After weeks of hard work and sleep deprivation, it’s necessary to treat yourself. Many people tend to go for the well-deserved pedicure or massage, but I like to use this time to go on the treasured solo dining adventure. A solo dining adventure consists of the following criteria:
- Take yourself to a new restaurant
- Order a dish you’ve never tried before
- Eat your feelings
Now, don’t let these seemingly simple criteria fool you – planning a solo dining adventure is actually a pretty daunting task. For starters, you have to pick a place where you won’t look like a complete, lonely loser (i.e.: bottomless brunch) and you must find a menu with an interesting selection of dishes that you have never had the pleasure of tasting. The solo dining adventure is supposed to be a time to regroup, relax and re-motivate yourself to keep living your hectic life, so a decently calm atmosphere is also a must.
Like any smart person, I investigated my solo dining options with a simple Google search: “best places to eat alone in NYC.” This led me to many articles and finally, I came across Cha-An Tea House – the place where you can (I quote) “leave your cares behind” and “just feel the quiet moment.”
So then I took my zombie self over to Cha-An and had one of my best solo dining adventures yet.
I arrived, checked my cares at the door and walked upstairs to enter the serene, urban equivalent to a Japanese teahouse. I was seated in a corner seat next to the window overlooking NYU’s Alumni Hall and given a detailed menu with a variety of dining options and an inspiring reminder to enjoy the moment.
Obviously since I did my research, I knew I was going to get the $18 meal set with 15 grain rice porridge (also known as Kayu), five toppings, a daily side dish and a chef’s dessert. I also took a glance at the tea list and decided to go with the lavender mint.
The Kayu came with Japanese pickles, seaweed and salmon flakes. On the side was a seaweed salad and the daily side dish, fried white tilapia with onions and carrots in a light teriyaki sauce.
I had never eaten Kayu for dinner nor had I ever paired any dish with seaweed, salmon flakes and Japanese pickles at the same time, so this was like a fun chemistry experiment. I tested each topping and thought about how I could mix them to get the best taste. The Japanese pickles were very intense and salty; the seaweeds were pretty basic (one being thicker and a bit sweeter than the other); and the salmon flakes were dry and a tad fishy. I noticed each ingredient had a sharp taste and figured I would just dump them all in for fun. The end result was a grainy, almost nutty porridge balanced with the different taste elements from the pickles, salmon and seaweed.
The fried white tilapia with carrots and onions was a sweeter side dish, thanks to the light teriyaki sauce, and the seaweed salad was pretty typical with sesame seeds and a miso dressing. To my surprise, the fried fish was served cold and was actually a light, refreshing side to the hearty porridge. Likewise, the seaweed salad was cool and invigorating — a great final touch to the main course.
While I ate the Kayu, a pot of lavender mint tea was brought to the table. The tea was calming and served as a great palate cleanser before dessert: a sponge cake trifle with mint, strawberry and mixed berry sorbet topped with whipped cream. Like all of the desserts at Cha-An, this one was excellently prepared and presented. The sponge cake was fluffy yet perfectly dense, the berries were fresh, and the mint and sorbet merged effortlessly making this dessert a great ending to my solo dining adventure.
By the end of my meal I decided that I had successfully eaten my feelings (the last of the solo dining adventure criteria) and was pleasantly full. I paid the bill (FYI it’s cash only) and left feeling serene and ready to get a good night’s sleep for the first time in weeks.