Review: The Huntington Library Rose Garden Tea Room

Rose Garden Tea Room

Rose Garden Tea Room

The standard for tearooms in Pasadena and Los Angeles—according to the casual partaker of afternoon tea—seems to be the tearoom at The Huntington Library. When people discover that you are a tea aficionado and are trying all the tearooms you can find, they usually ask if you have gone to The Huntington yet. So at the behests of Once Upon an Afternoon Tea readers, I took the plunge and made reservations for this must-do afternoon tea.

 

Follow the Signs to Afternoon Tea

Follow the Signs to Afternoon Tea

First Impressions and Service

The first thing I noticed when we entered the one room restaurant was the noise, followed by the beehive of servers running around like rabid dogs were nipping at their heels. I understood that it was a Sunday and the place was full, but was it necessary to seem so panicked? A good server who is overwhelmed knows how to hide that from the customers. Server 101, Lesson 1: Your guests should never know that you can’t handle your section. Once seated, the server situation only felt worse.  No sooner had we sat then she ran over with a breadbasket of mini scones, rattled off the flavors, and pushed us into ordering the house tea. The entire hour we were there (and note most afternoon teas we do take between 90 minutes and two hours from start to finish) we felt like they wanted nothing more than for us to scarf down food, pay our check, and leave so they could flip our table to another party. It became an act of defiance to sit there and sip tea slowly. I personally would rather have an almost nonexistent server than one who overzealously tries to push me out the door.

 

Décor

IMG_4347The walls, curtains, and upholstery were all in shades of “old crazy cat lady” yellow, tan, and peach. The curtains were an ancient floral pattern in desperate need of updating. But the worst part of the décor came not from the paint or fabrics, but from the room’s arrangement. You are literally less than six inches from the nearest table with only the narrowest of walkways behind your chair for the mad servers to run behind. China is no china at all, but plain white porcelain? Whatever the material that typical restaurant plates and coffee cups are made out of? Nothing felt comfortable or inviting in the slightest. It was less a tearoom than a room that serves little sandwiches and desserts and whose only beverage is tea.

 

Tea Selection

What selection? If The Huntington had a tea selection, we had no knowledge of it. There is no tea menu (there is no menu at all) and our aforementioned pushy server immediately did a hard sell for the house tea. She never said anything about other options of tea, so we kind of assumed that there wasn’t another option until we heard her tell the table next to us—or rather on top of us—that if they weren’t going to succumb to her forcing the house tea on them, they could choose Earl Grey. By then we were almost done and the blackberry black tea was fine enough to drink. I wonder if she makes commission on how many tables order the blackberry tea?

Hope you like blackberry

Hope you like blackberry

On top of that, warming up the tea consisted of adding hot water to the tea already brewing and becoming bitter in our table’s teapot. I don’t understand how people really believe that adding hot water makes a difference in the bitterness of over-steeped tea, because it doesn’t. The tea is just as over-brewed with extra water as it was before the second pouring.

 

Food

The Huntington Tearoom does not do a traditional afternoon tea service, no matter what they claim on their website. Instead of the typical three-tiered stands with finger sandwiches, scones, and little desserts, they have a buffet in the middle of the room. IMG_0621While great for those with appetites that surpass a usual afternoon tea quantity, a buffet only serves to enhance the feeling of being rushed through like cattle for the rest of us. Note, however, that at the end of your meal the server will bring by a plastic bag for you to bag your scones to-go in, so eat your fill of the sandwiches and desserts and save the scones for later to get the most out of your money.

Take them away...literally

Take them away…literally

Sandwiches

The advantage of a buffet is that there are more options than most tearooms offer for finger sandwiches and if you like particular ones you can have more of those and not waste your stomach on those you dislike (no mayo for me! Extra smoked salmon!).

Grab only what you want to try :)

Grab only what you want to try :)

A debate between Mom and me arose with the Tarragon Chicken Sandwich (chicken, tarragon, mayo, walnuts, and celery on wheat bread): She tasted tarragon; I did not. I felt that there was too much of a mayonnaise and relish taste to the sandwich, but Mom still insists that there was tarragon mixed in with the nicely not pureed chicken salad. We did both agree that the bread tasted very fresh.

The Carrot Ginger Sandwich (chopped carrot and candied ginger with cream cheese on fig walnut bread) was definitely a new favorite that I want to recreate. It was sweet, more like a finger sandwich best served for breakfast than lunch, and the fig-walnut bread was a sophisticated take on cinnamon raisin bread. I had two of these!

Salmon Canape, Carrot-Ginger, Cucumber-Mint, Chicken-Tarragon

Salmon Canape, Carrot-Ginger, Cucumber-Mint, Chicken-Tarragon

Mom’s assessment of the egg salad on white bread was that the bread was once again soft and fresh, but that the salad needed more flavor. There was no seasoning or herb mixed in, so the egg sandwich literally taste like simply egg and bread.

The Cucumber Mint (freshly sliced cucumber and mint with cream cheese) fell victim to the not enough cucumber trap of cucumber sandwiches. Although the mint was strong and refreshing, without any cucumber for substance the sandwich was just too airy.

There is also an assortment of salads.

There is also an assortment of salads.

The smoked salmon (smoked salmon with cream cheese Dijon spread, dill dollop, and cucumber garnish on marble bread) was surprisingly good. I think dill is the best herb to pair with smoked salmon, but not enough places combine the two, choosing capers instead for that briny taste. But dill brings a touch of the pickled sourness of capers with a more refreshing note. This open-faced canapé was tangy, creamy, and worthy of seconds and maybe thirds.

Scones

Every table gets a breadbasket of mini scones in different flavors. The flavors are luck-of-the-oven, completely dependent on what the kitchen is churning out in mass quantities when you sit down. The table next to us received maple bacon scones and chocolate chip scones. We were given almond, cranberry, and apricot scones.

You can take them home.

You can take them home.

In hindsight, I don’t think it really matters what flavor you are brought, since they all sort of tasted the same. I liked how they were brought warm to the table, but since you should take them home anyway it doesn’t really make a difference. All the flavors were rather bland with only little pieces of their mix-ins for not much added flavor. When topped with jam and cream, they all taste the exact same. The texture was nice, particularly noteworthy since they were mini scones, which tend to end up over baked and dry.

IMG_4346The whipped cream is very sweet and fluffy (which I don’t like, see my clotted cream rants). I can’t comment on the marmalade because as I discovered at one of my first tea places, I really don’t like marmalade. These two toppings set me up for disappointment with the watery jam, but I actually was surprised at how tasty the raspberry jam was. It had a great flavor, not too sweet and not too tart, and its only problem was consistency.

Desserts

Dessert Buffet

Dessert Buffet

The brownie and the chocolate mousse cup were laughably polar opposites. While the brownie was rich, thick, and basically a block of fudge (nothing wrong with that 😉 ), the mousse cup was light and airy and shatters in one bit. Talk about dessert antithesis.

The fruit tart’s custard was rather bland, no strong vanilla flavor like so many excellent fruit tarts have, so it tasted more like a raspberry topped cookie than a fruit tart. I will say, though, the fruit they used was wonderfully ripe and fresh. You can taste that it was made that day and not defrosted from mass baking earlier in the week. The nature of a buffet probably makes a difference with that aspect as the food turnover is high.

IMG_0631The pecan bar was a disappointment, especially as I just recently learned at my job that I like pecan bars. Maybe that liking only applies to the pecan bars at work? This one was heavy on the pecan, but there was something about the filling that just didn’t work. I don’t know ingredients of pecan bars yet so I couldn’t put my finger on where it went wrong. And my crust fell off which is always sad.

Grab extras of the tea cookies. They are nice and crumbly like Russian Tea Cakes without all the powdered sugar and if you sneak a couple extras into your scone basket before the plastic bag comes, they’ll blend right in and you’ll have dessert to go.

