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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.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 12th, 2004 06:28 pm (UTC)
if i'm ever in toronto, i'm going to make a bee-line for this place! It sounds simply wonderous!
Dec. 12th, 2004 06:54 pm (UTC)
You definitely should. I want go to back. I haven't tried any of their desserts yet!
Dec. 12th, 2004 06:40 pm (UTC)
Laying out a bee-flight plan...
This place DOES sound great. Mmm.

Must pick up Toronto Life before it's too late!
Dec. 12th, 2004 06:54 pm (UTC)
Re: Laying out a bee-flight plan...
Toronto Life has monthly issues, but what you're after is their Food and Drink guide, which is bright red and still available in magazine shops and some newstands. Buy it soon to be sure you get a copy. It costs $10-12.
Dec. 12th, 2004 09:04 pm (UTC)
Owlfish, I think your true calling may be as a restaurant reviewer/food conoisseur! May have to rethink all this grad research... ha!
All kidding aside, I enjoy all your reviews and hope to sample all these lovely places sometime in the near future when I start receiving paychecks. In the meantime, keep these wonderful comments coming!
Dec. 13th, 2004 09:40 am (UTC)
Thank you for the lovely feedback! It's good to know I have a feasible alternate career if academia doesn't work out for me.

I've been thinking I should branch out into food history. It lets me play both with good food AND is related to history of technology!
Dec. 14th, 2004 10:04 pm (UTC)
Your research and department sound so exciting. What fun. Yay!
Dec. 13th, 2004 05:21 am (UTC)
You should become a food critic. I wonder how one becomes a food critic? For me, i eat and it's either mmmmmm...good, or meh, or yuck ;) I need to work on my day to day vocabulary.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )