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Review: Scarlet Tea Room

IMG_0670Yet another street in Pasadena, California…yet another tearoom. I swear Pasadena has more tearooms per capita than any other city in the country. Guess that just means I’ll have to make plenty of trips out there, and if I run out of tearooms I can always come back to this gem.

 

First Impressions and Service

The Scarlet Tea Room gains immediate points for its red glass door. I mean, how much fun is that? It bathes the entryway in a red glow that quickly dissipates in the airy interior. The place was pretty packed, and the hostess was obviously stressed out because every party that came in asked to change their table. Apparently no one wanted to sit in the entrance room (where we ended up being seated), but as many of the tables were blocked for reservations changes weren’t able to be accommodated without a lot of effort. People were not happy but that definitely wasn’t the hostess’s fault.

The problem was caused by their reservation timing being off. I don’t know if it was because they use OpenTable to make reservations online and over the phone, but the restaurant would be nearly empty, fill up within fifteen minutes with a rush of reservations, and then empty out again all at once. For their servers’ and their hostess’s sake, they should have staggered those reservations more. Having these waves of people put the tea brewers behind, the kitchen behind, and thus the servers behind and the guests complaining.

Our server, Rebekah, was absolutely fantastic. Even though she was busy, she was sweet, friendly, funny, and very knowledgeable about tea. I really like when servers actually know about tea! Particularly when the name of the restaurant says “tearoom” I feel it is important to have at least some focus on tea and tea knowledge. Rebekah was also attentive, checking up on us frequently and making sure our drinks were never empty. When you make your reservation here, request Rebekah for the best experience.

 

Décor

IMG_0649The décor is nice and light, simultaneously airy and rich from the combination of creamy paint and dark woods. They have a bar area where they brew the tea to order and a piano near one of the windows. Think a fancy like a hotel but traditional like a tearoom. The space is subtly divided into three rooms: the entrance room in front of the bar, to the right a columned area, and to the left a mirrored and more ornate dining room. IMG_0650Everyone wanted to sit in that mirrored room, but again reservations were given priority.

 

Tea Selection

They have an entire page of tea offerings including black, green, oolong, white, and tisanes. All their teas are brewed loose leaf and they add hot water half way through your tea service to keep it warm and not bitter. The tea descriptions list both where the tea is from and some tasting notes to help you make a selection. But this tea page is only for their hot teas; they do have one or two iced teas prebrewed for the day if you would prefer cold tea to match the weather. Mom chose the iced Peach and Mango green tea and thought it was very refreshing.

Brewed loose leaf with a strainer

Brewed loose leaf with a strainer

I went with the Mademoiselle Grey—a twist on Earl Grey that added roses to the traditional bergamot and lavender—and absolutely loved it.  Another point in Rebekah’s favor was that she knew to recommend which teas with milk and which ones without it.  You can purchase any of the teas for $4 an ounce to take home.

 

Food

Three Course Afternoon Tea for Two

Three Course Afternoon Tea for Two

Apart from a lunch menu serving salads and sandwiches, Scarlet Tea Room has two levels of traditional tea service. The five-course menu consists of a sorbet, scones with cream and jam, finger sandwiches, berry Romanoff, and little desserts. We had the three-course menu of just sandwiches, scones, and the berries. I bought a little foursome of petit fours to try at home as well.

Sandwiches

The sandwiches are done in a you-pick-four manner and are each pretty sizeable, so if you come with a friend it is doable to choose eight different sandwiches and cut them in half. So many of them sound tasty that you’ll want to try them all! UntitledEach sandwich’s garnish is like a little homage to the overall ingredients of flavor of the sandwich, making for a delightful presentation.

Cucumber Watercress

Cucumber Watercress

The refreshing cucumber watercress has thick slices of cucumber! Since the cucumber is fresh and not pickled, thicker slices are the main way to achieve any cucumber taste when it is placed against cream cheese. But this sandwich not only had the perfect size cucumber slices and a light amount of cream cheese, it also had actual leaves of watercress. This meant you could taste the watercress, something that eludes most cucumber watercress sandwiches despite their supposed ingredients.

