Drop your Subway sandwich.
Toss the rest of that leftover Antonio’s pizza.
Hell, cancel your reservations at Chez Albert. There’s a new sheriff in town and they mean business.
LimeRed started out as a website. Then, as a band. And an email address. But now they’ve settled here in Amherst, occupying the old Newberry Comics location, and we hope they’ll never leave. As an eclectic hangout and a cozy place to eat, LimeRed succeeds on all counts.
The restaurant focuses on building a collection of teas with endless combinations and add-ins. Bumping out Crazy Noodles for boba diversity, they keep coming up with tricks to stimulate and intrigue the palate. I ordered a mango milk tea, seemingly pedestrian, with something strange- popping jelly. I’d never heard of it before, but they make it in house daily. It’s a cross between caviar and boba, definitely the best of both worlds. A thin tapioca skin covers a flavored liquid innard in little balls, then inserted into the tea like boba. If I’m not mistaken, this is classic fruit caviar, a molecular gastronomy technique. And used like this, it’s sublime.I asked for mango-flavored jelly, hoping that the flavor wouldn’t get lost within the milkiness of the drink. I was wrong. Instead, a delightful duet played out in my mouth- a duet of tangy and tart from the jelly and creamy-sweet from the tea. The beverage was so tempting that I kept looking at it hungrily before our food arrived, glad I had the discipline to not suck it all down in one gulp. (TWSS) The jelly was a little sour, but in a citrusy, delicious way. Think of something less like a Warhead and more like a tart, fresh fruit. Coupled with the floral notes in the tea, it was exquisite.
My dining partner, Stevie Wonder, went for the taro boba tea. One of my pet peeves when describing foods is using another food, generally an American one, to describe it as I feel like it undermines the integrity of the unique ingredient. However, I can say with confidence and without remorse that this tasted like a liquified PB&J. My experience with taro root is limited to mochi and other candies, and it’s been achingly sweet and bland with a red bean like flavor, but this drink was nutty, fruity, and very creamy. The boba filled the bottom and came up through our straws when we took sips. The flavor database is consistently fluctuating- I wish I’d known about the avocado boba when I’d arrived!LimeRed has an ever-expanding menu of dumplings and buns, not yet made in house but shipped in from New York for now. We whacked up an order of chicken and lemongrass dumplings, pork buns, and red bean buns for dessert. In the back of my head, I was worried that it wouldn’t be enough food- all of the entrees were under $5 apiece. But when those steamers arrived, all thoughts went out the window. All I could see and smell were those fluffy, white steamed buns.We tore into the pork buns. I came up for air after my second and wondered, briefly, if it was possible to hook up a pork bun intravenously. There was something magical about these. Perhaps it’s my isolation from good buns in the Pioneer Valley or simply my lack of experience, but I haven’t had buns like these since my dim sum adventures in San Francisco. With fluffystickysteamysoft interiors and a chewy, crispy filling, these hit all of my senses at once. With a brick. It was a dizzyingly perfect composition of flavors and textures, with a perfect base to roll them in.After recovering from instantaneous depression from eating all the buns, we tucked into the dumplings. Owner Joe Deng, a sharply dressed entrepreneur radiating enthusiasm, reminded us
that because these were artisanal dumplings, they were already seasoned on their own. They did offer soy sauce and sriracha on the side, but chose not to serve them on the plate so as not to mar the authenticity of the dish. I trusted him and it paid off- the lemongrass, rarely making more of an appearance in dishes than an exotic word on a menu, was the star. It was bittersweet and tart, exemplified by the saltiness of the chicken and scallions, with definite hints of lime zest. And yet, it was all balanced. No singular ingredient outshone another and it all wrapped up nicely with the citrus at the end.Savory plates aside, we finished up with three red bean buns. While I didn’t see the same pinpointed execution on these, they were rustic and flavorful, whole beans studding the interior for an extra handmade touch. The dough is just intoxicating, like the softest, moistest white bread, but made far better with the glutenous bean filling. It’s my own lack of exposure talking, but god, I love those buns. They made a savory and sweet neutral dessert to munch on as we were finishing our tea. If they ever made a peanut butter bun, I’d get it for sure.As we were eating, we occasionally encountered Joe Deng. Deng has a unique and practiced way of service- it was timed precisely to give us time to digest, chat, ponder our order, and relax, but was not so slow as to seem negligent. He came to our table throughout the meal, asking questions and answering them in return. It was a relaxed, comforting atmosphere and I left feeling happy and sunny, glad that I had taken a chance on this new establishment. So, patrons- if Starbucks is getting stale, head on over. And LimeRed, please forgo any plans for beginning a career in racecars, used books, or pet stores, because as a teahouse, you don’t need to change a thing.