By Anita Felicelli
Honeycreek: Chinese Tearoom and LoungeUploaded: Oct 19, 2013
Honeycreek is a relatively new and decadent Chinese tearoom and lounge located at 124 Castro Street that serves Taiwanese bubble tea, hot tea, desserts, snack food and restaurant fare. The food is reasonably good, if sometimes presented in excessively large portions and at high prices due to its location on Castro Street. It would probably be best appreciated by groups of friends who can split and share items or young well-paid professionals looking for a cool place to hang out after dark.
Although it was popular in the 1980s in Taiwan where it originated, bubble tea only became extremely popular in Mountain View at the tail end of the 1990s and it feels like every year since then brings a new and crowded bubble tea place within twenty minutes of my house. I usually grab my tea at those places, and leave immediately. However, Honeycreek appeals to a broader range of customers who want to get food or dessert with their tea.
I tried the rose milk tea with boba and the plain milk tea with popping strawberry boba. Both were excellent, not least of all because you can choose the level of sweetness you prefer. I like mine to be at about half the sweetness of the usual, but you can also get it at full sweetness, 3/4 sweetness and 1/4 sweetness.
Because I love boba (tapioca pearls), I had never bothered to try popping boba, which was a hot trend several years ago. It turned out to be reasonably good tapioca pearls filled with strawberry liquid that squirts out under pressure. You can order the milk teas in medium ($3.99) and large ($4.99) sizes. However, at lunch I found that if you order a meal, you can get a plain black or green milk tea for free.
The teas on the menu are divided into iced teas, iced milk teas, hot teas, and healthy drinks. Most of the teas are caffeinated black, oolong or green teas. There are several traditional Chinese teas. The choices reminded me of what used to be served at Lucy's Tea House, a wonderful cozy place in downtown Mountain View that closed around 2005. Among the hot teas: a Lavender Pu-Erh, Chrysanthemum, Dragonwell Green Tea, and Osmanthus Oolong Tea. The chrysanthemum rose tea was lovely (and not caffeinated), subtly sweet (at half-sweetness) and served in a tiny glass teacup with a dried chrysanthemum flower floating at the bottom.
The menu runs several pages; the restaurant section alone is divided into appetizers, snack food, "meals," and noodles with many options in each category. If you're not sure what to get, I highly recommend the spicy pork noodles ($6.99), composed of succulent minced pork in a brown, spicy and slightly sweet sauce garnished with green onions and accompanied by refreshing cucumber and bean sprouts on the side. You can choose the kind of noodle you like, including udon, vermicelli, and flat noodles, but I think the thickness of the udon noodles works best with the dish. It's also a wonderful value.
Also delicious were the XO-flavored pork dumplings described as "Shanghai-inspired." They are hot, steamed dumplings filled with a sauce that contains cognac, sundried scallops, sundried shrimp, red chili, minced pork, minced ham, fresh scallions, green onions, and ginger. The dumplings come with a light vinegar sauce infused with strands of dried ginger. The cognac is subtle, but gives this dish a bit of a kick. Like the Spicy Pork noodles, the dumplings are sumptuous.
I also had some more mixed experiences. The potstickers ($5.99) were filled with minced chicken. They were light and pleasant with a small set of pickled veggies on the side, but I felt they were somewhat bland for the price and would have been improved if accompanied by an optional sauce of some kind.
The Hainan-style chicken noodle soup seemed reasonably good pipin-hot, when it first came out. Hainan-style chicken refers to a traditional method of soaking a chicken in pork and chicken bone master stock that is below boiling temperature. I had ordered the dish with vermicelli noodles, which came out in a broth flavored partly by the Chinese lettuce and green onions floating in it. I had thought I was ordering a soup with chicken already in it as we're accustomed to in the West, but the bone-in free range chicken was presented on a plate alongside the soup with two dipping sauces: one was a red sauce made spicy with chili peppers and the other was ginger in oil.
While hot, the chicken was delectable with golden-brown, slightly oil skin some Hainanese chickens are dipped in ice that results in a jelly-like substance close to the skin and a couple of pieces had this quality. However, the choreography of the meal resulted in me eating half of the chicken before the dumplings, and once I completed the dumplings (which the waitress advised me had to be eaten hot), I couldn't finish the chicken which was no longer as delicious when cold.
I have two quibbles with Honeycreek, which are not meant to deter anyone from trying it out for herself. The first is the choreography of the service, which on two separate occasions resulted in me not completing the dishes at the temperature at which they should be eaten. With a large group, this might not be an issue, but for the solo diner or a pair, this kind of choreography can be problematic. This issue can easily be fixed, however, by asserting the order in which you want the food when you order. The waitresses at this restaurant are extremely friendly and accommodating, offering generous advice on what a diner might like to eat and explaining aspects of the food that might not be readily understood by a non-Chinese eater.
The other quibble marks me as a bit of a curmudgeon and is a feature of Honeycreek that some people will love. In the middle of the day, the waitresses elect to play dance music and bubble-gum pop fairly loudly (one of them said at some point when I had breathed a sigh of relief that the music had finally stopped, "It's too quiet in here!"). The ambience is clearly intended to be modern Asian and luxurious, with plush iridescent silver-violet chairs, a long plush purple couch studded with glittery faux jewels, and chandeliers with large glass pendants. But the luxuriousness is marred for a diner like me by the relentless beat.
Lastly, I tried some of the "snow" earlier today a dessert of shaved ice that comes in a variety of flavors. It looks like substantial, intensely-colored ribbons, but melts in your mouth. It comes with free condensed milk. Be aware, if you are a solo diner or even a couple, that this is an enormous dessert that could feed an entire four person family. In fact, I was sitting by a family with two small children and they weren't able to finish their strawberry snow. They don't offer it in a smaller size. I speculate that this is because their location on Castro Street requires them to price desserts high and in large quantities.
In spite of these minor kinks that are at inevitable at a new restaurant and will likely get ironed out shortly, Honeycreek is a worthwhile, unique addition to Castro Street with some very good dishes and tea options. The waitresses are friendly to solo diners, but the venue strikes me as particularly good for groups or those with enormous appetites for tea, meat and sweets.