I was psyched to learn that the venerable Tea House had opened a skyway outpost in the Towle building, a veritable hop, skip, and jump from the downtown Minneapolis MSP offices. But see, I'm an optimist.
Tea House is known for its ultra-authentic Szechuan fare. The first restaurant in Plymouth is a secret surprise, lurking in a strip mall by a movie theater. It's one of those places where you think, "I'm sort of hungry, I guess I'll go check it out." And then they present you with a menu that has two identities, one Szechuan and one American. Suddenly you realize: They get that some of us know the difference!
A second location opened in St. Paul, and the loyal, cultish following grew. Surprising people, yet again, who dare venture into an average strip mall, they offer Shanghai dim sum and some nearly legendary "juicy buns."
So it was with optimism that I ran over to T-Express, really thinking that an establishment so practiced in the art of surprise, so deft at turning humble shells into storied destinations, could create skyway magic.
The counter is small, almost a kiosk. The steam table is full of good-looking dishes, and the guys behind the counter were nice and helpful. The little eating area is cute, with a bright red wall and friendly stalks of bamboo, but who really cares about all of that? The spicy chicken delivered hard, dry little chunks with almost no discernible heat. The double-cooked pork was a greasy, flavorless mess of mostly onions. Szechuan green beans were cold, with little zing, but it was the dry and tasteless fried rice that made me most sad. Because that should be an easy give. I've had skyway fried rice that is hot and soy lovely and moist without being sticky.
I know, I know, people keep telling me that skyway eating requires a different set of expectations. But like I said, I'm an optimist, which means I am hopeful that they'll figure out the whole fast-but-good-skyway-lunch-rush thing.