Tea Cookies

Tea Cookies

On the dessert side was also an assortment of fresh fruit and cheeses. I like the addition of fruit because it allows me to trick myself into thinking that afternoon tea is healthy.

 

Extras

Stroll around the gardens before and then again after your afternoon tea. The Huntington has the most beautiful themed gardens and right now the roses are in bloom. And since you have to pay for admission to the Library in addition to your tea, you may as well get your money’s worth.

Untitled

I can officially say that all those who rave about The Huntington Tea Room need to try some of the other places I’ve reviewed. A few food items stood out as good offerings, but between the buffet style service and the being rushed and pushed throughout the whole meal, this place no where near lives up to its reputation as a must-do tearoom. With so many better tearooms minutes away in Old Town Pasadena, unless you are coming for the gardens, The Huntington can be skipped at no loss.

 

Visit The Huntington’s Rose Garden Tea Room at 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA, 91108. (626) 683-8131. Closed Tuesday. Cost per person $29.50 plus cost of admission to The Huntington Library.

 

Review: The Langham Huntington, Pasadena

IMG_0212Today we take our first step away from the quaint and “Mom and Pop” tearooms and branch out to a whole new field of tea service: the high end hotel afternoon tea. Some of the most famous afternoon teas are served at hotels, like The Ritz-Carlton and The Waldorf in New York and The Claridge in London. These teas focus less on tradition and originality and more on…swanky. So attending tea at The Langham was guaranteed to be a different experience than we’ve had thus far, but in no way less enjoyable.

 

First Impressions and Service

We drove up to the valet and were immediately surprised and impressed by the employees. Although the hotel is quite upscale, the employees were not snooty but rather the epitome of friendliness. That may not sound all that shocking, until you learn that we were driving a Honda Odyssey that has seen nearly a decade go by. But always remember, you can never judge a family by the outside of their car.

An upcoming tea event

An upcoming tea event

Once inside we made our way to the tearoom and lounge, as always early for our reservation. So far every place we’ve been to has been able to accommodate us showing up half an hour early to our seating, and here was no exception. But we did have to wait until the lounge opened at 1:00 so until then we relaxed in chairs in the garden and courtyard. I could have lived in this garden. I wish I did. Can I?

Langham Gardens

The waitress inside the lounge was nothing special but nothing terrible. Her tea recommendations were obviously those of someone uneducated in tea, but hotel teas do not focus on knowledge of tea, they are all about the upscale experience. We never had to wait long and our cups were never empty, though we felt a little self-conscious pouring our own tea when occasionally she would do it for us. Sorry, but tea waits for no waitress!

 

Décor

Table Setting

Table Setting

Think swanky: open, airy, white tablecloths, silver utensils, floor-to-ceiling bay windows, perfectly landscaped courtyards. I was half surprised that there wasn’t a harpist or pianist in the corner. Every piece of furnishing, from the lounge area to the tea settings, was crisp and clean, with an obvious show of wealth. The room was so open that you could just drink in huge gulps of air. As many tearooms are cramped and trying to fit as many customers and flowers into one space as possible, the immense free space felt like quite the luxury.

 

The Lounge

The Lounge

Tea Selection

There are a fair number of teas and very descriptive tasting notes below each tea’s name to help you make a decision. The bar area is topped with all the teas in glass jars, which is a fun way to display them all.

New Idea...A Tea Bar Perhaps?

New Idea…A Tea Bar Perhaps?

But seeing the teas won’t help you make a selection. As always we went with one pot of the Earl Grey (The Langham’s is organic). The server—whether by experience, customer opinions, or employer’s policy—recommended we taste the Langham House Blend. This blend is a combination Assam and Darjeeling Black, and it was a good standard black tea that was very smooth thanks to the Darjeeling, but for Earl Grey lovers it still didn’t steal away the tea crown. For those who usually choose an English Breakfast or other plain black tea, even I recommend trying the Langham Blend. It is a worthy black tea (though how could it not as a Darjeeling blend?). The Earl Grey was a great choice as well.

IMG_0221All their teas are brewed loose leaf, and then the pot is topped up with more water once your second cup is poured. Apparently this is supposed to make it less bitter? We didn’t trust that, so poor Jenny bless her heart had to suffer some confusion. What did we mean that we wanted our teabags taken out of our tea? Did we want her to brew a new pot? She was a little unsure of what we wanted, but she did her best to accommodate what seemed like a weird request to her. The pots were nice and thick to keep the tea warm and she did brew us another pot once one became too lukewarm.

Earl Grey and House Blend

Earl Grey and House Blend

 

Food

Afternoon tea comes as a set menu, the only difference between the two options being an upgrade to a glass of champagne and strawberries with whipped cream.IMG_0233 We were already not starving, so we went with the lower of the two services consisting of only sandwiches, scones, and dessert.

Tiffin Afternoon Tea

Tiffin Afternoon Tea

And even then there was more than enough food, particularly the desserts. Everything was a wonderful gourmet twist on traditional offerings with some unique additions that I wish we could have every time.

Sandwiches

My biggest confusion on the sandwiches came from the menu description seemingly not matching the actual sandwich. Some ingredients were missing, I swear, or else were so minimal that they added no flavor and were only listed in order to increase the ingredient list and gourmet sound. But they were almost all fantastic, and oddly all open faced so the presentation was great.

Sandwiches, beautiful presentation

Sandwiches, beautiful presentation

The cucumber watercress had the thinnest slices of cucumber that I have ever seen on a sandwich. The “mascarpone mousse” topping the delicious squaw bread tasted more like plain cream cheese than mascarpone. And there did not seem to be any watercress nor crispy shallots as promised on the menu. This one was a bit of a disappointment based solely on the menu description, but taken as is was mildly refreshing.

Caribbean Shrimp

Caribbean Shrimp

My favorite sandwich was an amazing pesto shrimp on herb garlic bread. The herb combinations of watercress pesto, cilantro, and lemon zest really brought out the intended Caribbean flavor. And the herb garlic bread? Let me tell you it was probably some of the best bread I have ever tasted. Everything tasted fresh and refreshing. Absolutely fantastic in my eyes.

 

Egg and Proscuitto

Egg and Proscuitto

Mom’s favorite, on the ironic contrary, was the egg. Unlike most egg sandwiches, this one was not egg salad with mayonnaise but rather a hardboiled egg slice over a prosciutto slice on a potato peppercorn bread. As Mom said: anything is better on potato bread. But her favorite element was the addition of a green onion and a red pepper slice. She loved the different taste and texture it brought. “It all complements each other,” she said.

Salmon Sushi?

Salmon Sushi?

Much like I refuse to eat egg, Mom refuses to eat smoked salmon, so tasting this profiterole topped with “caramelized shallot caper cream” that tasted exactly like the “mascarpone mousse” as on the cucumber sandwich (making me think that both are simply plain cream cheese), smoked salmon, and caviar fell to only me. It kind of looked like a bread-based version of sushi. The profiterole part was crazy light and the salmon wasn’t overly fishy like some are. It was a disappointment though based on what was promised on the menu.

Last and pretty much least was the Asian pear and raspberry on pistachio bread. The bread was excellent. The pear not so much. Like the cucumber, it was sliced too thin to bring flavor rather than texture and the blue cheese mousse was nothing more than a little dollop on top of…more plain cream cheese. The half a raspberry was only part of one bite so it didn’t do much.

Scones

Blueberry and Cranberry Scones

Blueberry and Cranberry Scones

The cranberry and blueberry scones didn’t taste like a cookie, and didn’t taste like a pound cake! Revelation to American scone makers everywhere! Scones are a flavor not a shape! Both had the correct texture and stayed together well when dollops of cream and lemon curd were added. But neither needed a topping to enhance the taste.

