For lunch today, winter commands "Set A" from Cha-An, a $16 prix fixe centered around one cozy bowl of porridge. It's a 15-grain rice porridge, and includes (among many other grains) red and brown rice, buckwheat, barley, and millet. It's the sort of dish you want after a hectic day or when you feed a need to revive your health.
Six little appetizers that mix both traditional and more creative plates turn the porridge into a feast, a rotating selection that always includes umeboshi and a mix of pickles. Those are steamed green beans all the way on the left, a petite pile with nutty clouds of whipped tofu and sesame seed paste, served chilled. Right next to that, find salted salmon flakes—sprinkle the flakes over a scoop of porridge. The side dishes are too intense to have plain, and the porridge serves as a pure, clean backdrop to every spoonful.
The largest of the side dishes is meant to be the central pairing for the porridge; it's most frequently a fish dish, but chicken appears every now and then. Here, there's battered whitefish, deep fried and served with stewed eggplant and a tangle of seaweed. Dessert comes soon after, perhaps black sesame creme brulee or a tower of mille-feuille and alternating layers of vanilla bean custard and fresh fruit. I have not been presented with the same dessert twice for the prix fixe lunches at Cha An—it's perfect for anyone with an open and adventurous appetite. The only part of the meal where you do have a say is with the tea. Pick any from their varied selection that cover black to green, oolong to pu-erh, white and herbal teas. Certain teas, like matcha, are $3 extra, and they'll also do chai and matcha lattes (iced for summer, hot for winter).
About the author: Originally from Honolulu, Kathy YL Chan writes A Passion For Food, where she chronicles her eats and travels adventures between Hawai'i, New York and beyond. She firmly believes that there is always room for dessert.