Tea Garden: Could Be So Much Better
515 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
Based on a MenuPages blog tip (talking about one of my blog tips), I decided to check out Tea Garden during my weekday break from the cubicle farm.
Tea Garden is a hole-in-the-wall Chinese food and boba tea house, across from the almighty JP Morgan offices on Mission. (Yelp reviews have identified this place as Taiwanese. The 3 employees there all spoke Mandarin, so I’m not sure what that really means.) They’ve got noodle dishes, which I had to check out, given MenuPages’ tip. Prices were pretty good, too, in the $5-6 range. Add-ons include tea- or soy sauce-soaked hard boiled eggs, and some other condiments.
I ordered the ground pork with bean sauce over hot noodles. This was going to come with some chopped green onion and cilantro, too. Yum.
At lunchtime, this small place was mildly crowded. There’s one table, and a counter area for dining. First sign of potential trouble to come: the guy wrote down my order, entered it into a very non-point-of-sale system looking cash register, and then when the receipt printed out, tore it off the roll and put it in a little container next to the cash register. This was immediately after another order from the people ahead of me in line. I expected him to yell out “#4, to go!!” in Chinese or English, but this didn’t happen. I stepped aside and the next person placed their order. (I can’t help it…I observe supply chain and queuing systems in places like this.) Count one eyebrow raised. When was my order going to be given to the cook? I didn’t want any preventable downtime. I was all about take-out efficiency.
The guy who brought out the orders (the runner?) could’ve been the father that Yelpers have mentioned. I don’t know. He was just yelling out what the orders were. No order numbers were associated with the dishes. Thoughts of cheating and getting the most expensive order he left out came into mind. In fact, they did screw up once. A beef noodle order (more expensive than my dish) was orphaned. “#1, beef noodle!,” he screamed in both English and Mandarin. No takers. I thought hard about ditching my late pork meal for this one, but not offering to pay the difference, given terrible “on-time performance” issues. However, this being a hole-in-the-wall, and it being run by similar peeps, I knew they’d probably want me to ante up the extra $1.50.
I also had a good look at his fingers while he took the meal in its container, closed it, and helped put it into the plastic takeout bags. Rather dirty fingers and fingernails. I was hoping he hadn’t been rebuilding his car engine immediately before helping run out some food for us. A quick glance around the room led to the green card on the wall — a 92 rating. Hmmm.
Twenty five minutes later, I rushed out with my order. Despite the big bottle of Vietnamese hot sauce, there were no little sauce containers and lids to take some of that spicy goodness to go. *Grrr.*
Late for my meeting, I opened the container. Tasty smelling goodness flowed into the room (sorry, meeting attendees!). The ground pork and bean sauce was tasty. Portions were average for a grubgirl (which means probably a little bigger for most people). Sadly, though, the noodles were overdone so they almost disintegrated when I got them into my mouth.
Mrs. Clark mentioned that Tea Garden was wonderful, so I decided to give it another chance someday, with enough advance planning to avoid the wait. A few days later, Mrs. Clark sought me out with a concerned look on her face. “I went to Tea Garden after you had your noodles,” she began. “I was eating and…and….” the disgust started spreading across her face …”you know, it didn’t look like a grilled onion slice… it couldn’t have been grilled garlic or shallots…and it couldn’t have been fried dried shrimp because it wasn’t a seafood dish!.”
“And if it was a grilled onion…how come there were only two? And…the vein pattern didn’t match that of an onion!” My eyes bugged out as I realized she was alluding to having perhaps ingested some additional protein in her lunch. Having watched enough episodes of CSI, I knew that I should investigate the evidence some more, but she didn’t keep any for me to see.
After reassuring her that she’d live….I’ve decided to share that fun story with you all. Appetizing, huh?
So here’s the summary:
* Excruciatingly long wait time during lunch. They need to hire more folks in the assembly line in the back room. Noodles and the toppings they’re putting on shouldn’t take that long.
* Questionable cleanliness. Usually I can live in denial if I don’t see anything. But there were some warning signs here (dirty fingers…alleged critters)
* Unimpressive noodle quality. I’ve heard others say it’s good. So maybe it’s hit and miss. But I’d rather have Ming’s al dente egg noodles than overcooked, mealy ones.
* Tasty toppings. If the noodle consistency issue is fixed, I’m open to trying it again. Plus I hear they make a good pork chop on rice.
* Ok value.
* Location. If you’re too far from FiDi to make it to the real Chinatown, this can hit the spot.