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Sunday, April 20, 2014
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Published: 12/29/2010

Levis Commons Tea Tree bistro better served to be less common

We waited for attention from the hostess as better-dressed clientele jockeyed ahead of us. We waited for our server to stop by our table and we waited for our meal. I appreciate an unhurried ambience, but service should be prompt with some of Toledo's highest priced entrees.

To start our meal, we ordered the Tea Tree Asian Bistro lettuce wrap ($9) and were sorely disappointed. The mixture of stir-fried chicken, onions, carrots, peas, and water chestnuts was rather bland in a sauce that lacked pizazz. Romaine lettuce made a poor substitute for the head lettuce traditionally served with this favorite appetizer. The stalks were too rigid and thus presented a lettuce wrap that you couldn't wrap. The stir fry slid out upon each bite.

The entrees and sushi fared much better. The chang mai noodles ($14) were pungent and melodic with sweet coconut contrasting beautifully with a generous kick of spicy red peppers. The chicken was perfectly cooked, tender and velvety. I would have preferred the noodles a bit less limp, but my dining companion loved them.

Tea Tree boasts a beautiful sushi bar that sits like a glowing stage in one of the dining rooms. The prices are hardly cheap, but the rolls are some of the best and highest quality in the area with exceedingly fresh fish and vegetables, superb rice, and expert preparation. Eight dollars for a single futomaki roll is not a bargain, but the crunchy pickled radish, crab stick, and spectacular tamago was worth it. Tamago is the egg omelet that is too often an afterthought in maki. Tea Tree's was sublime and sweet with perfect texture.

The AAC, or Asparagus, Avocado, and Cucumber roll ($6) was equally excellent for those who fear fish, and the Tai, or red snapper sashimi ($5.50) was fresh and sweet. But the true star of the show was the house special maki rolls. The Rainbow roll ($14) was beautifully presented and prepared with fresh crab, cucumber, and avocado ensconced in firm salmon, tuna, and red snapper. The Sex and the City roll ($14) was an exercise in decadence with seared medium rare steak thinly sliced and stacked on meaty shrimp tempura and avocado maki. If anything, it was too rich and may have benefitted from a crisp counterpoint to the comparatively rich ingredients.

Lunch was a similar set of extremes. The service was quick and the inclusion of crispy fried won ton skins appreciated, but the lunch entrees didn't shine the way one might think they should. The princess beef stir-fry ($10) featured top quality beef, but limp vegetables and a dull sauce that was reminiscent of those old-fashioned "American-Chinese" style restaurant meals. The General Tso's Chicken ($9) was better, with battered chicken and a sweet and spicy sauce. Both arrived with your choice of a generous bowl of exceptional egg drop soup or an uninspired salad that was bathed in dressing. The soup included diced bamboo shoot and water chestnut providing a crisp surprise along with silky cubes of tofu.

Don't get me wrong. I really enjoyed Tea Tree Asian Bistro. The atmosphere is exquisite and the food is very good. But, with higher prices come greater expectations. I was never surprised or intrigued. The chefs are proficient, but play it safe. That ensures a consistent and conservative crowd, but with such high quality ingredients they may also be able to present Pan-Asian in all of its creative exotic glory.

Contact Bill of Fare at fare@theblade.com



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