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June 18, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, June 18, 2004

Desserts and more Desserts and more (June 18, 2004)

Specialty drinks shine at new Castro Street cafe

By Grace Rauh

Tucked at the bottom of Castro Street, opposite the train station, e-Tea & Coffee beckons.

With its cheerful lime green and orange motif, the kid-friendly dessert café offers one-stop shopping for anyone with a sweet tooth. There are cakes, ice creams, dessert crepes, sundaes, milkshakes, smoothies, pearl teas and fresh juices.

And if you can't make up your mind, just step inside. Colorful pictures on the café's walls can help an indecisive customer choose between the fruity Gemini specialty drink and a gooey sundae.

Smoothies, fruit juices and e-Tea's 12 specialty horoscope drinks (named after zodiac signs) are the best picks on the menu. The dessert café does offer a few savory sandwiches and crepes, but these are made with poor quality meats and aren't appetizing. And on one visit I ordered a cake that had passed its prime and was hard on the outside.

The drinks, however, are inventive, fresh and fun. I'd stick with them.

On my first visit I tried an individual mocha cake ($2.95) and the berry blossom smoothie ($3.50). The pink drink arrived in a tall plastic cup with a lid and tasted fresh, fruity and creamy. The smoothie is made with oranges, grapes, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and French vanilla ice cream and is lighter than most milkshakes. The refreshing drink is a great pick-me-up and is easy to carry out.

The round mocha cake boasted layers of coffee and chocolate mousse that rested on a thin chocolate cake bottom. A bit of chocolate shaped like a coffee bean adorned the circular treat, and I found the cake moist with a smooth texture.

However, my second venture into e-Tea's cake counter was not as positive as my first.

On a later visit, the cakes in the display case all looked very tired and appeared to have been sitting out too long. Digging my plastic fork into the raspberry mango cheesecake ($2.95) only confirmed my suspicions. Although the cheesecake's interior was creamy and rich, the outer layer had toughened. The texture put me off, and I was quickly dissuaded from wanting to try other cake options.

Thankfully, the menu includes an array of fresh juices, including everything from kiwi to papaya milk. I chose the fresh watermelon juice ($3.50) and was thrilled with my find. The fresh juice is sweet, incredibly refreshing and a large-bore straw allowed small chunks of watermelon to make their way out of the cup and into my mouth.

The basic pearl milk tea ($1.69) is a great deal, and I enjoyed the tapioca balls at the bottom of my cup. Unlike beverages served at other downtown teashops, my cold milky drink from e-Tea was not very sweet. The pearls were chewy and had a pleasant consistency.

The cappuccino frost or Libra specialty drink ($3.50) was sweet and filling. The blended drink is made from espresso, chocolate, vanilla ice cream and milk, but I wanted it to be richer and creamier.

The drink that won the highest praise from all my snacking companions was the Gemini specialty drink ($3.50). This fruity concoction combines honeydew melon, kiwi, pineapple, strawberries, bananas, peaches and orange sherbet. The drink was divided into two sections, with the top a kiwi green color and the bottom, peach.

To test the Double Rainbow ice cream selection, I ordered the Mexico taco sundae ($4.50). I picked mint chocolate chip ice cream, coffee almond fudge ice cream and "it's a goody" -- vanilla ice cream with peanut butter and chocolate chips -- to go in the waffle cone shaped like a taco. The ice cream was delicious, but the sundae as a whole was underwhelming. The server added meager amounts of whipped cream and chocolate sauce, and only sprinkled peanuts on top when I requested them.

The chocolate, banana and strawberry dessert crepe ($4) was a tasty treat. The sliced fruit was covered with Nutella, a chocolate hazelnut spread, and wrapped in a thin crepe with whipped cream and chocolate sauce on top. A lighter and thinner crepe would have been more pleasing, but the overall combination made for an excellent dessert. Unlike the savory crepes, the dessert crepe arrived on a plate and was easy to eat with a fork and a knife.

But before embarking on a dessert-a-thon, my dining partners and I felt we ought to fortify ourselves with some lunch fare first. Unfortunately, everything we tried was unappetizing.

The curry chicken crepe ($4.50) and meat with veggies crepe ($4.95) weren't worth their affordable price tag. The mild curry sauce was thick and not flavorful, and it covered hunks of chicken, potatoes, onions and carrots. The meat with veggies included ham, avocado, corn, lettuce, alfalfa sprouts, pineapple, tomato, cheddar cheese and mayonnaise. Both crepes were folded into cardboard cones, but they were unwieldy and difficult to eat.

The avocado turkey sandwich ($4.25) was also inexpensive, but down the street at Subway, sandwiches pack in more flavor and quality at a similar price. At least the white roll tasted fresh.

I would happily return to e-Tea & Coffee to try more smoothies, fruit juices and specialty drinks. I'll just eat my lunch elsewhere.

Dining Notes

E-Tea & Coffee
135 Castro St.
Hours: Sun-Thurs 10:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Fri-Sat 10:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m.
Free wireless Internet for customers
Reservations: no
Credit cards: yes
Parking: no
Outdoor seating: yes
Alcohol: no
Booster seats and high chairs: no
Private dining and banquet facilities: no
Catering: yes
Takeout: yes
Noise level: moderate
Bathroom cleanliness: excellent

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