Our latest Quick Bites brings us to Crown Heights for some Asian style comfort food.
Deep into Crown Heights, four C-train stops past Franklin Avenue's trendy restaurant row, on a block where the only other business in sight is the Aziz Express bodega, sits the charmingly DIY "Asian style comfort food" restaurant Tamra Teahouse. It feels a bit incongruous to be sure, but since owner and head chef Yunha Moh lives just a couple of blocks away, what the location lacks in foot traffic, it makes up for in convenience.
Moh, who was born in South Korea and previously worked at Momofuku Milk, Lucky Bee, Saltie's, and Pok Pok, seems to do a bit of everything here, from taking orders at the counter to cooking your food (along with his sous chef) to bussing your table. His girlfriend does all the design work. Sometimes things need attending to in the basement, and no one is left upstairs with the customers. Every day is friends and family!
The space itself is no-frills, with a row of four-tops running down one side opposite the wide ordering counter and open kitchen behind. The lighting, like the floral vinyl sheets stapled to the tables, is Edison-bulb yellow. A TV silently plays shows behind the register. It's a comfortable, all-day place to sit and drink some tea (or beer, or wine) and eat some food and talk in a normal volume to your companions for as long as you like, no need to hurry along.
Moh may be Korean, but he draws on all sorts of Asian (and many other) flavors and traditions. Really, the menu is all over the place, and I found it best not to try and figure out what went best with what, and just ordered whatever I felt like eating. For example, the Vegan Soul Mac (listed under "snacks") has no obvious counterpart (other than the also-kind-of-random Collard Greens), but it's outstanding—the creamy almond milk "cheese" blanketing a bowl of perfectly cooked pasta, chili and chives adding some zing.
Moh makes terrific curries, like a Coconut Oxtail number that packs a surprising complexity and sprightliness for such a fatty, soupy-stew of a dish. The excellent Spicy Basil Chicken—tender thighs, runny fried egg, a slew of pickled, grilled, and wilted vegetables—would not feel out of place at any of the new breed of "healthy California" spots around town, except that it's far livelier (and more satisfying) than most rice bowls. And you should definitely check out what Moh does to Avocado Toast, combining slices of the ripe, nutty fruit with an El Salvadorian slaw called curtido, drizzling on a coconut beet sauce, and putting it all atop a crisp tostone (sliced lengthwise) instead of bread. So in addition to being delicious, it's also gluten free.
There are decent Chinese Spare Ribs to be had, the falling-off-bone pig meat shiny and sweet with a hoisin-like sauce, served on a block of sticky rice and a small crock of pickled radish. Fat, chewy, house made Korean-ish noodles add substance and nostalgia to Moh's vegan Chickpea Soup. And his oversized Thai-style Wings may not arrive with the heat you'd expect from a Pok Pok vet, but they're crackling and juicy and pack plenty of seasoning. Since Tamra is a Teahouse, I went unusually deep into the beverage department. All four of the iced varieties I tried—Ginger Sorrel, Green Plum, Thai Iced Tea, and Turmeric Lemonade—were delightful. And, if you believe the house, there's one to cure whatever ails you.
Tamra Teahouse is a total treasure that, for those fortunate enough to live nearby, could easily become a regular neighborhood spot. If you're out this way, stop in and relax for a bit. You can eat your fill and feel good doing it, without worrying about straining your dining-out budget.
Tamra Teahouse is located at 1524 Bergen Street just east of Schenectady Avenue, and is open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and on weekends from 10 to 10:30 (347-406-7710; tamrateahouse.com)