Stopped in for a delightful little light lunch at this adorable tea house on 18th and Sanchez. Thanks to ChowFun and Windy for the recommendation!
Feeling droopy and frazzled after a long presentation, I stopped in for some quiet time: and thats exactly what I got. Samovar is an adorable little café: a bench running along one wall is scattered with little throw pillows, and at the far end of the restaurant theres a large low table surrounded by sitting pillows, perfect for lounging with a few friends and sharing tea and snacks.
I had the ginger grilled mahi bento box, since the bento boxes seemed like the best way to try as many things as possible. The food was adorably presented, and included five little squares of food:
Grilled mahi: despite the name, this mahi didnt have very much ginger flavor. It was a palm-sized piece of fish, marinated in salt and sugar, and grilled until it was just cooked through. The meat was fresh, firm, juicy, and pleasant. However, I wouldnt recommend it for anyone who doesnt like his/her meat to taste sweet (like teriyaki, without all the goop). Served on few sprigs of watercress, which were a nice sharp contrast.
Spaghetti squash: as far as I can tell, this was lightly blanched and sprinkled with black sesame seeds. The squash was very sweet and fresh, and they didnt overcook it. Nothing fancy, but very tasty. Too bad there was only about an eighth of a cup to eat.
Tea rice: brown rice steeped in tea, with some tea leaves in it. This was the most unique item on the place. I enjoyed chewing the rice very slowly to taste the hint of tea infused into it. It was most likely a black or oolong tea, and reminded me of the tea oil that my aunts tea shop in Taiwan sells. We used to pour tea oil and soy sauce over rice and eat it plain as kids; the parents said the oil was good for digestion and was a cure for constipation, but the kids just ate it cuz it was good. Samovars tea rice had a more subtle flavor, and wasnt oily at all.
Pickled carrots and peas: can't say I loved these, but they weren't bad. They reminded me of a very light kosher dill pickle. The chef does get kudos for keeping the pickles very crisp, however.
Matcha brownie: a small slice of brownie was just right to finish off the meal. You get about half a regular-sized brownie with the bento box (if, for some reason, this was actually the full-sized version, its rather over-priced). The brownie looks cake-like, and upon the first bite it yields the way a light, fluffy chocolate cake does. However, as you chew it, it suddenly becomes incredibly rich and fudgey. It was a wonderful finish to the meal, and the sugar was just the pick-me-up I needed. Not cloyingly sweet, the brownie had a very thin layer of chocolate on the top for texture contrast, and was sprinkled with green tea (matcha?) powder and powdered sugar.
Osmanthus tea: Taken aback by the several dozen teas to choose from, I decided to try one of my favorite types of teas and see how Samovars version stood up. I thought thatd be safer than trying something exotic and new, being disappointed, and writing off their tea forever. Their osmanthus tea stood up to the test. Lovely aroma, like a sweet combination of jasmine and citrus; gentle flavor without any bitterness; subtle finish with a liltingly fragrant aftertaste. Its no wonder the osmanthus flower is called guay hua (regal/expensive/precious flower) by the Chinese.
A charming lunch overall. Just the bit of relaxation I needed, although I wouldnt suggest any really hungry people go here. Its a light delicate lunch to be enjoyed with a book or engaging conversation, not a hearty comfort meal that will stick with you until dinner.