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Really Big Balls

The bubble tea storm finally pelts Cleveland.


Large purple balls (of pearl tapioca, for goodness' sake) are the key ingredient in trendy "bubble tea" drinks popping up in cafés all over the country. The cold, refreshing Taiwanese creation of strong tea, flavoring powder, sugar, milk or juice, and chewy balls of tapioca is a must-have for hipsters from Hong Kong to London, although, as always, the heartland has been late on the scene. But fear not, cool one: You too can now indulge, at Cleveland's one and only bubble tea café and turbo-car parts store. The love child of CWRU graduate Paul Yu and his band of merry supercharged men (John Tran, John Liao, Jeff Migrid, and Albert Tien), the Turbo Four Bubble Tea Café mixes it up with about a dozen sweet, exotic bubble tea flavors ranging from almond, chocolate, and mocha to passion fruit, mango, and plum. The concoctions -- balls and all -- are sucked up through oversized, neon-colored straws, and it can take the uninitiated a few minutes to get the hang of sipping and chewing in unison. But we liked the bracing flavors, milk tea and taro being among the most popular. And the friendly, funky setting -- your basic mechanic's mecca, crammed with a tiny bar, a few tables, a big sofa, and a television set playing nonstop auto/action flicks -- has got to be one of the most, um, unique around. Yu hopes to start offering as many as 100 bubble tea flavors by the end of summer, and he plans to add a DJ in August to spin hip-hop, house, and trance music on Friday nights. For the nonce, the Bubble Tea Café's hours are 3 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, 3 to 11:30 p.m. on Friday, noon to 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday. The café is in the rear of the building at 3030 Superior Avenue; call 216-589-9678.

Tastes of summer:

Donna Chriszt, chef-owner of OZ bar and bistro (2391 West 11th Street, 216-861-3734), has been tinkering of late with her menu of global tastes. Although Mom's Chicken Paprikash -- a dish that wowed a Gourmet restaurant critic during her most recent Cleveland stopover -- has been retired for the season, its replacement is the equally slyly titled Backyard BBQ, a juicy combo of glazed pork tenderloin, grilled peaches, and potato salad ($17). Other new additions include carrot-crusted day-boat scallops, with crab-strewn basmati rice, yellow tomato, and lobster salsa ($23), and roasted onion quinoa, with summer vegetables and sprout salad, tweaked with carrot oil and aged balsamic vinegar ($15). The gates of OZ are open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner Monday through Saturday.

In cod we trust:

There's still plenty of time for downtown diners to savor Todd Stein's special creations during Sans Souci's (24 Public Square in the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel; 216-696-5600) ongoing summertime seafood festival. Among the delights are a refreshingly light peekytoe crab salad, layered with diced mango, cucumber, and what Stein calls "four-star guacamole," finished with a drizzle of luscious tangerine-infused oil ($11); and an extraordinary roasted George's Bay cod filet, sprinkled with pink peppercorns and served over sweet-tart grapefruit segments and tongue-tingling stewed tomato ($22). Sans Souci is open for lunch Monday through Friday and for dinner daily; the seafood promotion continues through August 4.

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