A Stylish Statement



TEA SOMMELIER TO THE NATION: If you're anything like me, you've got a flock of Austrian sheep stowed illegally in the garage. Wait, did I say that aloud? What I meant to say was: If you're anything like me, you've noticed the spate of articles in foodie magazines lately about fancy-pants restaurants with fulltime tea sommeliers. When I'm not trying to convince the neighbors that that bleating noise is just a garbage truck two blocks over, I'm forced to consider the efficiency with which the Twin Cities has done an end-run around this quandary: More and more places are using the Highland Park tea shop Tea Source as their off-site sommelier.

Geoffrey P. Kroll

Location Info


The Spyhouse Espresso Bar And Gallery

2451 Nicollet Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55404

Category: Art Galleries

Region: Uptown/ Eat Street

In addition to Spyhouse, I was recently in W.A. Frost's and was delighted to find their newish tea menu, a list of a dozen Tea Source teas, including traditional fermented teas like Grand Keemun and Flower Dragon Pouchong, green teas like pure Gunpowder Temple of Heaven, teas for milk and sugar like Strong Assam, decaffeinated Ceylon, and even a trio of herbal teas. The brews are described in detail on the menu, arrive in individual 14-ounce glass pots with strainer baskets in the middle, are accompanied by an egg-timer hourglass for perfect tea timing, and even inspire knowledgeable comment from the server. Classy, classy. Better yet, the teas are available in the bar at Frost's until all hours, and will be available on the patio if summer ever comes. And merely $3 a pot--why, with an on-site tea sommelier, I'd expect to pay at least one million times more.

Turns out that Frost's chef, Lenny Russo, contacted TeaSource proprietor Bill Waddington some months ago with an eye toward developing a food-friendly tea menu, and even went into the shop one day to spend a morning cupping teas. "We looked at 20, 25 teas," says Waddington, "and we tried to customize the teas to complement what Frost's does with food. Then I went over there and spent three hours working with their waitstaff and prep staff, explaining how different teas need different temperatures of water, what the correct preparation was, how to explain teas to customers. I give them a world of credit; they did it the way it's supposed to be done." Waddington says he regularly gets calls from restaurants that want a tea list but balk at the idea of spending an hour tasting the teas. "The key is, [Frost's] took it seriously as a fine food."

And what about the whole tea-sommelier thing? Asking, I could hear Waddington sort of shuddering over the phone: "I was at the Hotel W in New York and got a look at that. That gets a little pretentious. You don't need to intimidate people to have some knock-your-socks-off tea." Yeah. That's just what I was thinking. That, and ixnay on the eepshay. Tea Source, 752 Cleveland Ave. S., St. Paul; (651) 690-9822; W.A. Frost & Company, 374 Selby Ave., St. Paul; (651) 224-5715.

STEVEN BROWN SIGHTING: Fans of chef Steven Brown, the force behind the now-vanished fancy dining at the Local, will be happy to know he's back, having taken over bread and pastry at Auriga. "I feel like I have a lot to learn," says Brown, in one of those moments of chefly introspection that make him an interviewer's dream. "I'm not that confident about my execution. I want to really be able to do texture, to do minimalism." And, it seems, to meet some kind of higher expectation of himself. The fruits of this pursuit have been seen lately, says Brown, in an olive-oil chocolate mousse. The goal: to combine the flavor of chocolate with the peppery burn of Tuscan olive oil. Another project? The snowball. Yes, that snowball. Brown says he quizzed the Auriga staff on their favorite richly textured desserts, and thus, the snowball. His version will be a coconut bombe, Kahlua and coconut ice cream wrapped with sponge cake and coated in freshly grated and toasted coconut. After that? Maybe a star-anise-basil flan. "I want," muses Brown, searching for words, "mellifluous textures. Mellifluous textures." If you've got some suggestions for mellifluous textures and bold, minimalist flavors, send a note back to the kitchen. Auriga, 1934 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis; (612) 871-0777.

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