December 12th, 2004

Fishy Circumstances

Red Tea Box

Location: Queen St. West, west of Bathurst, on the north side. Toronto.

There were no tables left when we arrived shortly after 1 on Friday for lunch. Indeed, we could only see two tables from the doorway. Nevertheless, we were willingly seated at an elegantly covered box which was all-but-a-table, better suited for sipping tea than eating a full meal, but then again, tea sipping is exactly what Red Tea Box specializes in. That, and glitteringly overdressed desserts. And their food is amazing.*

After all that tea research of a few months ago, I finally had a chance to try a cup of white tea. The restaurant-and-store offers a selection of six white teas, among their oolongs, blacks, and greens. Six! I tried their "White Cloud", a pale, hot liquid with a subtle green tea flavor and overtones of pine. C. was content with a classic English Breakfast, both served from delicately decorative small pots. But then, delicately decorative is another thing at which this place excels.

I splurged and went for the lunch bento box, a monthly specialty of combinations served, as promised, in a laquer bento box, but almost nothing which North American would normally associate with that label. While C. ate a sumptuous chickpea purée soup, I nibbled on salad topped with pomegranate seeds and slivers of very good bread in a tasty tapenade whose ingredients included olives and sundried tomatos. C. was hungry, so after his soup, he had a chicken sandwich, served on the same tasty bread as I'd had with my appetizer. The sandwich was well-seasoned, with slices of avocado layered among the chicken.

My main - the bento box itself - was a work of art. Sliced of roast Cornish hen, stuffed with saffron couscous, and polished with a honey tangerine glaze were garnished with fresh thyme. The hen was tender and tasty, the couscous exceptionally plump. The salad of smoked salmon, honey tangerine and herb salad, with a kumquat-pomegranate dressing was formed into a delicate salmon-flower, nestled in a cup not much larger than an eggcup. The roast winter veggies with gremolata** was perfectly tender, a pleasant extra crunch added with toasted panko crumbs. The highlight was a supremely tender, melt-in-my-mouth gingered sweet potato with creamed celeriac, the celeriac counteracting the sweetness of the sweet potato. A grilled slice of glowing red nectarine nestled in the center of the luncthtime composition, a light finish to a wonderful meal. Best of all, I was hungry by dinner time, so the portions were just right.

* I went to the café in part thanks to glowing reviews in Toronto Life, but have since noticed glowing reviews in Now as well, a review which also told me that the place has 8 tables in total, and featured in French cooking magazines before it even opened.

** Gremolata is my word-of-the-day. It's a lemon rind, parseley, and garlic mixture usually served with osso buco. Not only did it appear on the Red Tea Box menu, but it showed up in a Now review of the Rosewater Supper Club, and reaquainted me with a still-in-the-process-of-launching local foodie website, Gremolata. More on that and other local foodie websites soon.