When waiting to do a full review of a restaurant, I usually give it two or three months before my initial visit. But Casual Friday is, well, more casual a matter. And sometimes, I’m too darn excited to wait.
Such is the case with UniTea Cafe. Owner Aniceto “JR” Rena’s shop, which opened last week, may look like an ordinary teahouse, albeit one inside a circa-1865 building in downtown Leesburg, steps away from the Tally Ho Theater, but the founder’s background means its something far more momentous. Leesburg local Rena earned his culinary chops working for Jose Andres. His resume also includes Cosme in New York City, where he says he fell in love with creating drinks as well as food. He worked closely with Cosme’s beverage director Yana Volfson, which brought him to Mexico City, where he worked at internationally acclaimed Pujol and Volfson’s Ticuchi.
Fortunately for NoVA, the pandemic brought Rena back to Leesburg, where his family was hoping to open a boba shop. Now he’s using both his beverage and culinary cred to make Loudoun County more delicious. Drinks are divided between “The Old World,” traditional loose-leaf teas from supplier In Pursuit of Tea, and “The New World,” essentially mocktails made with diverse fresh juices and purees. I sampled the refreshing Tea 2 Bee, which blends puckery Filipino citrus kalamansi with Moroccan mint and honey. I added apple-flavored jelly for an extra bounce of sweetness. The Mika Shake at left is a soy milk slush drizzled with dulce de leche and finished with Oreo-flavored churros. Among the traditional teas, the Matcha Wakatake from Kyoto is likably austere, though the boba within were a little too al dente when I tasted it.
The menu of light fare includes avocado toast and homemade hummus for a truly light meal, but when was I ever one to have a light meal? The bulgogi sandwich pictured at top is the way to go, with sweet, tender beef stacked with extra-spicy kimchi and fresh scallions additionally flavored with kimchi aioli and a bit of provolone. My only complaint about the sandwich is the floppy bread. A more substantial roll will also aid in my enjoyment of the banh mi, filled with lemongrass chicken and pickled veggies, as well as lush homemade pate and creamy pepper aioli.
But with a menu featuring more than 40 options (not to mention the infinite iterations with different types of jelly, boba, and milks), I can’t help but return for another taste of the world soon. 11 W. Market St., Leesburg
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