Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Restaurant Review: Haru Aki Café

As a food nerd, it's tough going to college in farmville (literally) and not a city. UConn doesn't exactly boast a diverse culinary scene like NYC or Boston.

The lack of food culture at UConn especially makes itself known when I want to try new things. For example, I read about Bubble Tea in a blog and immediately wanted to try it. (Bubble tea can come in many forms, but it's usually found as a tea-based iced drink mixed with fruit syrup, milk, and tapioca pearl boba.) I searched on Yelp, and I saw a Chinese place just off the UConn campus offered bubble tea. But when I ordered my tea there, I watched in horror as they boiled some water, added some really artificial-looking powder to it, then shook it with ice. Even worse– it tasted more artificial than it looked. No thanks!

Luckily, less than a year later, the Haru Aki Café opened right next to my apartment building. "Haru" and "aki" mean spring and fall in Japanese, which speaks to the café's ethos concerning seasonal cuisine. But more importantly, they offer an amazing bubble tea menu.

Images from the Haru Aki Facebook page

Unlike other Asian-fusion restaurants in the area, the Haru Aki Café utilizes actual tea in their bubble tea (and not that synthetic powder). So far, I've tried the green tea with honeydew, peach, and lychee, and they've all been delicious. I could drink their bubble tea all day if my wallet allowed it.

In addition to the great bubble tea selection, they have delicious savory offerings as well– sushi, donburi (rice bowls), scallion pancakes, salads, and croquettes. 

Scallion Pancake

One day as I was buying a Honeydew bubble tea, I was lucky enough to run into Ron Liu, who is co-owner of the café. I asked him a bit about his background, and it turns out that he was a business student at UConn who had always dreamed of opening a restaurant. A few years after his graduation, he found himself in a financial position where he had the means to open Haru Aki.

Ron told me that while he is one of the main sushi chefs at the café, his girlfriend (who is also a co-owner and a fellow UConn alum) is the main force behind the menu. I told him how glad I was to have such a great restaurant nearby, and assured him that I would be back.

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This post really exemplifies why I love discovering new eateries and writing about them– because every small, locally owned restaurant has a unique story to tell. Food isn't just food... it's humanity. It's history. It's memories of your mom teaching you how to cook, or your grandmother sharing her secret recipe. And above all, it provides the medium through which people of different cultures can connect and learn from each other. 

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