"Ever since I became old enough to appreciate a warm cup of caffeinated beverage, I've felt slightly discriminated against. Tea, not coffee, is my drink, and in this country, most of the time I'm lucky if there's more than a single blend from which to choose.
Then I arrived at Ivangie.
This Chinese restaurant on a side street in Ridgewood treats tea with the reverence that Starbucks holds for coffee. Canisters of tea leaves line the shelves like potions in a Chinese apothecary. Teapots old and unusual fill the display cases. Ivangie's tea brewers concentrate on the iced form with a fussiness unknown either here or in China (or in Taiwan, from whence the owners come).
They pour ice into a silver cocktail shaker, add flavor infusions, then pour brewed tea over the top, shaking vigorously to produce a background sound like maracas. The result: a frothy thirst-quencher.
There are 37 varieties of 'Bubble Iced Tea,' the specialty de la maison, and 24 of hot tea. Besides the black and green tea bases, a milk tea base- a concession to American taste- is also offered. To these are added flavor essences that range from conventional (lemon, lime) to bizarre (tapioca pearls, oatmeal, passion fruit). My husband, a coffee drinker, was out of luck.
For all the theatrics, when the bubbles pop, this is no more than iced tea. But it is clear and bracing, another nice touch at a restaurant that sets itself apart from mainstream Chinese eateries by the choices on its menu, the lightness of its cooking, and the beauty of its presentation.
Call its cuisine nouvelle Chinese: It acknowledges that this is 1990s America, emphasizing fresh vegetables and small portions. A restrained hand pours the oil. The background music is opera-as in Metropolitan, not Peking.
Natural light pours through the window wall on the street; the window is framed with garlands of artificial vines entwined with twinkling white lights. Blond wood appears in the tables, tea shelves, and tea bar. There are a few neat details from Taiwan, including white plastic chopsticks attached at one end and paper napkins with a soft, thick weave like cloth.
When a saucer of light green pickled vegetable is set down to get things started, you anticipate the astringent bite of pickled cabbage or kimche. But no, these are mild broccoli stems, marinating in a light oil.
Next try the sesame noodles, dressed in a thick nutty sauce that leaves not a drop of oil on the plate. This is how noodles were meant to be, and the lovely presentation- on a dark pottery plate, with garnishes (bean sprouts and threads of chicken, cabbage, and carrot) set at the four points of the compass- only adds to the pleasure.
The chicken or beef teriyaki appetizer - is also perfect. Two skewers of well-trimmed meat, seared yet succulent, are set on a bed of- shredded lettuce with a bright dot of a maraschino cherry. The menu lists only seafood dumplings, but with no persuasion, our waiter produced pork ones, too. The dumplings vary. One time, the skin was thin and tender, another time a little stiff. Only four come to the steamer.
The unusual appetizer of black mushrooms and bamboo shoots wrapped in tofu skin, is not for everyone. The spring-roll sized packets are served chilled, and some might find the texture slimy. I found them interesting.
Ivangie does a nice job with the standard Chinese stir-fries, and doesn t confuse you with poetic or historic names. Choose your sauce, or your noodle, and then decide whether chicken, beef, shrimp, or seafood will be the protein amid all those veggies. Steamed or brown rice is available.
We tried beef with garlic sauce, and found a colorful array of broccoli, mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, asparagus, red and green bell peppers, and scallions. Subgum deluxe pan-fried noodles, also were great; these we tried with chicken, pork, and beef, which appeared in flat rectangles. The chicken was tender, the beef and pork tough.
And the crispy honey chicken, set amid a circle of broccoli flowers, was sweetly sensational.
For dessert, your basic carrot or chocolate cake is available. But in the spirit of the occasion, we ordered ice cream- green-tea flavored. Aside from its pea-green color, it was just like vanilla."