The Future in Tea

At P.F. Chang’s China Bistro (see review), three kinds of hot tea come in shiny, caramel-colored pots: oolong, “Tropical Green” and ginger-peach. Each has an intoxicating perfume (particularly the fruity ginger-peach) and a lovely amber color but is surprisingly flavorless. Though the tea leaves have been steeping in front of your eyes, the tea tastes similar to the brew from a Lipton’s bag.

Restaurateur Richard Ng, who recently opened his fourth Bo Ling’s restaurant, thinks that by exposing local diners to the best of premium Chinese teas, he can sell as many pots of green tea or potently scented jasmine tea as he does glasses of Chardonnay or bottles of Tsing Tao beer.

Ng admits he started serving chicken lettuce wraps after he saw how much success P.F. Chang’s was having with them. But the idea of expanding his tea offerings came during his last trip to China and Hong Kong. He returned with cases of attractive metal-and-glass pots and some teas that have always been popular with Asian palates but are still exotic to Midwestern tastes, such as Taiwanese Kings Oolong, lightly flavored with ginseng and boasting a wisp of lilac aroma.

Customers love the head-spinning fragrance of the jasmine tea, but he’s still having a hard time getting them to sample the pale yellow chrysanthemum tea, which is milder than green tea but reportedly has aphrodisiacal qualities. Ng is also serving iced bubble teas made with tapioca balls, which have become wildly popular since the Blue Koi (1803 West 39th Street) introduced them to the city last year.

But the success of the Northland’s Malay Café (6003 Northwest Barry Road) hasn’t affected his decision to drop some Malaysian dishes he’d been planning. “I don’t think people here are ready for that yet,” he says.

Ng came to America as a teen-ager with the Tsui family, who immigrated to Kansas and opened Johnson County’s first popular Chinese restaurant, the Dragon Inn. A few years later, Richard married Theresa Tsui and opened Bo Ling’s, which served the traditional dishes (egg foo yong, chop suey, lemon chicken) that every other local Chinese restaurant offered. But they’ve grown increasingly fussy over the years, dropping the old American-Chinese standbys and experimenting with more regional Chinese specialties, including curry dishes and more vegetarian fare.

Although Ng owns a big, empty brick building on Southwest Boulevard just a few blocks from the Crossroads Arts District, he’s wary of opening a Bo Ling’s there — despite the lack of competition in the neighborhood. “Maybe when the Performing Arts Center opens,” he says, furrowing his eyebrows. “But don’t you think I’d be competing with my Plaza location?”

Ng, who opened his first suburban restaurant twenty years ago, believes Kansas City is moving in one direction: south, south, south. That’s why he opened his newest dining room way out at 135th and Old Metcalf. “We were busy from the minute we opened our doors,” he says.

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