Our first visit to Tea House in Minneapolis was almost three years ago. In my review of that meal I noted that while it was fine on the whole, nothing about it made it worth driving 20 more minutes each way over going to Grand Szechuan. However, after our recent return to Szechuan in Roseville, I figured we should give Tea House another try too—especially as occasional commenter, Jim Grinsfelder always speaks highly of them. Well, we went back a few weekends ago with most of our regular eating-out crew. And I am very happy to say that we liked this meal more than our first. Read on to see what we ate.
As per their website, Tea House started out in Plymouth, MN in 1998, expanded to a few more locations and then sold all of those off to independent operators—who, I think, have kept the Tea House name. The original owners are now focused on this one location near the University of Minnesota. We ate at the St. Paul location when it was under the original ownership but have not been back since the change. If anyone knows if the other Tea House locations have menus that have since diverged—or opinions on their relative merits—please write in below.
This location continues to be an attractive space, and at lunch on Sundays—based on our random sample—it appears to also be a very crowded space. There were nine of us; fortunately, I’d made a booking and so we did not need to wait. We were given a cozy private room with one large table and were insulated from the hustle and bustle of their Sunday rush. I believe they serve some sort of a dim sum buffet on Sundays and that’s what many people seemed to be partaking of. We were there for their Sichuan offerings and that’s what we partook of. There’s also plenty of non-Sichuan stuff on the menu, by the way, including a number of dishes from other regions that I don’t recall seeing on the menu in 2015.
What we ate:
- Couple’s beef. The classic cold Sichuan starter—this was quite good.
- Dan dan noodles. Their take on this classic has apparently undergone a big change since our last meal (see the picture from that review). It’s now an altogether more soupy affair. I liked it fine, but the brats—for whom this was primarily ordered—were not amused.
- Po la fish with pickled vegetable soup. This hot and sour soup is not meant to be hot and sour soup per se (which they also serve); it just happens to be hot and sour in its own way. It also happens to be dynamite. I think the entire table had this as one of their favourites.
- Spicy pork chitterlings. Not quite as good as Grand Szechuan’s version (which is crispier, offering more textural contrast) but enjoyable in its own right.
- Ma la chicken. Plenty of heat and numbing sensation in this classic and the chicken was fried very well.
- Cumin lamb. This was tasty enough but was probably my least favourite of the larger dishes. Another where the Grand Szechuan version seems clearly superior.
- House spicy tofu. This on the other hand was dynamite and better, I think, than any of the non-mapo tofu dishes we’ve had at Grand Szechuan.I think everyone had this near the top of their list as well.
- Grilled whole fish. Another stellar dish. A little fiddly to divide up among seven people but completely worth the effort; the rich sauce the fish was sitting on—redolent of spicy bean paste, soy sauce and vinegar—was just excellent.
- Serrano pepper beef. Another of the table’s favourites, this one disappeared early. Thinly sliced beef in a sour and hot broth.
- Double-cooked pork. Another Sichuan classic and done well too.
- Szechuan green beans. Yes, we ate some veg as well. These were regulation, which is to say good.
- Cabbage with crispy bacon. Okay, so our other veg dish had some bacon in it—what’s your point? Anyway, this was very good as well.
For pictures of the restaurant and the food please launch the slideshow below. For comments on service and price please scroll down.
All of this together, including tax and tip, came to a little less than $240—there was also some species of berry tea consumed by one of the party plus soft drinks consumed by our boys. Counting the boys as one adult diner, that comes to a little less than $30/head. Which, again, is quite a bit more than we pay per head at Grand Szechuan. In the larger scheme of things, of course, it’s not so very high for the quality of the food—and 10 adults could easily have eaten what we ordered (we took some leftovers home). Everything was quite good, and some things were very good indeed, particularly the soup, the tofu, the fish and the beef. I think we’ll be back in quite a bit less than three years for our next meal. And maybe on the next outing we’ll try some of their non-Sichuan offerings as well.
Coming up next from the Twin Cities: either Mexican, more ramen, or a fine dining report (we’re scheduled to eat at Tenant this weekend).