Sunday, March 16, 2008
Tea for Two (Himalaya Teahouse, 33-17 31st Avenue)
We were both under the weather and were in the mood for maybe a restorative tea and some good hot broth. It seemed a tall order to find these both at the same restaurant, until we remembered the Himalaya Teahouse on 31st Avenue, which seems to exist to expressly cater to such a combination as we desired. Quaintly decorated outside with bamboo where you'll often find aluminum siding, the tea house inside is spare, with a few rugs hanging on the walls, which are painted a solid, soothing blue.
On the afternoon we visited, the teahouse was a two-woman operation, one cooking and one preparing the teas and waiting on the tables. This didn't make for the most efficient arrangement, but it certainly made things feel homey, and there weren't enough patrons in the restaurant for anyone to become truly neglected. The tea selection, as one would expect, is elaborate -- and the menu copy is full of inexplicable names for the teas but mercifully light on mystical mumbo jumbo.
To eat, we had thukpa, which was the yearned-for broth with what appeared to be hand-shaved noodles and boiled beef (we had ordered chicken, but alas), and momos, which are tasty Tibetan dumplings, also in broth. We may have found these a little bland under normal circumstances, but (a) the food of the Himalayas is meant to fortify, not enchant, and (b) we couldn't taste much through the late-winter cold plaguing our sinuses. What the food was lacking in pep, it made up for in delicacy, a feat considering we were eating beef with noodles and dumplings.
Where Himalaya Teahouse shines, unsurprisingly, is the teas. One of us was further along in our shared viral infection than the other, prompting one order of the Black Velvet, a mint-licorice tea that's supposed to encourage recuperation; the sicker one between us went with Fellini's Folly, a rooibos-mint blend designed for those in the thick of a cold. Andrew Weill and the FDA can battle it out as to whether the teas actually helped us recuperate, but they tasted good regardless of their health benefits. (What the "Really Goethe" lemon myrtle-jasmine-gunpowder blend is supposed to do, we have no idea, but we're not up on our Sturm und Drang.)
We've seen the restaurant floated on Astoria message boards as a late-night hangout, as they serve a handful of international beers and wines. We understand the impulse to have a beer in a setting other than a bar, but we can't imagine coming here to kick back a brewski. Forgive us for painting the Himalaya Teahouse in shades of Orientalism, but we prefer to come here for a sense of calm, a pot of Fellini's Folly, and the best momos in town.
Price: Under $12 for food. Around $5 for pots of tea.
Will we go again? Where else would we get our momo fix? Yes, especially when befallen with illness.