLM

            We must have just missed each other, I left just before 2pm. I forgot to say in my previous post, but I had the cold mango tea with milk yesterday, and it was very good.

            1. re: Moosemeat

              Correct myself, I had their coffee milk tea drink. When I was there, the Tapioca The owner(I'm guessing she's the owner) wasn't aware of the Montreal Mirror review that just came out(I gave her a copy of the review).

        2. re: BLM

          Today my experience at Tapioca The was less successful. Tried their wonton again. This time, I felt there was very little filling in their wontons, although the wonton soup still tasted very good. The second dish I ordered, ended up being the wrong dish I had wanted. I didn't check too carefully(partly my fault), as the picture of one of dishes, didn't match the dish number on the menu.

        3. I went last night with my girlfriend and we had the beef with szechuan sauce and the imperial shrimp. Both dishes were excellent and thoroughly heaped with chilis and szechuan peppercorns.

          The beef dish was quite hot, and reminded me of Niu Kee's better days for sure. The beef was served with large chunks of cabbage, both swimming in the glowing red sauce. We got the mandatory warning too . . "It's very spicy are you sure?" My last trip to Niu Kee was a disaster so I'm quite excited about this new spot.

          The Imperial Shrimp had a very interesting sweet and sour tang and the numbing effect of the szechuan peppers was very interesting with this. It was quite different to anything I've tasted before.

          I'm trying to find a subsitute for Niu Kee's salted crispy shrimp but at Tapioca Thé they were out of their salt and pepper shrimp, so I'm curious as whether it's similar or not.

          I've been trying salt and pepper shrimp and similar dishes at quite a few places and so far Beijing comes closest, but you have to specify that you want the full shrimps in the shell. Nui Kee's had a gingery and salty edge that was quite unique and I miss it so. Enough rambling!

          As for Tapioca Thé, I'll definately be going back to sample the rest of the menu. There's loads of unconventional stuff there too for the adventurous. Pork blood jelly, swamp eel, pigs ears, etc.

          1. Despite some glitches in the food and service, I was impressed enough this evening to want to return. My wontons were nicely stuffed and obviously house-made but the broth was way salty, though so flavourful and spicy it almost didn't matter. The cumin beef was wow-worthy: a big pile of thinly sliced steak and onions in a light brown sauce (soy sauce, ginger, garlic and maybe some Shaoxing wine?) riddled with dried chiles, Szechuan peppercorns and a whack of crushed, not ground, cumin. Spicing was intense, even sinus-clearing though not discomfort-inducing. Stir-fried napa cabbage was a perfectly acceptable side though the spicing -- chiles and Szechuan peppercorns -- seemed a little redundant, if not boring, after the beef. Steamed rice was good. Tsingtao was the only beer on offer.

            The place was hopping at around 8 and the staff seemed a little overwhelmed. Nearly all the tables were taken (I and another guy were the only non-Chinese, too) and they were doing a brisk takeout business. It took 15 minutes after ordering to be served the beer. Fifteen minutes after that, the first dish -- the beef, not the soup -- showed up. Five minutes later, the rice. Five minutes later, the cabbage. Five or ten minutes later, the spicy wonton soup. It's also not an oasis of tranquility, what with the music videos and sports reports on the widescreen TV, the constant ringing of the phone, the whirl of the blender making iced drinks, the chimes signaling there's a dish ready for a waiter to pick up in the kitchen, the people queuing to order and pick up takeout, etc.

            Nonetheless, the food all tasted homey/authentic and was fearlessly spiced. And just looking at some of the other dishes passing by the table made my mouth water. Plus the menu has all kinds of intriguing options: along with the swamp eel, pig's ears and blood jelly, who could resist a stir-fry of "flavoured pig kidneys and hearts with spicy sauce"?

            I spoke briefly with the owner, who hails from Szechuan. The tea bar has been open for about four years. The Szechuan cook -- who I think I saw (if so, she's a woman) -- was hired about five months ago.

            12 Replies
            1. re: carswell

              From my first visit, Friday afternoon. I thought the Szechuan cook was a male. He was bringing up the dishes, to the waiters.

              1. re: BLM

                Interesting. I assumed the woman I saw was the cook because she briefly came out of the kitchen for a refill of her stein of tea and the steady stream of dishes stopped. Soon after she returned, it started up again. One of us should ask on a follow-up visit.

                1. re: carswell

                  I was at Tapioca The Friday night, & spoke with the owner. She told me, the Szechuan cook(you are right, she's female) doesn't work at Tapioca The anymore. They have another chef from China. That could account for differences in more recents visits now. Tried their spicy won ton soup again Friday, & it's a little different(IMO) than when the female Szechuan chef was still working at Tapioca The.

