Adventures in Eating & Cooking
So Cha-An is a cozy little Japanese tea-dessert-lunch place tucked away in one of the emptier streets by NYU. Perfect for a girl like me who misses and craves delicate, delicious, and dependable Japanese dishes. Even more perfect to spend quality time with Twinni, an old friend and fellow dessert-lover.
We had agreed the night before to mostly gorge ourselves on sweets, but decided to also try the Tea Smoked Salmon and Bread Basket.
The salmon dish was pretty much a sashimi salad, consisting of light raw salmon drizzled lightly with a gingery vinegar-mayo sauce, and piled with these exotic-tasting herbs. We tried to figure out what the herbs were as they initially tasted Western, possibly Italy-originated. But then I thought it had a leafy tea scent and deducted that they were probably tea leaves.
There were three triangular prisms of bread in the basket that tasted like thick toast. The bread was pretty average, but well-toasted so that it had a crunchy coat and airy, crisp inner layer. What made the basket special was the strawberry butter and extra virgin olive oil it came with. I usually don’t butter my toast (I like to jelly or jam it instead!), but this time I did because the strawberry butter was like the yummy cream coat in Strawberry Bits Pocky! The bread was also useful for sandwiching the salmon.
But overall for $8 and $6 respectively, these plates were on the pricey side. A better deal would probably be to get a lunch set, or just go straight for dessert (muwahaha)…
Which is what we did when we ordered the Chef Dessert Assortment!
The first course was the Yogurt Sorbet with fruit preserves on the side. This was pretty refreshing with a nice yogurty flavor that reminded me of the famous Yakult yogurt drink that all Asians drank when they were little kids. However, the fruit preserves were too dominant and too sweet, which took away from the yogurt’s subtle sourness. I would prefer eating the sorbet by itself to savor the flavor. I would even more prefer just getting froyo from a specialized froyo place for higher quantity and lower cost. The sorbet just wasn’t that great to go the extra $5.
The Black Sesame Creme Brulee was hands-down the best dessert in the compilation! This was the one Cha-An dessert that I think surpassed its Kyoto-fu counterpart. It had a very rich black sesame scent infused in the jiggly pudding-esque custard. A layer of sweet ground up black sesame enrobed the brulee, which was fun to scrape up with the cream. The caramelized layer hardened nicely, but was a tad burnt. I had mixed feelings about this. On one hand, the charred sugar was slightly bitter, which kind of complemented the black sesame. But then again, burnt sugar is still burnt sugar, which leaves a bad aftertaste.
The Mille-Feuille was also pretty good made vanilla bean cream and strawberries squished in between crispy, layered puff pastry. I don’t really enjoy the croissant-like layers as much as most people, but it served a nice contrast to the smooth cream. Overall, this was a sophisticated, strikingly French pastry.
The final course was a petite green tea macaron and green tea shortbread cookie. I absolutely loved the macaron, which packed a powerful blow of matcha-flavored ganache. The wafers were pretty airy, but still not airy enough. (Twinni thinks it’s because we squashed it a little when slicing it in half.) But indeed, this tiny cookie was excellent! The only macaron that I could declare superior is the hojicha (roasted matcha) one from Itzy Bitzy Patisserie.
The shortbread cookie was less than amazing. I personally like Panya‘s green tea cookies way more as they are sweeter and have stronger matcha-ness. Cha-An’s shortbread cookie lacks the initial green tea scent but leaves a bitter aftertaste. I don’t dislike it because it’s kind of refreshing, but I wouldn’t jump to choosing this cookie on my next visit.
The second best part of the meal was the Matcha Float, a cool, milky green tea drink topped with a scoop of sweet red bean. Cha-An is best known for its premium Japanese tea, which definitely shows in the float. The matcha used was the high-quality authentic stuff. (No cheap tricks here!) It was just slightly thinner than milk tea from an Asian bakery, with a lovely muffled bitterness and tea leafiness.
Before leaving, we HAD to check out the bathroom that Yelpers were yammering about. It was pretty cool, with a traditional-style Japanese sliding door and a computerized toilet. Who knew that simply using the bathroom could be such an amusing experience?