Whipped Devonshire Cream

Whipped Devonshire Cream

We just used the cream because it tasted like clotted cream should taste, only was more whipped, and the lemon curd was so good that I’d be entirely happy to have it injected into my veins via an IV drip.

Might be the best lemon curd ever.

Might be the best lemon curd ever.

It was lemony and creamy, almost like a lemon cheesecake, but better because it goes on a scone. The preserves offered were Bonne Maman, basically guaranteeing that the jam was going to be good even though it wasn’t homemade. The lemon curd on the other hand…

IMG_0238Oh and speaking of pound cake. On the same tier as the scones was a Cranberry Orange Tea Cake, which did taste like a dried out pound cake. Pass on that.

Desserts

I have never seen so many desserts on one afternoon tea plate before. If this review breaks the 2000 word mark, it will be because of the numerous dessert options. Come here on a day that you have a massive sweet tooth to get the fullest experience.

A LOT of desserts

A LOT of desserts

The ice cream cone look alike was the best dessert. It was a vanilla cone filled with passion fruit mousse. The mousse was then topped with a dried apricot compote and edible gold leaf. The cone stays nice and crispy because you scarf it down so fast, but then you wish you had slowed down and savored it because there is only one golden cone on this stuffed plate.

Apricot Passion Cone

Apricot Passion Cone

The Strawberry Pistachio Gateau has a good layering of the flavors. You get a hit of strawberry flavor followed by true pistachio (not the ice cream pistachio that tastes nothing like the nut) followed again by strawberry and so on. The strawberry is more mousse and the pistachio is more cake and the whole thing is more deliciousness.

Chocolate Raspberry Financier Cupcake

Chocolate Raspberry Financier Cupcake

The chocolate raspberry financier cupcake was the weakest link here. My best description is a glob of sticky raspberry jelly in a mini cupcake liner, topped with a decent chocolate brownie, and a swirl of raspberry buttercream. Remove the raspberry jam and rename it to a Raspberry Frosted Brownie and it may redeem itself.

The crème brulee tart is fantastic for anyone who loves the taste of burnt sugar. Anyone? Hands raised? Hmm. Because it is such a small tartlet, the primary flavors are butter, flour, and burnt sugar. There is basically no taste of the crème part of crème brulee. Sometimes mini may be cuter, but full sized tastes better.

Cute, isn't it?

Cute, isn’t it?

The checkerboard chocolate and vanilla cookie may not have had an overwhelmingly strong flavor beyond plain shortbread, but it was too cute not to gush over.

French Macarons! One of my all time favorite desserts, and this coffee macaron was almost a perfect one. In terms of taste it was excellent. The coffee wasn’t overdone and the cacao nibs brought a nice bitter note to contrast the sweetness. The execution wasn’t the best as the macaron cookie dome was hollow. Bad batches can’t always be avoided, even by the best of bakers.

Finally, the white café torte was my second favorite dessert and I would’ve eaten two of them had I not been stuffed and seconds away from a sugar overdose. Take a tiramisu and combine it with a subtle spice coffee cake and give it the perfect texture and taste balance. That was this dessert. Heavenly for any tiramisu or spice cake lover, I promise.

 

Extras

There really weren’t any extras here to speak of, no merchandise or florists shop attached, the usual loose leaf tea available for sale. All I can say is skip the jam on your scones since they don’t need them and pocket the little jars of jam and honey for later use on your peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—or your scones with cream and jam—since you definitely paid enough for them.

IMG_0227

The most important thing to be aware of when attending the Tiffin Afternoon Tea at The Langham is that this is not a tearoom, not a teahouse, not a bakery, but a fancy hotel with a dress code and a valet. If you anticipate an experience in line with its reality, then you are in for a delightful afternoon. Strolling through their little garden makes it wonderful, particularly if the weather is nice. But you will be sorely disappointed if you are looking for a place with expert tea brewers and homestyle fare. The Langham is decadent and stunning, but that is after all what you are paying for. And it is an investment well worth making.

 

Visit The Langham Huntington Hotel, Pasadena at 1401 South Oak Knoll Avenue, Pasadena, CA, 91106. (626) 588-3900. Reservations required. Upscale casual dress. Cost per person: $39.00

 

Review: Ye Olde Kings Head

Hidden behind the pub is a tearoom

Hidden behind the pub is a tearoom

I always knew about this British pub on a main street in Santa Monica. When I was moving to England, my mom and I ate there a few times to get me used to British cuisine (ironically while I was in England I rarely ate at pubs so it was all for nothing) and I always popped in to the attached shop to survey the British groceries and trinkets. But it was only recently that I discovered that this pub also had a tearoom, and was housing a secret that nearly made me weep for joy.

 

First Impressions and Service

Afternoon tea menu

Afternoon tea menu

The tearoom is hidden behind the main restaurant and the attached pub/bar. I imagine that it would be quite amusing to be enjoying afternoon tea during a rugby match or other high stakes sport, since your teatime would be punctuated with drunken brawls. As for service, maybe it was the day of the week (a weekday) or maybe they just brought British restaurant service to the States (notoriously slow), but it took a very long time to receive anything. We were sitting there for 10 minutes before our tea order was taken, then after ordering it took another 20 minutes or more for the stand to arrive. The waitress was nice and checked up on us a few times, but we definitely felt neglected. The rest of the restaurant wasn’t busy either so there really was no reason to abandon their two tea girls.

 

Décor

IMG_0493Think the quintessential British pub with white tablecloths. The walls are dark wood paneling surrounding red paint, and each little section has a portrait of a famous British king—including my favorite Henry VIII so the décor gained major points with me. Everything is wonderfully authentically British.

I am a Henry VIII fanatic!

I am a Henry VIII fanatic!

The china all matches and was imported from Stoke-on-Trent. The food came with a little Union Jack stuck in the middle. The whole place is small, slightly dark, and very old-fashioned feeling, so basically like a true British pub outfitted into a tearoom. I couldn’t tell you how cramped you would feel or how loud it would be if the place were full; we were the only customers the entire afternoon.

 

Tea Selection

The tea selection is not extensive, only five teas and really only four since the fifth is a decaf version of one of the others. They are pretty much exactly what you would get if you ordered tea in a general British restaurant and not somewhere that specialized in tea: English Breakfast, Decaf English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Darjeeling, and Green Tea.

China from Stoke-on-Trent

China from Stoke-on-Trent

Most people in England drink one of these four, so it isn’t surprising that Ye Olde Kings Head wouldn’t specialize in an extensive tea menu. But in truth, you are coming here for the British ambiance and experience and not a high quality tea. All the teas are brewed loose leaf, but the tea leaves are left in the pot so the tea gets bitter.

Pour over a strainer

Pour over a strainer

You pour it into your cup over a strainer to catch any extra leaves. Thankfully hot water was brought midway through so the tea was warmed back up and lightened to slightly remove the bitterness. We both went with Earl Grey, and can really say nothing other than it was a standard expected Earl Grey. I really don’t think any Earl Grey is going to seem special after Buckingham Palace Garden Party.

 

Food

We shared the Afternoon Tea for Two service, which is basically a high tea as it comes with meats and quiche in addition to the typical sandwiches, scones, and desserts. All of their afternoon tea options that have sandwiches also have the sausage and quiche, so unless you order simple cream tea, be ready for a heartier meal than normal.

Sandwiches

Savory Course

Savory Course

Unfortunately for me, most of the sandwiches contained mayonnaise so I ended up not being able to eat them. The British obsession with adding mayonnaise to everything was a struggle while I was living there, but it also seems to be a trauma I blocked out of my memory as I definitely was not prepared to taste mayonnaise with my salmon. And all the sandwiches were triple decker, supplying more surface area for mayonnaise.

The egg salad with watercress on white bread and the salmon and cucumber both had mayo and the mayo was a very prevalent, overwhelming taste. You can try those and let me know how you like them. Enjoy mine as well.

