Tea House Restaurant - University | Now Open - Has Anyone Tried it Yet?
Drove by University Ave & Stadium Village for an appointment and saw a sign that the Tea House Restaurant is open. I am curious if anyone has tried it yet and how it compares to the other 2 Teahouse restaurants in Plymouth and Saint Paul in terms of menu and quality of their food.
We went for lunch on Monday, which was their first advertised day open but we learned they had had a soft opening the week before. All of us were struck by the attractive and upscale decor. I'm sure a few college students stumbled in there not expecting such a nice place. The booths are filled with luxurious pillows and deep seating which does make it slightly hard to eat. Also, the bathroom was so dark that I honestly had to feel around for the door handle on my way out.
We ordered the warm cucumbers in chili oil to start, and the ma po tofu, special beef in spicy sauce (or something like that), and a spicy eggplant dish. The cucumbers were really disappointing and I was worried for the rest of the meal. At the other Teahouse locations the cucumbers are cut lengthwise so you get a lot of the soft inner flesh. These were cut horizontally and then in thirds, so you just got a bite of cucumber and much of it was the skin. It didn't leave you with nearly the same mouth feel as the other version. We mentioned this to the waiter and he said he had never tried the dish at the other locations so didn't understand the difference we were talking about. Despite the bad beginning, all 3 entrees were absolutely amazing. The waiter was a bit worried for us because we ordered the spiciest dishes on the menu, but they weren't overly spicy at all. Plus they complemented each other nicely - the eggplant was sweet, the tofu was soft, and the beef was the spiciest. We all felt like the beef was the absolute best dish, but all were extremely good.
We did find it strange that they didn't have beer, but did have wine and hard liquor. We didn't ask about the reasoning behind that. Also, there is only one "American" menu which doesn't seem to have all of the authentic dishes that the other locations Szechuan menus have. The service was quite prompt for us, but the waiter mentioned as we were leaving that the kitchen was slammed and food was getting out much slower. Overall I would highly recommend it for lunch or even a dinner out, which is a unique quality as most Stadium Village restaurants aren't worth going to for dinner. I'm hoping they get enough traffic since it is a bit outside the perimeter that most U students would walk for lunch, but at least on the first day I'd say the restaurant was about half full.
dh and i were awaiting this teahouse location's opening with bated breath, as we were absolutely junkies for the st. paul location's food when we lived over there. we went during the soft opening. the decor was as Kate describes-- blinged out teahouse-style with lots of dark carved wood and opulent seating areas. when seated at one of the cushioned, private booths with rich drapes, we couldn't believe we were in a former baker's square.
our experience was uneven due to what seemed like a difficult soft opening. food came out slowly and from where we were seated we could hear confused shouting from both sides of the kitchen pass re: dishes ordered. there were only a few parties in the restaurant, but apparently there was a problem with the electronic ordering system. at one point we heard a panicked server shouting: "stop my order, stop my order, i ordered wrong!!!" hopefully these problems have evened out and are no longer an issue.
our server was kind and very enthusiastic, but seemed a little inexperienced-- she had trouble with some of the heavy and elaborate serving dishes. at first we thought she might be a run-of-the-mill college co-ed hire, but she asked smart questions after the food was served and mentioned that she had spent some time in china so she was excited about the authenticity of the dishes & wanted to know what we thought. so. . . okay.
we got the pig's ear, house pickled vegetables, dan dan noodles, kung pao chicken. as mentioned all of the food took some time to come out, even though we said we'd gladly start with the cold items if the kitchen was backed up. everything came together, & we went with the flow. the pig's ear (cold, in chili oil) was very good. the house-pickled vegetables were not what i expected. i thought it would be more cabbage/choi, but what was presented was a colorful dish of mostly large chunks of carrot, with equally large chunks of celery/broc stem. wasn't wowed by this veg melange, and i wasn't able to use it as a condiment with the rest of the food as i had hoped, because the chunks were so big. i don't know if my expectations were off base or not, but i wouldn't order the pickled veg again. the dan-dan noodles were not as good as st paul tea house. they were too sweet, and not slick and spicy from chili oil. they were served in a large bowl which made it easier to toss them, that was nice, but the sauce was off and too dry and clumpy, so they didn't toss nicely. this location offers a choice between rice noodle dan-dan and wheat noodle dan-dan.
now i'm going to complain about the serveware a little-- gosh, it sounds like i'm such a big complainer, sorry-- but overall this was a good meal with so much potential. bear with me. when all of the food came (4 dishes, plus rice, plus soup), we were just given small oblong "sushi tray" dishes to eat off of, plus our rice bowls (which were a *beautiful* egg-shape. fit into the hand perfectly. i want a set of these for home. love these rice bowls). dh tried to eat "american style" by portioning out bits and dabs from the serving dishes onto his tiny plate/tray. . . i mostly ate off of and out of my rice bowl. bigger plates, or the option to have them, would have made dining & sharing easier-- the designer serveware was gorgeous, heavy, very obviously carefully chosen and so the plate oversight seemed strange to us, since so much thought seemed to go into the other pieces. the kung pao (far and away dh's fave) was really good. it wasn't spicy at all, even though we'd asked for it to be-- but the flavors were there, just without much of a chili kick. someone in the kitchen needs to get over it. . . putting it down to opening day paranoia about making the food too spicy for the minnesotans.
to my dismay, mini juicy buns are *not* on the menu at this tea house location!!! :(
but overall we were pleased, don't let my total dissection of the experience fool you-- i think this restaurant will be a great local addition to dinkytown. they need to work some stuff out and make some improvements, but the instincts are right on, & the menu looks good (not nearly as extensive as st paul, don't know whether it will expand or not). so i'll be giving this place another shot very soon!
Mr. Tastebud and I went to the Stadium Village Tea House last night. We liked it. The place is beautiful, the staff is very friendly, and those rice bowls are wonderful - I want some, too! Service issues seemed to have smoothed out - our food came out very quickly, and the service was good throughout the meal.
We loved the Szechuan dumplings, which arrived swimming in spicy oil, and we really liked the green beans. The cumin lamb was just OK - not spicy at all, to my taste, and tasted oddly sweet. I've had a much better version long ago at Little Szechuan. But I drizzed my lamb with hot oil from the dumplings, which improved the dish quite a lot.
As we left, the manager mentioned that they have noodle soups and rice-bowl specials for lunch, and are planning to add breakfast (both Chinese and American dishes) in a few weeks. And when I asked about the juicy buns (aka soup dumplings), she said they were considering adding them to the menu. So please add your requests to mine!
P.S. They now have beer - I had a Summit Extra Pale Ale.