                  1. re: BLM

                    That really explains it. The cumin beef I had the last time looked and tasted like someone else's interpretation of the old recipe.

                    Now I wonder if we can track down the old chef.

                    1. re: emerilcantcook

                      If I were to guess, the female Szechuan chef is probably back in China.

                      1. re: BLM

                        I may have a scoop on the Szechaun chef. I was speaking to a woman who told me that the female Szechuan chef left Tapioca The and has now opened a place of her own... I am going to investigate and find out what I can, but this is a promising lead. I have an address... I'm looking for time and stomach space to check it out.

                        1. re: moh

                          OK I have a wonderful idea of a new primetime show: moh, PI.

                          It is about a cheery private detective and who tries to solve chow mysteries such as tracking lost chefs or elusive mangoes. I think the proper tone of the show should be something akin to Mathnet (lets see if you are geeky enough to remember it), not CSI Miami; though we can perhaps get you some David Caruso glasses to up the mystery factor.

                          Sign here.....

                          1. re: emerilcantcook

                            I can totally do this chow detective show! Here's the scoop on the new place!


                            By the way, I passed by Tapioca The today, and they were closed. They had a gigantic banner with Chinese characters and the number "5" on it, and I suspect that what it is trying to say is that the place is closed until January 5, when the new semester starts at Concordia. At least this is my best guess as I actually do not read or speak Chinese. So if anyone can help me with this, I'd be very grateful. I do recall that Tapioca The is usually open on Mondays.

                            1. re: emerilcantcook

                              I volunteer to be the handsome hunky sidekick!

                        2. re: emerilcantcook

                          Oh, say it ain't so! I go away for three weeks, and my world falls apart.

                          1. re: bomobob

                            Thanks to this board, we tried it last night.
                            We asked our waitress if she was cooking (she was the oldest of the 4 servers and apparently somewhat in charge), she laughed and said that it was her husband, so we had a male cook.

                            I was worried about the conflicting reports here, but it was fantastic nonetheless.

                            They're menu most likely changed since this thread was started as there are no 'cute' chilies as heat indicators (they're now asterisks, 1, 2, or 3). Although theres pig kidney, blood jelly, and stomach (tripe), there's no swamp eel or pigs ears.
                            Our server said they are now 'specials' and pointed to the handwritten boards near the cash. We were then full, so the eels and ears will wait 'til next time.
                            Service is quirky, decor is... well, no decor, our table was rickety (I hand tightened the leg bolts) and we loved every bit. The older girl went way beyond her call of duty in making us happy; she made not only one, but two trips outside the restaurant and around the corner to get requested items.
                            Definitely going back to eat our way through that menu!

                  2. re: carswell

                    Just had the leftover cabbage and beef for lunch. Out of curiosity, I piled the uneaten chile pods -- the standard issue 1½-inch dried red chiles you'll find in any Chinese grocery -- from the two dishes in a measuring cup: a scant one cup's worth! About two-thirds of them came from the beef, which also had at least two or three tablespoons of Szechuan peppercorns. Of course, the resto will adjust the spiciness to your preference and when ordering I told the owner not to skimp. What's great is that they didn't.

                  3. Can't say that the food is as good as the original Nui Kee, but it will certainly suffice until the Nui kee folks (hopefully) return. I found the Cumin beef is a bit on the mushy side,and the spicing was not as intense as Nui kee, but still good.

                    The Twice cooked pork was definitely not my favorite, a bit too much fat on the pork, and the veggies were cooked to limp.

                    The green beans were nice, but could have been better if the beans were cooked from fresh. The chopped pickled mustard really made the world of difference with the beans.

                    The Taro bubble tea was one of the better ones sold in the city. I guess the generous helping of coffeemate really gives the drink a lot more body.

                    The original Nui Kee really spoiled it for a lot of us, as they truly raised the standard on Northern Chinese cuisine in Montreal. When they closed on St. Laurent, we all mourned the loss of this great dive. In the final days before closing, she was complaining that her husband was not well and that they had to return to China. Yet, 2 years later, they opened in the old Chinese cooking school on Clarke. Let's hope that the Nui Kee folks return to grace us with their excellent food.

                    Despite having sold Nui Kee to new owners, during the first months of the new management, the food was abysmal. I did return recently and can say that they have improved. Yet, it is not the same as it used to be. Many dishes were on par with Tapioca The.