The turkey, cream cheese, and cranberry on white bread was the first sandwich out of most tea rooms where the meat was so pureed or so thin that you couldn’t taste it. Here you are able to identify the meat as turkey because there is a real slice!

The final sandwich was an herbed cream cheese (possibly thyme?) and walnuts on wheat bread. It was pretty bland like most of the other sandwiches and savory offerings.

The sausage was made with beef and pork and surrounded in a pastry. As it was beef, I opted against trying it, but Mom did and said it was okay but needed some mustard. And American mustard at that because I’m warning you now, British mustard has a lot of horseradish in it. Definitely will clear your sinuses before you expect it. The quiche had a strong pepper flavor in the pastry; you can actually see the pepper flakes. The eggs inside are bland and don’t hold up to the overly hearty pastry. Unfortunately, their sandwich and savory course here falls into the stereotypical bland British food.

Scones

Scones!!!!

Scones!!!!

Here is the moment you have all been waiting for with bated breath; the scones almost made me cry. These were AUTHENTIC British scones, from texture, to taste, to toppings, to size. They were tender and only slightly crumbly. The predominant flavor is the butter not the sugar as in so many American scones. The mix-ins were golden raisins and sultanas! Literally I was brought back to my happy days in England, when my mom would visit me and we would have cream tea throughout the country in every town we visited.

And then there was the clotted cream.

CLOTTED CREAM!!! This stuff is the real deal.

CLOTTED CREAM!!! This stuff is the real deal.

Real, authentic, magically creamy clotted cream from Devon, England. I can’t even begin to describe to you the taste and mouthfeel experience of a bite of scone with true clotted cream and strawberry jam. Transcendent may be adequate? Heavenly? Pure? Comforting? Every positive adjective you can possibly think of can describe some aspect of this singular bite.  Who cares about the bland sandwiches? Who cares about the overbrewed tea? Everything melts away with this scone.

Desserts

2 eclairs, a chocolate petit four, and a vanilla petit four

2 eclairs, a chocolate petit four, and a vanilla petit four

Only two desserts per person are served (which is totally okay considering for the first time ever Mom and I each ate an entire scone instead of sharing one and bringing leftovers). The chocolate éclair was surprisingly good. The choux was nice and chewy and the vanilla cream light and sweet. The chocolate glaze and powdered sugar were not overpowering either. It was a solid éclair and in the correct portion size (here’s looking at you The Andersens).

A cream ball?

A cream ball?

The petit four was a simple sponge cake with a ball of cream on top of it covered in a sugar frosting. The cake was dense and the cream was pointless and the frosting was pure sugar. The chocolate one was mildly better, but in general the petit fours should go the same way as the sandwiches.

 

Extras

Ye Olde Kings Head ShopAttached to the entire restaurant building is a British store and bakery that sells anything British. Everything is imported from the UK and almost, almost, feels like walking into a mini Tesco, but more based in knickknacks and candy bars. The bakery sells their scones—we now have 11 in our freezer—and other British baked goods such as Eccles cakes, flapjacks, and tiffins. If you’ve been to England, the bakery case is like a peek into memory lane. They also sell clotted cream, real clotted cream, so stock up while you’re here! There is also an adorable selection of British teacups and teapots that are really difficult to resist.

 

Beauties

Beauties

The tea service is by far not the best as a whole, but I will be returning here for one reason alone: the scones. Don’t waste your money on the full shebang of high tea at Ye Olde Kings Head. Come for the scones, stay for the scones, and leave with scones and clotted cream in your bag as well as your belly.

 

Visit Ye Olde Kings Head at 116 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica, CA, 90401. (310) 451-1402. Cost per person for afternoon tea: $17.98.

 

Review: Paris in a Cup

Even napkins are in theme

Even napkins are in theme

You walk into a 1940’s movie set in Paris: the outdoor café, the primped poodles, the quintessential combination of French pink and black behind the silhouette of the Eiffel Tower. Sure it may seem overly touristy and not authentic to what walking through the streets of Paris is actually like to experience, but who cares? This is Hollywood’s take on Paris, and you are ready for your close-up. Welcome to Paris in a Cup, a tearoom in Orange, California.

 

First Impressions and Service

You initially walk into a cluttered store that sells all manner of things tea and France related. Here the hostess takes you to your table to be waited upon by a French maid. No, seriously, all the employees are wearing all black outfits to showcase their frilly “French” aprons. I wonder if the kitchen staff is wearing aprons too. Our server was nice though bland, and her service skills were average. We never felt rushed, which is a good thing for an afternoon tea. But she didn’t seem very knowledgeable about the teas, more like she was just remembering the names of the menu items without any particular expertise or opinions about what she was naming off. We also had to ask multiple times for a few items, but she was always good about checking up on us. Overall the placed seem well staffed and there was nothing to complain about regarding service, but nothing to rave about either.

A nice accommodation they make is any purchases you wish to make in the store can be added to your dining check; there is no need for two separate transactions.

 

Décor

Tea Salon

Tea Salon

As I set the scene above, this tearoom’s décor was inspired by the owner’s favorite Paris-set films of the 1940’s. Everything is a variation on that French pink, black, and brown color scheme, from the walls to the menus, from the upholstery to the wrought iron canopy over a large table. It is like stepping straight into tourism Paris. It reminds me of a Parisian salon in a rather upscale hotel.

 

Table setting

Table setting

Which in this case is honestly not a bad thing. Unlike many tearooms, Paris in a Cup is not overly kitschy and floral. The space is rather open, airy, and sophisticated. There are crystal chandeliers, vases of fresh flowers, and plenty of space between tables. Another great thing about the room is the perfect noise level. It is not so loud that you can’t hear your tea companions, but is not so quiet that you feel uncomfortable having a conversation without being overheard.

 

Tea Selection

The teas are all brewed loose leaf and removed before your pot arrives at your table; in my opinion this is the best way to serve tea! No overbrewing your leaves, no bitter tea, and no tea bags J. Unfortunately like most other places there was no means of keeping the pots hot much less warm, so by the end of the meal our six-cup pot of tea was once again cold.

The selection is well sourced from a variety of tea sourcing companies like Mighty Leaf, Harney & Sons, and Les Palais de Thes. This means that not only are there the options of white, green, oolong, black, and tisane teas, but there are multiple options for individual flavors. Want an Earl Grey or an orange black tea? You can choose the distributer you prefer. This would be an interesting touch if the waitress had known more about the nuances of the teas we were asking about.

 

Vanille with milk and sugar

Vanille with milk and sugar

We ordered the traditional Earl Grey selection that we always choose as well as a vanilla tea for me. The vanilla tea (Vanille from Damman Freres) was nicely sweet even before adding milk and sugar and was well balanced between the strength of the black tea and the notes of vanilla bean. The Earl Grey (Earl Grey The des Lords from Le Palais de Thes) lacked the listed notes of safflower petals, so out of the Earl Grey options this would not be recommended.

 

Food

All famous French women eat cake

All famous French women eat cake

Le Menu is an adorable ode to French women, with combinations of items with such names as Juliette, Geneviere, Madame du Barry, and Marie Antoinette. There is a selection of sandwiches, salads, and soups that sound very appetizing, but we went with the The Pour Deux: six assorted tea sandwiches, two scones with crème and jam, and six petit fours.

The Pour Deux

The Pour Deux

And tea of course (by the way, the is French for tea). This meal was the perfect size to split between two and satisfy us with no leftovers.

Sandwiches

The presentation was fantastic. Each sandwich had its own unique design so they were easy to differentiate.

Parisian Egg Salad

Parisian Egg Salad

The Parisian egg salad was made with a red pepper along with the mayonnaise, and that pepper flavor masked the mayonnaise enough to where I could have eaten the sandwich if there had been no other food options available to me. And that is high praise. It was served on a delightfully hearty wheat bread.

