*THIS RESTAURANT HAS CLOSED*
While my heart beats faster for coffee than tea (maybe I need to lay off all the ristretto shots), I appreciate how soothing a cup of tea can be in this kooky, busy world. Tea drinking establishments tend to have either an "ancient Chinese secret" style or "Nor Cal crunchy fleecy" vibe, but ~MODERN TEA~ did an admirable job of making their establishment more classy than kumbaya.
It's a sweet corner spot, almost like the space was waiting all along for this type of business to move in. The walls of windows let in an ideal amount of cheery light, illuminating undulating ribbons of colorful glass encircling the room--feel the healing vibes, man. There are a number of wood tables with matching classic wood chairs, plus a couple larger communal tables, and even more tables outside. You can park it at the tea bar if you want a ringside seat to watch all the wild and crazy tea brewing. Hold onto your hat, whoa. Dude.
The menu is rustic American, with simple but savory dishes like a non-dairy chicken quinoa chowder ($7), a cheesy bread strata ($9.50), a delicious kale and hijiki "coleslaw" salad ($7.50), and sandwiches like the chicken and house-made chicken sausage meatloaf ($9.75)--a dining partner noted it would be totally rocking if it was served warm, I have to agree.
The grilled portobello sandwich ($9.85) stuffing was almost like a duxelle, and comes with an earthy dry jack cheese, served in two buttery slices of crusty sourdough. The sandwich was served way over-grilled, burnt actually, but after sending it back, the second round redeemed the sando. Sandwiches come with a side salad--the greens were fresh, but I didn't really care for the sweet, citrusy house dressing.
I haven't made it for brunch (I really want to try the waffles made on irons dating back to the Civil War!) but they don't serve coffee, so perhaps that's what has been holding me back. I guess I just need to fire up my Gaggia, throw back a shot (or two) of Blue Bottle espresso at home, and then cruise on over for some eggs. And waffles. And the famed cast iron custard cornbread with maple syrup. Yeah, ok, I can do this.
Alice Cravens is the kindly owner, who many restaurant owners know and thank for setting up their tea programs, at places like Delfina, Zuni, and Chez Panisse. The teas are high quality, organic, and fair trade, thoughtfully grouped by caffeine level (none to more). I counted 21 teas, plus there's a separate Pu-erh menu too. Your server will explain the steeping procedure for your individual tea, so pay attention. Oh, and there's a retail component too if you are seeking some tea ware, cool gifts, or bulk tea.
I could just return again and again for tea and dessert, actually. The lemon buttermilk pudding cake ($5.25) is one of my favorite desserts in the city--it comes in a little jar, topped with whipped cream. I could crawl in there. If you just want a bite of something sweet, you can order the Texas sheet cake by the inch ($1/per inch), but it's so good you'll want more than an inch. Go ahead, be a size queen.
Modern Tea is pleasant place to take your mother, or a good spot for a casual business meeting, or a "catch up with your girlfriend who just left her loser boyfriend/girlfriend lunch," or brunch with your honey. Since you can make a reservation, even for brunch, I'd say it's custom-made for a bridal shower party at one of the big tables. And if you're going to the symphony or the opera and looking for a pre-performance bite, the dinner menu here should fit the bill (nothing is over $16).
They also have an awesome burgeoning gardening and cooking program with neighborhood youth--I look forward to hearing how this program develops.
602 Hayes St.
Cross: Laguna St.
San Francisco, CA 94102