Walnut Pesto Chicken

Walnut Pesto Chicken

The walnut pesto chicken had a strong chicken flavor even though the chicken was minced. Maybe that flavor was able to come out because the chicken wasn’t pureed into a paste? The pesto was very heavy on the basil, and chunks of walnut gave a crunchy and chewy texture contrast.

Brie, Walnut, and Watercress

Brie, Walnut, and Watercress

Unfortunately, the promising Brie, walnut, and watercress sandwich needed a stronger flavor to stand out among the overall creamy taste. This sandwich is the perfect example of when a texture becomes a flavor note. Perhaps if they had added a fruit, like sliced grapes, this sandwich would’ve been bolder and worked better.

Mozzarella and Sundried Tomato Cream Cheese

Mozzarella and Sundried Tomato Cream Cheese

The mozzarella and sundried tomato cream cheese spread was my favorite. There were thick slices of mozzarella to sweetly contrast the tangy sundried tomato, but it all melded together in this savory splendor. Add the basil leaf garnish and I could’ve had a few more of these finger sandwiches easily.

Proscuitto and Roasted Red Pepper

Proscuitto and Roasted Red Pepper

Mom’s favorite was the prosciutto and roasted red pepper. She loved the red pepper slices and how they were not overshadowed by the salty prosciutto. Most of the sandwich’s flavor essence came from the pepper, which meant that the kitchen had struck the perfect balance between savory and sweet.

Salmon and Chive

Salmon and Chive

The salmon and chive also had dill, and we all know that I consider dill one of the finest herbs to grace a sandwich, especially at teatime. And there was a substantial quantity of herbs on this sandwich as well as two thick slices of salmon! They did not skimp on ingredients here.

Pear and Gorgonzola

Pear and Gorgonzola

Finally, the pear and Gorgonzola proved what a pear and Gorgonzola sandwich should taste like. We were a little worried after the disappointment at the Langham, but this one was absolutely fantastic. In fact, when choosing our favorite sandwiches, Mom and I had to place the caveat of “aside from the pear and Gorgonzola” to make it fair. Trust me, this one should be your first pick. The great thing about this sandwich was that the flavors complemented each other 100%. You can taste each ingredient, both the flavor and the texture: creamy cheese, crisp pear, crunchy walnut, chewy cranberry, and soft bread.

Scones

Scarlet Cream, Lemon Curd, Red Fruit Jam

Scarlet Cream, Lemon Curd, Red Fruit Jam

Let’s start with the topping offerings. The signature “Scarlet Cream” was by far the most disappointing thing about this tea experience. It is a vanilla sweetened whipped cream that tastes like a buttercream frosting. The texture is nice and stiff, but the cream is just too sweet to top a scone with. The lemon curd was too tart, but the strawberry jam had a nicely robust strawberry flavor. Even so, these scones shone best when eaten plain.

Candied Ginger and Cranberry

Candied Ginger and Cranberry

The candied ginger scone had a strong ginger flavor that clashed with any topping, though it was wonderful on its own. A little spicy and a little sweet, the scone was unique and delicious. The cranberry was also yummy, and also best plain. Both scones melted in your mouth, but had the slightest crunch from a raw sugar topping. These were excellent scones.

Desserts

Berry Romanoff

Berry Romanoff

The three-course meal comes with fresh berries topped with the Scarlet Cream. Although too sweet to spread on a scone, the cream was quite lovely with the fresh fruit. It was a lighter dessert offering, but as the sandwiches were heartier than those at most other places, you really don’t have room for heavy desserts as well.

I did try their petit fours, but I thought they were overpriced for tiny squares of marzipan and chocolate marzipan. They can be skipped without missing out.

 

Extras

We used a coupon from TravelZoo for this tea. It was a two-for-one deal on their three-course tea menu that could only be used on a Tuesday. They do not sell any merchandise here, though they sell their loose leaf teas.

 

So far, this may have been my favorite tea place. The food was fantastic, our server was fantastic, and the atmosphere was pretty fantastic as well. There was very little we did not feel was worthy of a rave review.  If you only have one place to go in Pasadena, make this your first choice.

 

Visit The Scarlet Tea Room at 18 W. Green St., Pasadena, CA, 91105. (626) 577-0051. Cost per person : $27.00

 

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: 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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