 

Cucumber Flower

Cucumber Flower

The classic cucumber was an open-faced white bread flower (not Wonder Bread!) topped with a dill cream cheese and a fresh cucumber slice. I love dill; I think it is the perfect herb to accompany cucumber. The presence of dill always elevates a simple cucumber sandwich to an ultimate height of refreshment, as it did here, while still maintaining a lightness. That is the beauty of this cucumber sandwich. It is light yet substantial.

Chicken Salad Croissant

Chicken Salad Croissant

Now the chicken sandwich on a mini croissant stole the entire meal from attention. Barely any mayonnaise meant that I could enjoy it! The croissant was either a little stale or it was toasted, which gave it a nice texture that could hold up the chicken salad. The salad was a mix of grilled chicken, mayo, almonds, red and green grapes, and chopped celery. This alone would make me return!

Scones

I’ve had bad scones, but I don’t feel like I can even call what they served scones, so I guess I can’t call them bad. Both flavors of scones were less scone and more of a thick disc cookie that crumbled before you could even consider adding cream and jam. The first was an orange-cranberry-white chocolate scone.

Orange-Cranberry-White Chocolate Scone

Orange-Cranberry-White Chocolate Scone

The flavor was too sweet and too pronounced; blending three strong flavors together into one small package made for overwhelming the taste buds. Don’t even think about topping it with the stiff “crème fraiche” or marionberry jam because that would just be flavor overload. The second scone option was a raw sugar scone, which was great if you were seeking a really good sugar cookie.

Raw Sugar Scone

Raw Sugar Scone

But a sugar cookie is not a scone, and again it crumbled and couldn’t hold up the crème and jam. As for texture, there was no rise on the scones so there was little more than the crust part of the scone, barely any of the fluffy interior that you seek in a great scone. Nothing about the cream or jam stood out. In fact, this part of the meal was a huge disappointment.

Desserts

Desserts!

Desserts!

While failing at the scones, Paris in a Cup redeemed themselves a bit with the desserts. All of them were done very well and very decadently. The lemon curd tart with a crème fraiche topping was well balanced and complementary between the buttery crust, tangy curd, and sweet cream.

The raspberry topped cheesecake with a marble chocolate shard and graham cracker crust was also a great dessert to highlight how multiple flavors can complement each other. The crust was super thin, allowing the light and creamy cheesecake to take center stage. The raspberry white chocolate added some excellent body to the cheesecake layer.

Finally the chocolate mousse teacup was the ultimate in chocoholic indulgence. It was chocolatey!! Decadent and rich, the dessert was wonderfully creamy and dense. And I could totally picture my eight-year-old cousin trying to drink the mousse from the chocolate cup. Sorry, but it is definitely too thick for that!

 

Extras

Paris in a Cup Store

Paris in a Cup Store

The attached store sells their teas, some French desserts like macarons, Paris decorated knickknacks, and jewelry. It is worth a look around. We picked up a magazine, a book on tea, and a jar of pistachio curd from L’Epicerie that I am dying to try out.

Paris in a Cup Store

Paris in a Cup Store

Reservations are a good idea, but we showed up early and were seated early with plenty of open tables. The surrounding area is full of antique shops, literally the entire block, so this is the perfect tearoom to take a break from your antiquing.

 

Overall, Paris in a Cup is a nice respite from the flowered pink of other tearooms. It is full of little touches that make the place a great experience, from the décor to the menu names and the little store. But as the scones are subpar, when we next return we will be sticking to trying some of their enticing sounding items on the daily menu. Or maybe we’ll just split a full sized chicken salad sandwich!

 

Visit Paris in a Cup Tea Salon and Café at 119 S Glassell St, Orange, CA, 92866. (714) 538-9411. Cost per person: $22.00.

 

Review: High Tea Cottage

IMG_0448A back alley side street is the last place I’d think to look for a tearoom, but there one is in the heart of Thousand Oaks. Tiny, unobtrusive, and impossible to find unless you know exactly where you are going, this is not a tearoom you find by being a walk-in customer. High Tea Cottage is a tearoom find for the tea connoisseur, or at least the Yelp! tearoom stalker.

 High Tea Cottage

First Impressions and Service

High Tea Cottage is run by a British couple and is available only through reservations. I had to call multiple days before we could get in to try the place, but when we arrived there were plenty of empty tables and they sat us early. But since the husband is the only one managing the tea side of the menu and the wife takes care of all the food and additional service, they definitely could not handle a high volume of guests. I believe in addition to the wife, there is one chef in the kitchen who used to run the restaurant at The Peninsula.

The Devonshire Cream and Jam cart

The Devonshire Cream and Jam cart

I was excited that the owners were from England, as I am obsessed with England and really miss the country, so I usually relish the opportunity to talk to British people, but the husband made us both feel rather awkward and unwelcome, not the sort of person I’m going to enter into conversation with. His wife, on the other hand, was lovely and we spoke for quite some time after our meal. Whereas anything related to the tea side we felt downright nervous to speak, with the food/merchandise transactions handled by the wife we felt like we were welcomed into someone’s home. But if I had to pluck up the courage to ask half of the service team for a simple fork (literally was afraid of the husband’s facial expression should I ask for an extra utensil), there is a bit of a problem. Again, though, the wife was a pleasure to interact with and I’m looking forward to future conversations with her.

 

Décor

The Sitting Room

The Sitting Room

The two rooms we could see, the “parlors,” were decorated like someone’s home. Nothing was over the top and gaudy, just simple, elegant, and what I would expect from a parlor in a typical British household. Some pink but not so much that you feel like you are in a dollhouse, white cabinets and shelves with assorted tea kettles and knickknacks, numerous small tables spaced well enough apart. There was one really cute table with two armchairs facing a window that seemed like it would be the most pleasant seat in the restaurant, also the one that would make you feel most like you were in a sitting room.

Matching china!

Matching china!

The china all matched, which is a departure from most tearooms. The obsessive-compulsive side of me was well satisfied.

 

Tea Selection

Yet another tearoom with an overwhelming selection, and many of them sounded delicious. To help with your selection, the husband brings over a tea cart with small jars of all the teas for you to smell and choose.

Tea cart, a brilliant idea with a chilly reception

Tea cart, a brilliant idea with a chilly reception

But he warns you rather strongly that after smelling sevenish teas there is no more point to smelling them since your nose won’t differentiate anymore. I was paranoid of smelling too many teas after that. We started with the usual Earl Grey selection and smelled all four of their Earl Greys before settling on the best tea I’ve ever had: Buckingham Palace Garden Party. A lighter black tea, Buckingham Palace Garden Party is an Earl Grey with a hint of Jasmine and cornflower. We bought some to take home and have been enjoying it daily ever since.

Our second tea choice was a vanilla chai, definitely not a stellar choice. I was rudely instructed not to add milk to my tea as that would eliminate the chai flavor. Sorry, but I like a small splash of milk in my chai, though I chose to forgo that rather than get scolded.  In the end I wish I’d stuck with Mom’s Buckingham tea.

 

So this is a tea cozy

So this is a tea cozy

The tea was left in the pot to overbrew, like almost every place it seems like, but at least the tea was kept warm throughout our meal because they wrapped the teapots in flowery tea cozies. And now I know what a tea cozy is, hereby enhancing my Harry Potter references (insert images of Dobby the House Elf dancing naked wearing a tea cozy, I dare you).

 

Food

High Tea Cottage offers a wide selection of set afternoon tea service menus designed around regions that partake in the afternoon tea tradition. There is an American, French, British, Traditional, and Australian tea service each with their own assorted selections as well as smaller options and a choose-your-own course menu. We opted for the Traditional Service (finger sandwiches, two scones with spreads, desserts, tea) and split it for an extra charge. The extra charge gets you an extra set of finger sandwiches, but the additional pot of tea is separate.

