We wanted a quick bite and a comfortable place to chat. We wanted simple, yet interesting sandwiches and perhaps a cup of an unusual tea. We wanted killer dessert.
We're kind of demanding.
We're also lucky, because Pom Pom's Teahouse and Sandwicheria has all of those things -- except, depending on when you visit, the quick part. In the Bumby Plaza (a strip mall almost hidden by trees just north of the 408), Pom Moongauklang's namesake eatery is a bright, cheerful space with two tables, a comfortable couch and a row of stools around the L-shaped counter.
The menu sports a quirky, idiosyncratic mix of elements that shouldn't go together, but do. Fresh, high-quality ingredients and handmade preparation tie all the dishes together; otherwise, it's a bewildering, bewitching assortment of flavors and cuisines. The list of specialty items includes arugula, cranberry chutney, fresh basil, red apples and caramel -- more like a wacky chick's shopping list than a test-marketed array of proven sellers. The slightly girly vibe, the eclectic but striking combinations on the menu, the forgivable hint of erratic ditziness -- if Carrie Bradshaw were a restaurant, she would be Pom Pom's.
There's an assortment of specialty sandwiches (or you can build your own from a list of ingredients) and sides, a well-chosen tea list and a cooler case full of desserts. We gave up any notion of "mine" and "yours" and agreed to share a turkey, bacon, Brie, tomato, arugula and onion sandwich ($6.95), a yellow curry chicken salad sandwich with toasted almonds, red apple and onion ($6.95), a side of peanut noodles ($1.50), a side of Asian slaw ($1.50), a Thai iced tea ($2) and an iced lavender-blueberry tea ($1.75). Sounds like a hodgepodge, I know, but everything was so good it didn't matter.
The first word that came to mind was "fragrant." Because everything was so fresh and adeptly seasoned, the aroma was as pleasing as the flavor -- a rarity in this day of pre-packaged, chemical-laden foods. The Asian slaw, ribbons of red and white cabbage with shredded carrot, was bathed in a cilantro and sesame-oil dressing. The peanut noodles were excellent, coated but not gloopy with a creamy peanut sauce and sprinkled with chopped peanuts. The curry chicken salad was brilliant: bright-yellow, aromatic, smooth with chunks of firm sweet ripe apple and crunchy nuts. (It is my newest obsession.)
As for killer desserts, we passed up the enormous "sin"namon buns ($2), tempting as they were, and sampled a pair of tea-infused creme brulees ($3.75 each). I was thrilled at the idea of creme brulee at lunch -- so decadent! -- but the reality was a little disappointing. The Earl Grey and lavender-peppercorn custards were excellent, smooth and eggy and rich -- and the combination of lavender and peppercorn was mind-alteringly tasty -- but whoever prepared the desserts by running them under a torch had apparently never seen or eaten creme brulee before; instead of custard topped with a glassy, crackly, dark-brown sheet of caramelized sugar, ours was covered with a thick layer of wet, gritty sugar crystals. (If Pom is there, ask her to do it, or keep taking it back until they get it right. It's worth the trouble.)
I have to qualify my glowing appraisal here by saying that service, not to put too fine a point on it, can suck. Pom Pom's has been open long enough to work out the kinks, but the (mostly inexperienced) staff isn't quite keeping up with the success of the place. On that first visit, almost everything went wrong -- a long wait to order, another long wait for food to be brought, then a long wait for utensils to be brought, more waiting for our drinks -- you get the picture. But we were there at 1 p.m. on a weekday, and the tiny place was packed; I'll avoid the rush hour from now on. As impatient as I can sometimes be, I didn't care because I was so in love with the food. However, I suggest takeout for cranky eaters.
Moongauklang, who once worked at NYC's cartoony drag-queen theme restaurant Lucky Cheng's (see Sex and the City), clearly has a sense of humor. Once a month she stages a "Gross-Out Food Challenge," sort of a Fear Factor-lite, and the restaurant's MySpace page and T-shirts are emblazoned, "Come and get tea-bagged at Pom Pom's." Sex and the City Beautiful, indeed.