When I met my buddy, Erin, at a new tea shop in midtown Manhattan, I had fully not planned to write about it. I mean, I had SO been there, done that with the tea thing already. Thus far, I had written about Empire Coffee and Tea, The Tea Spot, bubble tea, and Argo Tea. I'd say that's more than enough tea in New York City, thank you very much. Round about dessert, though, I decided I had to do it. Trust me. It's for the good of the fine people that read this article (meaning, you).
I had never been to a restaurant/tea shop like this in all of my years in New York City. The place is worth a shout out. So, if you're tea-ed out and/or don't care about brewed beverages as much as I do, scroll on. Otherwise, read on.
Radiance Tea and Book shop is smack dab in the middle of New York City's I-want-to-punch-all-of-the-tourists-and-stupid-large-groups-and-cabs-that-make-me-crazy area of the city. 55th between 6th and 7th. In my short trek from 9th Avenue, I jostled a weeble-wobble of a woman that was trying to work her Pillsbury hands around a cumbersome camera, narrowly missed being plowed over by a teenage delivery guy on a bike, and was, I'm pretty sure, fondled by a man (or woman - I couldn't tell) in a full Elmo costume.
I blew into the front door and noisily heaved a sigh of relief. Safe from the New York City hustle! The first thing I saw was running water over a smooth rock wall, the tinkle of quiet Asian music caressed my ears, and the scent of sweet aromatics drifted into my nostrils. The perfect combination of instant sensory calm. I joined Erin at a small wooden table and consciously took a deep breath. For the first time in about 24 hours. Aaahhh. I loved it already.
First of all, we had the sweetest and most adorable server in all of New York City. His name was Dan and he gently and patiently guided us through the restaurant's over 120 different teas. "We do tea tastings as well. If you're interested, I can take your email and send you information about it." Well, yes, I was interested. We chose a tea called Tropical Escape - a blend of black and green teas, pineapple, papaya, and kiwi bits and marigold.
It was presented in a beautifully hand-painted kettle and cups and was playfully fruity and complex. I had a fresh avocado, asparagus, tofu, and shittake mushroom salad and Erin munched on the most perfectly prepared vegetable dumplings in New York City. The thing that became apparent was that the hustle and bustle that occurs in most restaurants was completely absent here at Radiance. The servers and people preparing food behind an open counter moved quickly, purposefully, and most astonishingly, practically silently.
I noticed that Erin and I were speaking in slightly hushed tones to accommodate our surroundings and that I could still hear the tinkling music and (somewhere in the distance) running water. I looked across the room at a wall of kimonos, tea kettles, and other intricately crafted things for sale. I read that they hold private Chinese and Taiwanese tea ceremonies. This place was, in a word, precious. I felt like a little girl having tea with her dolls. Except Erin swears more than my dolls ever did.
Best part of the meal? Dessert. Dan brought over the menu and, as I had been expecting the general chocolate, cheesecake, maybe a green tea ice cream, etc. I announced, "Yeah, but I bet you don't have any vegan desserts, huh?" Dan smiled and excitedly crossed to my side of the table. Yes, in fact, they did. Not only that?
They had vegan "ICE CREAM". Oh yeah. Coconut milk and avocado. It was heaven. The cherry on top of our lunch was the coolest (and probably one of the healthiest) desserts I've ever seen. These folks took sweet sticky rice, baked it inside a bamboo stalk, brought it to the table, and split it in two (one for me, one for Erin). Then, we poured warm coconut milk over it and sprinkled candied almonds on top. It was perfectly portioned, really yummy, and I actually didn't feel guilty about it afterward. Well, not that guilty, anyway.
We finished eating and I found myself longing to linger. I could feel the stressful pulse of New York City encroaching upon me. Much like a last day in Bermuda or a kid in bed on a school day morning, I wanted to roll over, turn off the light, and pretend I didn't have to go anywhere. A call from my agent broke my stupor and Erin and I headed out into the fray.
I said goodbye to our new friend, Dan, and hustled out into the mess of 55th street with a full belly and a slightly calmer disposition. I headed south, passed Elmo, and gave him a "wassup" nod. You never know, maybe that was all the action that costumed character would ever get. You know? It's amazing what a civilized cup of tea in New York City can do to one's perception of this raucous place.