Ambiance: A bit stark
Service: Tolerant and obliging
Though it has other merits, Green Tea Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar is most impressive for its tolerance.
After a long soak at Shoji Spa for a friend’s birthday, we decided that there could be no better follow-up to a Japanese spa experience than a board full of raw fish and rice, chased down with a healthy dose of sake. We called ahead to let the restaurant know that a decent-sized group was on the way – six adults and two children, ages 2 and 3.
When we arrived at Green Tea, our table was set and waiting for us. The 2-year-old was singing a song that dogs could probably hear for miles, and the 3-year-old was wearing roller skates. I’ve been behind the scenes in enough restaurants to have heard just about every possible disparaging comment regarding children who come out to eat – usually from wait staff dreading a vigorous post-rug-rat cleaning session – and I watched the staff closely for any eye-rolling or snickers. To my surprise, the host leaned down to greet each child, and even seemed delighted to see them, carrying on a bit of conversation with roller girl.
We made our way to our table, which was surrounded by a wide, rectangular platform that the 3-year-old promptly discovered to be a prime roller skating surface. The 2-year-old continued his song (albeit more quietly). The waitress arrived to take our order, and I searched her face for annoyance – but found not a hint.
We ordered a round of water, some edamame to occupy the kids, and inspected the menu to the rhythm of the table being played with chopsticks and soy-sauce bottles. The expected Japanese starters were there: gyozas, miso, seaweed salad, kani and various tempuras. There were some unique small dishes, such as a “Golden Lemon Scallop” – a grilled dish enhanced with scallions and mushrooms – as well as a lobster salad, a tempura soft shell crab and various specials.
Of course, Green Tea also has a sushi bar that turns out some creative specials. On the evening we attended, there was a large dry-erase board filled with descriptions of chef’s specials, including rolls stuffed with such ingredients as soft-shell crab, lobster and mangoes, and another list of special rolls inserted into the regular menu. All of those looked creatively crafted, with many bearing local names, such as the Asheville and the Buncombe.
While we were making up our minds, two more adults arrived, as well as one very excited 5-year-old. When our waitress reappeared with our drinks, she was serene as ever as she deftly moved the heavily laden tray this way and that to avoid the young bobbing heads. She presented the children with Styrofoam cups – a good idea, as one found its way to the floor quicker than you can say “sippy cup.”
We ordered our appetizers, all of which began to roll out of the kitchen shortly and in well-orchestrated waves. The salads were the first to arrive. There were lovely avocado salads, a few of your standard Japanese restaurant green salads – their pale iceberg lettuce mixed with a few more vivid vegetables and an orange-colored dressing – and seaweed salad served on a bed of lettuce with, amusingly enough, a maraschino cherry on top. I thought the garnish to be out of place until I realized how much sugar is actually in one of the salads.
There’s no better way to judge the sugar content of a particular food item, by the way, than to feed it to three small children. By the time our second wave of food had arrived, the children, who had been relatively calm and well-behaved up until that point, had been propelled into a euphoric, sugar-fueled orbit and therefore ushered outside to run it off (under adult supervision, of course). Again, the staff was the picture of reserved calm.
Our next wave of appetizers was, for the most part, well-received. A perfectly cooked tuna tataki arrived daintily fanned in a martini glass atop a tangle of daikon and julienned carrots. A “tuna martini” was presented in much the same fashion, but the tuna had been wrapped in nori, dipped in tempura batter and then flash-fried. The person who had ordered it complained briefly of a strange texture, but was for the most part happy.
Textural issues, I noticed, were the most frequent complaints, which all centered around items that had seen tempura batter. The most highly coveted item turned out to be one of the special appetizers: a pan-fried red snapper filet served with a sweet kabayaki sauce and mung bean sprouts. Both the fish and the sprouts were notably fresh, and the fish itself was so lusciously flaky and tender that it was nearly impossible to pick it up with chopsticks, as it fell apart with any degree of contact.
The Ebi Shumai appetizer of steamed shrimp dumplings served in a bamboo steamer was full of flavor and had excellent texture. It’s worth noting that the youngsters with us – a discriminating and fairly tough audience – loved their appetizers of garlic shrimp.
For our entrees, the entire table opted for rolls, all of which arrived beautifully presented. The dragon roll had a head complete with a tongue, and it curved snakelike about its tray. Some of the intricate presentation, lovely as it was, was unwieldy enough to require a bit of deconstruction. The Euphoria roll featured avocado, mango, eel and massive tempura shrimp whose armored tails poked out of either side of the nori, daring someone to impale their palate. The roll itself was good, if a bit too sweet.
I much preferred my Fire Island roll – a concoction of “super hot” spicy tuna and salmon topped with a spicy lobster salad and wasabi tobiko (for a somewhat pricey $11.95). Fire, indeed; there was more sriracha sauce on the single roll than I usually would add to a meal for four. Most of the rolls were satisfying to everyone, and while I found that some of the rolls were abundantly sweet, everything was obviously very fresh. The most vocal complaint I heard all evening was a bitter lamentation over the lack of fortune cookies – which, after all, are really a Chinese thing, anyway. There was also a mild griping (from the same person) about the ambiance being a bit stark, a critique I had to agree with.
As our meal came to a close, our waitress offered separate checks without our requesting it, figured out who was on whose bill without asking, and then delivered a complementary dessert to our table. I spoke to one of the moms about the accommodating nature of Green Tea and its staff, and she told me that the restaurant frequently presents her little girl with treats. The food, fresh and occasionally creative, is almost good enough to stand out on its own and draw a crowd; but nothing really propels this restaurant out of the ordinary as much as the excellent service and the welcoming atmosphere that we encountered on our visit. In a town that’s as full of children, as is this one, it can be shrewd business to be family-friendly.