Monday, April 8, 2013

Mooch Wi-Fi at True's Tea

The TRUE'STEA Restaurant 淳上生活小品 on Urbanspoon I was at True's Tea for a social this past weekend. I didn't choose the venue, so honestly, it's not like I deliberately went there just so I can write about what's bad about it. There are some plusses to the place (no, really!), and I will definitely mention them.

Even before you go in, the place looks dilapidated. The awning over the door was so crusted with grey dirt that it looked like an abandoned restaurant. It gets worse once you walk in.
  • I looked around the lobby and there were light fixtures in the ceiling that were held in place with red duct tape -- I'm not making this up!
  • One sprinkler head was so crusted with dust that it looked furry.
  • I also saw a silver panel that had some sort of stain on it from having been wiped with a too-wet cloth and allowed to dry. So obvious it stuck out. Why would anyone just leave that be?
Other than the obvious lack of housecleaning, the place does actually look pretty decent. It would help a bit if they also cleared out the last of the Halloween decorations.

Inside, it is bright and the seating isn't squashy. There's a lot of floor space, and various things like curtains or low walls to partition things off so it doesn't feel like one huge cafeteria. This is actually a good thing. Of what I saw, the space inside is actually pretty decent. Too bad about first impressions before you actually get in there.

There were also apparently only two staff members running the front of the restaurant, and that was clearly not enough. Maybe they are already overworked and underpaid and really can't be bothered to clean up the restaurant when they are run ragged trying to serve everyone who walks in. One person seemed shy / inexperienced. The other one was just surly and wearing some sort of breakfast cereal T-shirt. Yup, not even uniforms or a basic dress code to dignify the staff here. No wonder they are surly.
  • You're supposed to wait to be seated, and to ring a bell for service if the hostess isn't there. No hostess. I waited. No one came. I rang the bell. Nothing happened. I started a countdown -- 5 more minutes and I would turn around and walk out. Luckily one of the two servers noticed me and after finishing up whatever he was doing, he came to check on me. From the time I walked in, it was maybe 10 minutes in total.
  • There were already a few people at the social I was there to attend. I will assume they hadn't been there for very long. No one had a menu. We waited a while longer, chatted a bit... still no menus. I figure maybe a total of 30 minutes had passed from the time I stepped into the restaurant. And since I was directed by at least one server, clearly someone knew we were there.
  • Finally we flagged someone down to get some menus. (Like, yeah, we'd actually like to order something, okay?) For our party which was at that time 8 persons (closer to 15 later on), we got I think 6 menus, a mix of food and drink menus. They were just thrown onto the table -- no, really -- thrown at us. It gets better: After our orders were taken (and we had to flag someone down to put in orders too), the menus are taken away. When more people came to our table later... déjà vu. No menus again. Hmm...
  • Shortly after I sat at the table, a nearby table finished their meal and left. That table was not cleared in the hour or so that I was at the restaurant. Only two severs were running the show, from what I could see, so I wasn't entirely surprised.
Note to management: Don't just get better staff. How about getting more staff and shelling out for housecleaning now and then?

So are there plusses? You bet. For one thing, the menu is over 300 items. Bubble tea of course, but also a considerable food menu. I glossed over everything that looked mundane and as usual settled on the one thing that looked weird. Pig's Blood Soup. I settled for the "small" bowl at $8.95.
  • This came in what was for me a mildly spicy savoury broth. Other people might find it on the spicy side of "medium spicy".
  • The pig's blood component is in soft red cubes. Also in the soup are segments of intestine and preserved vegetable.
  • The soup was tasty enough. The "wow" factor here was the portion. Allowing that you are paying a buck or two extra for the novelty of eating pig's blood, for the price you get a big portion. We're talking meal-sized portion. A big bowl. Sure, lots of it was soup, but they weren't skimpy with the ingredients. Not so generous that it came out looking like a stew, but definitely not so little that you had to drink half the soup to find pieces of blood or intestine. I was relieved not to have asked for the large bowl ($12.95).
  • Stir the soup constantly as the chili / spices settle to the bottom and you might find the soup too spicy later on when there's less of it.
The bill came with a pre-added gratuity. Our table had over 6 persons, so it was 15%. At least it wasn't the 18% that seems to be more common nowadays. But still, considering that "service" was worse than amateurish, it seemed more like insult added to injury.

I'm sure different orders will have a different value-to-money ratio, but the Pig's Blood Soup turned out to be really decent value. Also at our table was a tall glass (approximately a Starbucks grande size) of mango slush ($4.95). The person who ordered it seemed very satisfied, remarking at how the mango tasted sweet and fresh.
Another order was Green Onion Crepe ($4.50 for what looked like a 6" pancake) that looked okay. At $4.50, you might be paying for the disproportionate amount of kitchen labour to make the one small pancake.
There were also a couple orders of Deep Fried Chicken Nuggets ($5.75) that looked like pretty big bowls. I didn't get a taste of the crepe or chicken nuggets so I can't say how they turned out.

Another plus of True's Tea is free wi-fi and easy access to electrical outlets for your laptop. And being ignored by staff makes True's Tea a great place to mooch their free wi-fi! Unlike smaller establishments, you will not stick out like the mooch you are when you camp there. True's Tea seats 193 (!) and some places are curtained off or behind walls. Plus it is likely there will be no hostess at the front door. So DON'T ring the bell for service. Just sneak in, plug in, and keep your head down. If someone actually approaches you, ask for the menu -- you can't know what to order without the menu, right? And it's not entirely your fault if they ignored you for the first hour or so.

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