Sandwiches

With no choice as to sandwich selection (though I believe if you are vegetarian they won’t serve you the ham or chicken sandwich), what you are served is what you eat, luckily it wasn’t always a bad thing.

 

Cucumber and butter, chicken salad, egg salad, ham and butter, apricot chutney

Cucumber and butter, chicken salad, egg salad, ham and butter, apricot chutney

The requisite egg (curried egg here) on half white half wheat bread had mayo. I know it’s standard for egg salad, but I still won’t touch it. Mom said it was nothing special, just tasted like curry powder.

Their chicken sandwich was a cranberry walnut chicken salad (mayonnaise and all) on wheat bread that was actually pleasant. Cranberries, nuts, and chicken is a fairly mild combination of flavors that I doubt anyone without a nut allergy can object to. A standard tea sandwich, and it was done nicely here.

Ham and butter as well as cucumber and butter (cucumber with butter as opposed to cream cheese is a very British swap) were both on white bread and nothing to write home about. Nothing to complain about, but nothing to stand out either. The cucumbers were fresh thin slices instead of the marinated cucumbers we’ve been seeing lately.

For me, the stand out finger sandwich was the apricot chutney, swiss, and butter on half white half wheat bread. It was a pleasant change of sandwich flavors and the tang of the apricot chutney blended nicely with the slight sourness of the swiss and the creaminess of the butter. I wish there had been another one of these instead of the egg, but again that’s based on my egg/mayonnaise phobias.

Scones

Raisin scones

Raisin scones

The two raisin scones tasted like a revelation compared to the cookie/pound cake scones we’ve been tasting. These scones tasted like…scones! A novel concept in the tearooms of America it would seem, but the sweetness in these reasonable sized scones came solely from the raisins and not an excess of sugar being added to the dough. Mom doesn’t like raisins, but we both agreed that these scones have been the best thusfar. Again, they were not too sweet, but even better was the texture. There was a slightly dense, tender crumb, with the scone holding together nicely for topping with cream and jam. They didn’t puff up at all, which is a characteristic I usually associate with British scones, but I’ll overlook that for the flavor.

 

Devonshire Cream, Homemade Lemon Curd, Homemade Blackberry Jam

Devonshire Cream, Homemade Lemon Curd, Homemade Blackberry Jam

Devonshire cream was automatic, but we were given the option of two from lemon curd, blackberry jam, raspberry jam, and apricot jam. We chose blackberry jam and lemon curd, and both were excellent choices. The cream was more of the correct consistency instead of the sweetened whipped cream that passes for Devon cream elsewhere. It also wasn’t overly sweet, sugar being something the British don’t seem to require in the same quantities that Americans do. The lemon curd was a subtle balance between sweet and tart, and the jam tasted like the fruit it was made from. The combination of scone, cream, and jam/curd was perfection.

Desserts

Assorted homemade and imported desserts

Assorted homemade and imported desserts

Here was where I was afraid to ask for a second fork. It should’ve made sense to bring an extra dessert utensil knowing we were sharing the service, but apparently not. The first two desserts were from Switzerland: two mini tarts. Both tart shells tasted like nothing more than saltine crackers and butter, and when I say mini I mean mini. One bite mini. One was “filled” with a thimble of caramel and topped with cream and a blueberry; the other was “filled” with strawberry jam, cream, and topped with a strawberry and chocolate leaf. They were too small to even be of notice.

Now, I am a cream-puff girl. I know it sounds odd after my ranting about the Napoleon at The Andersen’s, but a well-done bite-sized cream puff is a pleasure in my book. Mom isn’t a fan of cream puffs, so I was more than willing to take the entire brunt of the taste testing on this dessert. And it turns out, I wouldn’t have wanted to share anyway. It may have been the best cream puff I’ve ever had. Soft and chewy choux pastry with a lightly sweetened vanilla cream rolled in powdered sugar. The only improvement would’ve been if it had been chilled, but I’m weird in that I’ll eat frozen cream puffs.

The best dessert was a slice of chocolate cake that was lighter than air. Midway through the slice was a layer of the most delicate raspberry vanilla mousse.  One slice of that cake was definitely not enough, though with how excellent it was I doubt that an entire cake of it would be enough.

 

Extras

High Tea Cottage extrasAll of their teas are sold loose-leaf in the entrance to the tearoom, as well as an assortment of china teapots and teacups with beautiful floral designs. I believe all the china is imported from England, but I know for a fact that some of them are. If you ask, you can also buy scones to take home with you, and as they had just finished baking a batch of pomegranate scones, we snatched those right up out of the oven for car ride enjoyment. A few days later, I discovered that the pomegranate scones are even better than the raisin.

 

If you can tolerate the chilly reception from the husband and the hushed noise level, High Tea Cottage is a gem. It’s authentic British with a menu that will keep you coping back to try the other country-inspired tea menus. The tea selection is fantastic, but I know I will always choose the Buckingham Palace Gardens. I’ll be back here to review the other tea menus for sure, and I definitely won’t leave without a chat with the wife and a couple of scones to go.

 

Visit High Tea Cottage at 21938 Constanso Street, Woodland Hills, CA, 91362; (818) 887-2117. Cost per afternoon tea service: $22.00 for Traditional Tea Time for one with $10.00 split fee. Reservations required, closed Tuesday.

Review: The Andersen’s

The Andersens Apparently afternoon tea is not an exclusively British/Commonwealth institution (that or other places just jumped on the Anglophile bandwagon) as there is a Santa Barbara restaurant offering up its unique version of a “High Tea” service. Andersen’s is actually a Danish—meaning from Denmark not the Netherlands as my confusion was corrected by a cashier—restaurant and bakery, but every day it serves afternoon tea between 2 pm and 5 pm. A Danish take on a British establishment? A perfect excuse to take advantage of the beautiful Southern California weather and take a trip up the 126 to Santa Barbara’s State Street.

 

First Impressions and Service

The Andersens

Want to eat outside? The front is beautiful.

Reservations were easy to make, surprisingly because it was a Sunday. Then again, with a breezy beach a mile away, spending time up State Street to have tea might not be a priority. The place itself was shockingly well-staffed! We were immediately greeted by a server and told that we could pick whatever table was empty and they would prepare our high tea in the mean time. Even after we chose our table, multiple servers and bussers came up to us to make sure we had been taken care of. That is a mark of quality service…or lack of communication, but let’s agree on the positive.

Adequately borderline overly staffed servers, bussers, food runners, and cashiers at the attached bakeries make an excellent first impression.

 

Décor

The place is divided into three areas, each with a slight twist on a general Danish décor. When I think of Danish room styling, I picture Holland cherub pink and pastels with white accents, a place where a blonde haired blue-eyed milkmaid wouldn’t look out of place. The Andersen’s is fits right into that image, with the exception being the outside seating area in front of the restaurant. But to be honest, every storefront on State Street is going to blend with the beachy, laid-back, slightly upscale feel of Santa Barbara regardless of its interior. So where we sat (we chose an outside table, the better for people-watching and Vitamin D production) was a little more modern sophistication and a little less dairy farm.

Pink Room

Pink Room

The inside rooms are both two stories; one room is the pink and the other is the green.  The pink room is directly opposite the glass bakery cases that are filled with the authentic Danish pastries and desserts that make up the bakery part of “The Andersen’s Restaurant and Bakery”. Tables are rather crammed together but as the inside was pretty empty it wasn’t yet a problem. I can see it being loud and overwhelming for breakfast or weekend brunch.

