Eleven years after founding Pangea, Marc Rosewood finally has the white-tablecloth restaurant he wanted all along at Ashland's Tease.
"This is like the other half of my dream," he says.
Purchasing the former T's at East Main and Second streets also preserved the decor that interior designer Julie O'Dwyer dreamed up. After closing the doors last winter, T's co-owner Tika Squires courted O'Dwyer to take over.
"She established a great vibe and a great feel and a great reputation," O'Dwyer said.
Playing on the eatery's previous name, Rosewood and O'Dwyer are plying the palate with petite portions and coy cocktails. They also recast Tease as a nightlife venue in hopes of attracting more locals. Tonight's "grand re-opening" will host the Flat Five String Band and woo diners with a few complimentary tidbits to accompany its regular menu served from 5 to 9 p.m.
Considering numerous parties last week received an e-mail invitation to Tease, I expected to wait for a table when my friend and I arrived — on First Friday, no less — without a reservation. But the restaurant was nearly empty, and the staff graciously seated us.
By 9 p.m., the place had filled up in anticipation of One Horse Shy. We moved to plush chairs farther away from the speakers and spent an hour listening to the Ashland band's original country tunes and riffs on a few classics. My friend commented that Tease did an exceptional job of making customers feel at home even if they ordered just a drink or an appetizer while taking in the show. Guests who arrived after the dinner hour were charged a $3 cover.
The butternut squash spring rolls ($6), we agreed, warrant a trip back any time. Stuffed with squash, spinach and hazelnuts, these were an obvious choice as appetizer, along with the Pangea cocktail, combining vodka, blood orange juice, lemon juice and rosewater. Presented with a pink rose petal floating on top, the drink smelled divine but could have been a little sweeter for my tastes.
We also selected the goat cheese croquettes with sugar-frosted grapes ($7) from the menu's "Teases" heading. Liberally flavored with herbs, the croquettes' warm, rich filling defied their plain exteriors.
Guessing that paying double the price of other menu items might portend double the portions, we ordered phyllo-wrapped halibut ($15) and duck risotto ($13). In contrast to the two previous "very small plates" — or so my friend said — these were more appropriate as entrees.
While the halibut was perfectly cooked, and the duck was seared medium-rare, the breast's end slices were a little tough. That didn't keep me from enjoying the risotto, though, which had absorbed the duck's juices.
With plenty of room for dessert, we ordered both featured that evening — chocolate mousse and lavender bread pudding ($5 each). Garnished with sugar spires and pinwheels of Asian pear, the plating of each was impeccable. More of a ganache than airy mousse, the Cointreau-flavored chocolate creation outshone the pudding, which could have comprised a little more custard.
Based on Rosewood's explanation of Tease's cuisine, our dishes must have been conceived by chef Trey Hansen, who's cooked Pacific Northwest and French fare at 38 Central, The Jacksonville Inn and Cafe Dejeuner.
Rosewood's flair for fusing African, Asian and other ethnic foods will be more apparent in coming weeks, he said, with the addition of boar and alligator to the menu. Portions likely will be resized and prices restructured, he added.
Dishes also will reflect the seasonal availability of ingredients and will even take the form of farmers market specials, available every Tuesday, O'Dwyer said. Monthly fixed-course dinners pairing wine and spirits soon will follow.
Also on Tease's ambitious schedule is live entertainment most nights of the week. The lineup is posted at on its Web site, teaserestaurant.net.
— Sarah Lemon