More than mangos: New Maharaja goes Goan

Readers of last week's Dish will recall that I ended my story about Jonathan De Costa, the new owner of Maharaja restaurant, in medias res. Well, now it's time to return to the tale of "Chef J."

This ambitious 27-year-old is a native of Goa, a small region on the southwestern coast of India. With its beautiful golden sand beaches and signature sweet-and-spicy cuisine, Goa used to be a Portuguese colony (1510-1961), which explains the chef's culinary preferences as well as his Christian-sounding name.

De Costa's familiarity with Goan ingredients is particularly evident in his new daily specials. These include hot tomato savrak soup (cubes of tomato fried with chopped garlic and flavored with basil), dosas (thin, crispy pancakes stuffed with potatoes), and chicken mango (bell peppers and onions cooked in a sweet masala and mango sauce).

Mango is also the star ingredient in Chef J's kulfi or Indian ice-cream, made by hand from an ancient recipe that includes the pulp of the famous Alfonso mango from Goa.

Chef J's new drink specials are exotic enough to transport anyone in snow-bound Charlottesville to a sunny Goan beach. The lime-green "Bollywood Craze" cocktail is a blend of vodka, sour apple, and homemade lemon-lime soda served in a champagne glass and garnished with a kiwi wedge. The "Goan Toddy Tapper" is a coconut-rum concoction named after the person, or "tappy," who climbs up the coconut tree and taps the boat-shaped part of the branch to get to its juice, or "toddy."

When I asked Chef J what was considered cocktail hour in Goa, he gave me an attractive answer: "All day long you can sit on the beach and drink these cocktails." No wonder he's already looking forward to returning to India sometime soon, both for vacation and for new culinary inspiration.


It's Tea Time at York Place

 York Place, the little shopping mall on the Downtown Mall, just got its third Asian-influenced food-and-drink establishment.

Tea Time Desires, a Chinese tea shop, opened on February 19 just down the hall from Marco and Luca dumpling and noodle shop, and right across from a Korean tailor and the Japanese restaurant, Miyako.

Owner Ming Ling transformed the windowless space into an environment that whispers tranquility. The walls are painted a deep rose, the ceiling a dark, night-sky blue. Glass pendant lights cast a lunar glow over little tables and intimate booths for two. Soft music plucks and strums.

Ling, who's been in Charlottesville for five years and was the former owner of the Red Lantern restaurant with husband Dao Ming Li, says she was attracted to the Downtown location and to the simplicity of the tea-house genre.

"I wanted a smaller place I could handle by myself," she says from behind a long wooden counter decorated with teapots and elephant statues and fresh flowers. As the name might suggest, Ming's menu tempts with a dizzying array of hot and cold teas– from passion fruit, peanut milk, and peach green to bubble tea (tapioca pearls sit at the bottom of the cup and are sucked up through a straw), tea with fruit jelly and a number of green tea slushies.

Tea Time's milkshakes– papaya, sweet melon, taro– are not made with ice-cream, but with a special flavored powder they get from Taiwan. As for the edible options, Tea Time Desires offers a selection of light and healthy dishes, such as steamed shumai (wheat flour dumplings stuffed with beef and onion), hot-and-sour fishball soup, and a steamed shrimp roll in rice paper.

MSG is the only unwelcome guest here.

Ming Ling has what you want at Tea Time Desires. br>

Chef J and Co. at Maharaja.