 

The Bakery Room

The Bakery Room

Tea Selection

A location’s tea selection tells you a lot about the focus and the overall philosophy of a tearoom’s owner. The Andersen’s tea menu makes it blatantly obvious that this place’s emphasis is not on tea or variety; it is all about the meal experience and the business that serving afternoon tea will potentially drive in the door.  There are not 70 types of teas available for you to mull over, smell, learn about, enjoy…there are not even ten. Nine teas make up the selection, chosen for one because they loosely cover the bases of the average crowd’s palate and two because they come in cheap tea bags. When a restaurant doesn’t really care about the culture of tea and tea services, you expect there to be tea bags and minimal options. The teas are all STASH brand, and you are limited to English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Orange Black Tea, Chamomile, Chai, Peppermint, Raspberry, Lemon Ginger, and Green Tea. Nine teas that almost anyone who drinks tea could at least tolerate drinking.  We both chose the nothing special Earl Grey amidst the nothing special options.

The Andersens tea selectionThe tea bags were left in the pots of hot water, risking an overbrewed cup, and there was no method of heating the tea during the course of the service. No tea warmer, tea cozy, or hot water was provided. By the time we had finished our finger sandwich portion, the tea was overbrewed and lukewarm. By the end of the scone, it was cold. By dessert, it was abandoned.

 

Food

The tea service is a set menu, a kind of one-size-fits-all approach that a lot of tearooms take, but unlike other tearooms there are not multiple set menus to choose from. The Andersen’s High Tea is served with two small sandwiches, scone, fruit, and Danish desserts. The interesting element to the whole presentation is that instead of coming on a typical three-tiered stand, it consists of two platters placed on the same sort of tier that pizza parlors use to raise the pizzas off the table. The Andersens I have never seen that before, and it gave us quite a giggle. The high tea is per person, with no option to split so the menfolk back at home were pretty much guaranteed leftovers. There was no doubt once everything arrived at the table and was obviously oversized. Were they going for Honey I Blew Up the Tea Service?The Andersens tea service

The Andersens tea service2

Sandwiches

I hesitate to call these morsels sandwiches because we had a challenge to find bread. Served open faced, the two mounds were more lettuce than bread so it was like eating a salad flipped upside down with the crouton underneath the rest of the ingredients rather than on top.

Ham Sandwich

Ham Sandwich

Mound 1 was a ham, hardboiled egg (which I immediately removed. Even for you, my wonderful readers, I will not eat a hardboiled egg), pickled cucumber (yummy!!!), garnished with sprouts and an orange wedge. All of this was piled over a bed of lettuce covering a two inch square of wheat bread with some tasty spread over it. I love this trend of pickling or marinating cucumbers; it really adds a great additional flavor to a generally plain vegetable. These were sweet and refreshing.

Crab Salad Sandwich

Crab Salad Sandwich

Mound 2 was crab salad, those cucumbers, tomatoes, the lettuce bed, and bread square garnished with sprouts and a lemon wedge. Again, I hate mayonnaise but I did taste it enough to say that I can understand someone else enjoying it (someone else does include Mom). I thought the coleslaw-cum-mayonnaise flavor was not too overpowering in the crab salad mixture, and could be pleasantly masked/brightened by the lemon’s juice.

Scones

Cranberry Scone

Cranberry Scone

Like the rest of the menu, there were no options for scone flavors, something I actually liked about this place. The cranberry scones were very large drop scones—as opposed to rolled out and cut—that Mom said tasted like pound cake and I said tasted like a sugar cookie you would buy at a grocery store. The thing about these flavors is that neither are bad flavors, but they also aren’t adjectives one would ever use to describe British scones. I guess that’s okay because these can be labeled Danish scones? Do they make scones in Denmark? The texture was a good balance between structured and crumbly and held up well to lashings of cream and jam.

Scone Topping Options

Scone Topping Options

The once-again-stiffened-unsweetened-whipped-cream was not overly sweet, so even spreading it on the scone did not mask its flavor but instead complemented it. Texture was still not right by British standards, but the flavor was a lot more on point.

Raspberry Jam... to die for

Raspberry Jam… to die for

The highlight was the homemade raspberry jam: sweet but with a strong flavor of raspberries with a tang that elevated the jam to nectar. I could’ve eaten this with a spoon and nothing else.

Orange Marmalade

Orange Marmalade

The orange marmalade was bitter and sweet, reminiscent of those orange-flavored cough syrups I choked down as a kid. I don’t like orange marmalade apparently, so this is definitely a personal preference thing. Check it out yourself. And be sure to try a bit with scone, cream, and jam for the best morsel of scone.

Desserts

McDonalds’ Super Size has nothing on The Andersen’s dessert offerings. The Napoleon, a mile high mass of Bavarian cream between flaky pastry and covered in a thin layer of chocolate, looked like a slab fit for Henry VIII’s appetite. And they gave us one per person. One bite was all we both needed to label it as being heavy and sweet without being decadent, which is oddly enough not a compliment. If I am going to eat something that rich, I should feel that thrill of indulgence not a stomachache.

Apple Strudel

Apple Strudel

The apple strudel (also a hefty portion but a lot more airy) was basically the best apple Danish I’ve ever had. It was flaky without being overly buttery so you get this great shatter of dough but no greasy coating in your mouth. The apples were soft and seasoned with cinnamon, which complemented the thin layer of marzipan they hid. But the best bites were those that had an additional hint of almond from the toasted almond and sugar top. This is The Andersen’s signature pastry for good reason.

Marzipan Petit Four

Marzipan Petit Four

And believe it or not, the marzipan petit fours were delicious. They held their own against the apple strudel! A small square of Grand-Marnier soaked sponge cake and a hefty (shocker) layer of marzipan is broken up by the thinnest layer of that raspberry jam before being coated in white chocolate. It was dense—with that requisite decadent characteristic the Napoleon missed—so the relatively small size was perfect.

We split all the desserts and brought the rest home for Dad and anyone else who managed to snag a bite or two. Dad liked the scone, but he would’ve chosen the lemon blueberry from Tea Rose Gardens over a second scone from here.

 

Extras

Only half the selection!

Only half the selection!

The bakery case is replete with oversized Danish sweets, and everything seemed to have marzipan in some form. Marzipan tarts, cakes, cookies, rings, strudels, toppings…you name it, the Danish will put marzipan in or on it. Dare them. It’s a fun case to peruse, but unless you have a hankering for the biggest sugar rush of your life, plan on splitting the items. And not on the same day as your high tea experience or you’ll risk diabetes.

 

This is not a traditional English afternoon tea, and you should be prepared for that. The focus is definitely on showing off the Danish style of pastries rather than providing an actual meal (plan on needing a lot of protein in the rest of your meals) or even an actual tearoom experience. But the name says it all: The Andersen’s Restaurant and Bakery. High tea is just an extra option this restaurant offers up for your enjoyment on a getaway day to Santa Barbara. Was is a good experience? Yes. Are we glad we went? Yes. But will we be back? Probably not for high tea. I’ll stick with British on this one.

Visit The Andersen’s at 1106 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA, 93101; (805) 962-5085. Cost per afternoon tea service:  $26.95.

 

Review: Tea Rose Gardens

IMG_0439

IMG_0439Pasadena seems like the Southern California epicenter for afternoon teas. Whereas in some cities there is a Starbucks on every corner, Pasadena has a tearoom on every corner. Luckily I love Pasadena so having to make multiple trips there to test out all the tearoom is a burden I will gladly bear for everyone’s sake. You’re welcome. And thank you 😉

 

First Impressions and Service

I made a reservation for two (Mom is embarking on this tasty and sugary journey with me) pretty easily, and even though it was a weekend when we arrived early they took our table half an hour early. I think this was just luck since the place seemed pretty busy and people steadily came in after we sat down so reservations definitely recommended. Better safe than sorry! Nothing worse than the anticipation of tea being dashed by a lack of tables. Then again, if you’re in Pasadena, just try the tearoom down the street.

