You have to admire a girl who goes her own way when she isn't getting what she wants. Especially when the girl is young and beautiful and smart and has a lot going for her like Maggie Lee, owner of Tatàme teahouse and saké lounge. Lee, a dabbler in music and a business major at UCF, wanted a laid-back job where she could write music and have a stage where she could play her keyboard whenever she wanted. After a long, fruitless search, the right idea finally came to her: She would open her own unique establishment, one that could fulfill all of her needs and make others happy too.
Lee settled on a Fairbanks Avenue location and decided to turn it into a teahouse/saké bar to give lounging urbanites a choice other than coffee. She also carefully chose the amenities, such as wireless connection with the college crowd in mind and a stage for local musicians. Outfitted with Asian floor mats and simple furniture that evokes the sleek, Japanese aesthetic of anime, Tatàme is like lazing about in a comic book. The art plastering the walls, much of it done by Lee, is indeed an anime tribute. And art works (for sale) by young locals are regularly changed out.
The bubble tea at Tatàme is heavenly. Every tapioca ball is a slippery cool pillow of pleasantly sweet gumminess that glides down the throat with each sip. There are several tropical flavors, such as mango, coconut and lychee, as well as others like coffee, sesame and green tea ($5). They also carry a wide array of hot teas: green, black, red and white. One of the tastiest beverages I tried was the refreshing lychee slush ($5), perfumed with the exotic tropical nut, toothsome and carrying notes of jasmine and pineapple.
The saké assortment covers a variety of hot and cold sakés. Of particular note is the unfiltered pearl ($7); served cold, this luminescent liquid seems magical as it shimmers and slides down smooth. For something warmer, look for Purple Haze ($8), a mix of hot saké and Chambord. They also serve infused chilled sakés ($6), with flavors such as Asian pear, watermelon and plum.
Maggie and her cook (and fiance), Alan Chan, refer to their Chinese backgrounds to inspire modern recipes. They offer only appetizers, but there are enough of them to create a meal. I loved the squid salad ($5), marinated in a light, ginger-infused dressing. It tasted of rice wine vinegar and sesame oil and perhaps a splash of saké. The seaweed salad ($4) was a standard dollop of those bright green strands that elicit the briny taste of the ocean, and often get stuck in your teeth. All the chicken preparations wings ($6), drums ($6.50), satay ($5) and sandwich ($6) are moist and flavored with a sweet note of exotic spices, using a secret Cantonese family recipe that nobody is giving up. (Believe me, I tried.) The pork-chop sandwich ($6) is now one of my late-night obsessions. It comes on white bread that tastes delectable, however artificial, and sums up everything good about the industrial age. With no intrinsic value, the bread does provide the perfect medium to deliver the tender pork with Cantonese spices.
Still, as good as Tatàme is and as much as I enjoy the unusual atmosphere, I have a bone to pick. The day I went they were supposed to open at 3 p.m., but I was left standing outside with not a soul in sight nor a sign to explain the absence. When someone finally did arrive, they let me in with some hesitation, asking first if I could come back later. My disappointment was noticed and reluctantly I was allowed to plop down on the white couch and eat and drink myself silly. The service was pleasant, and I even took a short nap while my favorite songs by Postal Service blared.
As it turns out, they've been experimenting with hours but promise the security of the new deal: 2 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday-Thursday; 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. Friday-Sunday. The later in the evening, the more the vibe goes from teahouse to saké lounge, though all ages are welcome. Still, you might want to call first before you head over.