There's a line from "The Wizard of Oz" that has been used and re-used in a variety of contexts, but when we hear it, we instantly recognize that something has happened to alter our world, undeniably. "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore," breathes Dorothy, as she leaves behind her black and white world and enters a glorious technicolor one. These were the words my lunch companions uttered as we compared the tastes we discovered at Media's newest restaurant, "Lotus."
You suspect you're not in Kansas, er, Media, almost the moment you walk in the front door. Against a palette of quiet Asian browns and greens, brilliant vermillion tea canisters line the rear wall, where one can manage a peek at the tiny kitchen helmed by David Berg, recently of Terrain at Styers.
The owner, Courtney Rozsas, is clearly a devotee of all things eastern: it's abundantly evident in the menu and the décor. The tables and chairs were hand-painted in India and are charming, if a bit uncomfortable for long-term sitting. Ours was a party of five, and when we tried to push a pair of two-tops together, someone (me) ended up straddling a rather unforgiving pair of boxy table legs. But that's small potatoes. Let's get to the food.
When I heard the subtitle for the restaurant, "A Salad and Tea House," I must admit I was bewildered. Salad and tea? Unless you're talking about a chopped salad and a big glass of iced tea - the two seemed rather at odds. But at Lotus, they can be masterfully paired. To get things off to a roaring start, I ordered the Red pepper bisque with crab and chive oil, my daughter had the Roasted mushroom and shallots soup flavored with hazelnuts and basil, my sister had the Turkish Buttered Hummus with pita chips, and no one was disappointed. If the menu is out of the ordinary, so is the serving routine: the owner herself came to the table to dole out the main soup element (crab or mushrooms) into a Nike swoop-shaped white bowl, followed by a ladleful of the soup.
Our chrysanthemum tea (delivered in a delicate glass teapot), provided the perfect culinary punctuation to the nibbles, sips and tastes we oohed and ahhed over. My one complaint: the soup is not hot. It comes to the table already cooled, so by the time you're on your second or third spoonful, it's gone unappetizingly tepid. But that's an easy fix, and I'm sure they'll have addressed it by now. I had the opportunity to taste the Yummy Warm White Bean dip with herbs and toasted baguette and am looking forward to the San Marzano Tomato Fondue with Charred Bread for a return visit.
"More Than Just a Bite" is how Lotus terms its salads, and the seasonal greens with roasted Sikel pears, walnuts, spiced pear vinaigrette and melted brie toast was a hit at our table - three of us ordered it, and enjoyed the sweet/savory aspects of the dish. It was altogether tasty and surprisingly filling. My daughter ordered the Roasted squash with Apple Tree Dairy goat cheese, wilted greens, sage pesto and pumpkin seeds, and, despite its elegantly spare presentation, she couldn't finish it - when it comes to food at Lotus, don't trust the eye as an accurate measuring device for how much you think you can put away. The other salads on offer are the Warm salad of pearl barley with oyster and trumpet mushrooms all doused in Porcini vinaigrette, and the Classic Caesar to which you can add either grilled local chicken marinated in jasmine or tofu.
By the time we'd finished our salads, the only person who had the gustatory courage to go for an entree was my mom, who ordered the special Crab Cake which was delicate and crisp with a delightfully spicy punch. Mom's a crab cake aficianada, and she was practically swooning, polishing it off in no time and offering forkfuls to the rest of us - while it was clear she hoped we wouldn't take her up on her proposal. The other entrees were Day boat scallops and Beluga lentil salad with Dijon vinaigrette and lemon; Yellow fin tuna crudo, with blood orange, grapefruit, pomegranate and avocado vinaigrette; and Marinated grilled flank steak sandwich with hummus, tzatziki, chilies, romaine and pita. When it came time for dessert, we ordered a simple cranberry and orange scone and broke it into fifths; it was fluffy and rich - I definitely detected heavy cream as a main ingredient. With black tea as its dance partner, the takeaway was "Next time, get your own."
While Lotus is not wholly faultless (don't sit near the front door if you visit during the brutal winter months, have no expectations that the waiting staff will provid guidance on the different teas and what they pair well with, and if you're not just nibbling, come prepared to bust out your Visa card, big-time) you'll probably leave happy. The menu rotates every six weeks, and you are assured that the fare from David Berg's kitchen is local and seasonal. Maybe you'll find that at Alice Waters' Chez Panisse in Berkelely California, but who does that in Media, Pennsylvania? Guess we now know the answer to that. Although Media in general, and State Street in particular, offer a wide variety of epicurean adventures, you'll most certainly come away from this place clicking your heels together and, chanting, to paraphrase Dorothy, "There's no place like Lotus...there's no place like Lotus...there's no place like Lotus."
Lotus, a salad and tea house, 112 West State Street, Media Pennsylvania 610 565-5554. Open for lunch and tea 11am - 3 pm. Call for reservations for the next Chef's Dinner - and do it pronto because these events sell out fast.