Unfortunately, Tea Rose Garden was understaffed to handle an afternoon tea lunch rush. There was maybe two servers and one busser? I’m not entirely sure but there was no hostess and one was definitely needed. People would walk in and stand around looking totally confused. A hostess should have been there to greet and seat. And maybe another busser? Tables were being left uncleaned for a bit too long. To be fair there was a baby shower in the rear of the restaurant and large parties often drain a server’s time and attention, but with those types of events being reserved well in advance, the manager should have compensated with the staff.

 

Décor

Think of a garden courtyard: vines creeping up the walls and hanging across trellises, a trickling fountain surrounded by greenery and little flowers, cloth curtains swinging from the windows overlooking the patio. The entire inside was painted and decorated to look like you were sitting in a little garden complete with window hangings camouflaging the air conditioning vents. Though sometimes the air conditioning went on and was really loud and distracting. Then it would turn off and become awkwardly quiet just after you had become used to the noise.

Tea Rose Gardens decorIt wasn’t overly girly, which many tearooms can fall victim to, but it wasn’t modern. It was a great blend of originality and traditional quaintness that you expect from a tearoom. Just without the rain.

The table was set with floral china, some had white tablecloths and glass covers, others did not. Did they only want to do some of the linen laundry?Tea Rose Gardens decor2

 

Tea Selection

The tea selection is a solid selection of black, flavored black, green, herbal, and oolong tea. They had a fair number of teas that sounded interesting, but they were out of the first four or five I asked about. We each picked a pot of tea, and since one pot will always be Earl Grey for continuity and reviewing’s sake, I chose Cinnamon Plum flavored black tea. The Earl Grey was a solid Earl Grey, just a standard bergamot flavored black tea, not overly special and not overly bland. It was far better than the Cinnamon Plum! At the kindest I can say it was nothing special; it may as well have been straight water that they served. Normally with a good tea I want to drink it for the tea itself, but I finished this pot out of needing liquid with my food rather than out of a particular enjoyment of the tea itself. Maybe one of the other teas they were out of would’ve been better. They do brew only loose-leaf teas—a must in my book for a tea house to even be allowed to call themselves a tea house—and they bag them to order then leave the tea bags in your pot making it over brew. I noticed it right away so my mom and I spooned out our tea bags so at least our tea didn’t get bitter, but it did get cold about halfway through our meal.

Tea Rose Gardens sugarBrown sugar was in cubes, for anything else they had packets. More sanitary but more clean up for them too.

 

Food

Tea Rose Gardens food stand

The Tea Rose Afternoon Tea

Tea Rose Gardens serves multiple levels of their afternoon tea service. We chose the Tea Rose Afternoon Tea, consisting of finger sandwiches, scones, spring petal salad (their signature item of a spring green and edible flower salad with too much raspberry vinaigrette) fresh fruit, dessert bites, and a rose sugar cookie (another signature item). One pot of tea is included. Since we have learned that one stand is usually enough for us to split, we just added another pot of tea and another scone to round it out. They waived the split charge since we did that, super nice and accommodating.

Spring Petal Salad

Spring Petal Salad

Sandwiches

You get your choice of three finger sandwiches from their menu, which is quite extensive. Our first choice was the quintessential cucumber and herb cream cheese on white bread, and it shone. This sandwich is a standard tea sandwich and is usually underwhelming, but Tea Rose Gardens marinates their cucumbers in this sweet and slightly sour juice that creates the perfect savory complement to the sweet herb cream cheese. As typical the cucumber slices were too thin for our liking, but because they had that additional flavor they were able to hold their own and instantly became a favorite, craving-worthy finger sandwich.

The second choice was—ironically since Mom was guaranteed to dislike this sandwich—the goat’s cheese sun-dried tomato pesto on white bread. I love goat’s cheese. I love sun-dried tomato. I love pesto. I love this sandwich. Mom did not. Mom doesn’t like goat’s cheese, yet somehow she always forgets that and is game to try it anyway. The spread was nice and creamy with a definite tang from both the cheese and the tomatoes.

Finally we went with my almost guaranteed to dislike it sandwich: cranberry chicken. Don’t get me wrong, I love cranberries and I eat chicken, but as it is a chicken salad it was almost required to have mayonnaise and I hate mayonnaise more than Mom hates goat’s cheese. This one was on toasted bread and had a good flavor from the cranberries and the almonds, but the consistency was off. The mixture had been pureed into a spread, too many passes through the meat grinder? The flavors were pleasant and taste was fine, but the texture completely detracted from the promise of a good tea sandwich.

Scones

Lemon Blueberry Scone

Lemon Blueberry Scone

Ah, the area in which we are pickiest and harshest! The lemon blueberry scone tasted like a lemon loaf cake with a crunchy exterior. The plain “traditional English” scone tasted like a buttermilk pancake. Neither scone tasted all that fresh, but the lemon blueberry was definitely staler than the plain. Both completely fell apart…no structural integrity, making it difficult to top with their slightly sweetened whipped cream that they claim is Devonshire cream. As usual, it’s not. The cream was too sweet and overwhelmed even the lemon blueberry scone’s flavor. The accompanying raspberry jam was tasty, but generic. Though it did a decent job of cutting the sweetness of the cream and contributing to the overwhelming of scone flavor.

"Devonshire Cream"

“Devonshire Cream”

Sadly, still a far cry from true traditional English scones. My dad liked the lemon blueberry one we brought home for him.

Desserts

Here Tea Rose Garden shone like the sun. There were four little “tea bites” samples of their full sized desserts and a rose sugar cookie that didn’t hold a candle to the little bites. That cookie was nothing more than a vanilla honey graham cracker masquerading as a crunchy drop cookie. Neither of us likes crunchy cookies, so sorry cookie but you are voted off the dessert tier.

Lemon Bar, Brownie, Apple Crumble Bar, Creme Brulee Cheesecake, Cookie

Lemon Bar, Brownie, Apple Crumble Bar, Creme Brulee Cheesecake, Cookie

The apple cobbler bar was wonderful: the perfect little morsel of an apple pie filling (not too sweet!) with a buttery crust bottom and a brown sugar crumble topping. You could actually taste apple and butter instead of sugar! Fantastic.

The brownie with nuts (beware allergies) was a generic brownie, nothing all that noteworthy. Funnily enough Mom said it was too fudgy and I said it was too dry and not fudgy enough. Who was right? Try it yourself to find out.

The crème brulee cheese bar had actual flecks of vanilla bean. How many places make vanilla cheesecake with vanilla bean? I’m not sure but Tea Rose Garden does and with its pastry crust and almost custardy consistency, they did it right. It wasn’t really bruleed at the top, or else it had been sitting long enough to lose its brulee, which was kind of a disappointment, but not a detraction.

The lemon bar, I will dream of for teas to come. Perfectly tart cut by the powdered sugar topping and a shortbread crust, both of us nearly died from lemony heaven. If you’ve never been to lemony heaven, you are missing out, but this bar will at least give you a taste of that wonderful citrus world. Go there. Eat a lemon bar. Thank me for all eternity for telling you about it. Save me a bite.

 

Extras

The middle room is an actual flower shop, and I think behind that they have an outside party room you can book for special events. I don’t know how much actual flower business they do since it was definitely disorganized. They sell the typical tea and knickknack merchandise, but nothing to really catch your eyes as anything other than additional decoration. Tea Rose Gardens extraOne thing I really disliked was that their checks and orders were written old-fashioned style on a piece of paper and rung up as “food…price” with no specific itemization. Picky? Perhaps, but as I waitress myself I am always looking for restaurant management and operation. They need a serious update.

Overall this is definitely a solid choice for an afternoon tea in Pasadena. The décor and the desserts set Tea Rose Gardens apart from other tearooms for their attention to detail and balance of tradition and unique touches. Definitely a tearoom we will revisit, and maybe buy some extra lemon bars for the drive home.

Visit Tea Rose Gardens at Old Town Pasadena, 28 South Raymond Ave., Pasadena, CA 91105; (626) 578-1144. Cost per afternoon tea service: $18.95

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