As New-Agey music tinkled in the background and a special server with the badge designation "Tea Ambassador" began explaining brewing rules to me, I think I crinkled my nose. I mean, really, Tea Ambassador?
Yet after a few uncommon brunches at ZenCha Tea Salon, I figured a place with 101 high-quality teas needed a specialist (though maybe not titled "ambassador"). Plus, it turned out to be fun learning about various tea nuances while relaxing in a locally unique restaurant.
Past its front window bamboo fronds and trunks, ZenCha is a serene, earth-toned, blond-wood-bedecked room appealingly decorated with museum-like transparent boxes. Inside each box is a display of intricate tea paraphernalia. Neat.
But if ZenCha's decor murmurs placidity, during Sunday brunch, it actually can be quite lively - especially now that live music has been introduced (acoustic, of course).
So what're all the people eating? The brunch menu (all dishes are about $10) is organized by pancakes, waffles and seasonal items. But don't expect to be served IHOP cuisine here.
Because though ZenCha cooks some fairly regulation waffles and pancakes, they're often adorned with interesting, homemade flourishes. Or they might take an unexpected savory detour. Or they might challenge your definition of griddled morning pastries altogether.
The Okonomiyaki fit the latter category. A savory Japanese-style pancake, ZenCha's okonomiyaki was a fluffy mass somewhere between a hotcake and an uneggy omelet.
Predominantly tasting of cabbage, it was dotted with shiitakes, carrot shreds, onions and a choice of seafood, veggies or chicken (chicken works nicely). The striating, attention-grabbing garnishes were Asian mayo and okonomiyaki sauce - like a vinegary, fermented-tasting, sweet soy reduction.
Eating better than the sum of its parts, the Waffle Club sandwiched a flimsy piece of deli turkey, a modicum of turkey bacon, some nifty garlic cream cheese and fresh veggies between unsweet waffles. On the side was a nice, bright little salad.
More rewarding was the Masala Waffle. A subtle (and subtle describes much here) touch of the Indian spice mix flavored a straight ahead, crispy-enough waffle with fruity accents. I liked how tangy, tinily diced mango bits pointed up scene-stealing slices of candy-shelled banana.
More substantial was the Summer Peach French Toast. Thick, diagonally cut, lightly egged, pan-fried baguette bread slices were enhanced with a sweet lemony cream cheese, cinammony cooked peach segments and a light syrup.
I also enjoyed the silky Spinach Parmesan Quiche. Its rich, salty, custardy filling was effectively complemented by a snappy crust.
So is ZenCha's brunch for you? Probably not, if the words ravenous, rushed and rowdy accurately describe you. Otherwise, give it a shot.
Tea for Two
Cha refers to tea, and that refined drink's a large part of this place's attraction. In fact, ostensible tea properties are lengthily described (e.g. Silver Thread White Tea is good for a detox - which is nice to know at Sunday brunch) and tea pairings are offered for every item on the menu.
Usually presented loose-leafed and steeped tableside, there's seemingly a tea style to suit every mood. What's more, each is served with a particular pot and instructions for brewing it and getting the most out of your tasting experience. They're generally priced at $4.75, and the cost is the same if shared with another.
For more local food news and reviews, click to G.A. Benton's blog, Under the Table, at blog.columbusdiningguide.com/underthetable