Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Tea for Two

“Under certain circumstances, there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
- Henry James

This month’s Dine & Dish, hosted by The Delicious Life, is themed “Amazing Graze.” “Almost every cuisine has a version of small plates. Tapas. Dim sum. Meze. Izakaya,” articulates Sarah in her description of the theme. Nibbling suddenly sounds so exotic! But my Valentine’s Day excursion to Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon revealed that the art of nibbling was ultimately perfected at (drumroll…) English tea time.

Lady Mendl’s, at 56 Irving Place (Irving and 17th), is behind an antique oak door in a restored 1834 townhouse. There’s no sign—just a small placard with a tea cup; I passed it three times even though I was looking (and had also actually been there before). Inside is a parlor filled with roses, candles, and etiquette books, which you can peruse while you wait for the prescribed hour, usually 2- or 5-o’clock (we attended the later service); tables are set by reservation only. Jeremy arrived in full formal regalia and bearing a bouquet of vanilla-scented organic white roses; he found me in a satin dress browsing through a pamphlet about posture. We were seated upstairs in a room with a big Victorian fireplace, and we had it almost entirely to ourselves (there was one other couple in the room, and no other tables were set up), which was a romantic surprise. Mozart was playing when we first arrived, but it quickly gave way to crooning jazz and, later, a piano rendition of the “Peanuts” theme song.

(Note: this is my third or fourth visit to Landy Mendl’s, and at no point have I ever seen any other men there, besides Jeremy. I don’t understand why! The food and tea are marvelous, and compared to places like Alice’s Tea Cup, it isn’t that girly an experience. I was sure that for Valentine’s Day the place would be jammed!)

We were promptly presented with a mixed green salad gently moistened with a mild, peppery vinaigrette. The halved cherry tomatoes were some of the most flavorful ones I’ve ever had (particularly notable, as tomatoes are not in season). Then we each selected a tea from an elegant list of English teas, black teas, herbal teas, green teas, and oolongs. I chose Imperial Red, which is a chocolaty, earthy, black tea blend; Jeremy had an oolong (called Dragon-something). They both arrived in mismatched China pots and were frequently refreshed throughout; there was a dish of crystallized ginger on the table, and each saucer contained an ornamental sugar cube. We also each had a glass of champagne.
The etiquette book I consulted while in the parlor explained that High Tea (or “meal tea,” as opposed to afternoon tea, which is just tea and a snack) is supposed to have five nibble-sized courses: salad, sandwiches, scones, dessert, and biscuits/cookies. Lady Mendl’s, of course, followed the rules of etiquette (dare I say it?) to a

The sandwiches were amazing. There were four kinds:

1. Turkey on white bread – the meat was minced and mixed with a tad of light mayonnaise and chopped cranberries. Delicious!

2. Smoked salmon, open-face, with dill cream cheese on pumpernickel (Jeremy’s favorite);

3. Sun-dried tomato and goat cheese on wheat (totally good but the heaviest and least interesting of the four);

4. My favorite, white-bread cucumber sandwiches with minted crème fraiche. OH they were good.

These were all, of course, tiny, crustless, and very fresh.

We were served three kinds of scones: sweet, buttery original ones; cranberry raisin; and cinnamon oat raisin. They arrived with little pots of raspberry jam and clotted cream. The scones weren’t outstanding, but they were definitely adequate and it’s always fun to smear clotted cream on things.

We had eaten too much food already by the time the fourth course arrived—mercifully, dessert. Due to its divine excellence, however, we both managed to clean our plates! Dessert was a crepe cake—a stack of some twenty crepes with vanilla cream in between. READ: I have to learn to make this. Does anyone know if there is a trick to the recipe? …I don’t even have a crepe maker…It was delectable. Fresh mixed berries on the side made it even more so. Divine.

And then, just when we had lost count of courses and were expecting the bill to arrive, we were transported to the Shire from Lord of the Rings and were brought Second Dessert! “Do I look like a hobbit to you?!” I screamed at the waiter. No, no, I didn’t. But how was I supposed to eat more? I had grazed myself silly.

I did eat the chocolate-covered strawberry and do not regret it. But the cookies I had to sneak into my purse for later. (That, I did do).

my dress fit a lot more snugly by the time the bill arrived. We paid what I felt was a fair sum for five extravagant courses – thirty-five dollars each (plus a little extra for the champagne). Then we stood, brushed the scone-crumbs off our laps, made sure the cookies were properly concealed in my purse, and lumbered home for an evening of romantic cuddling, movie watching (we saw “The Chorus”), and digestion.

Happy Valentine's Day!


Caitlyn Taylor said...

Hey! Remember me, from Sex, Gender and Language class last spring? I came across your blog and find it quite interesting. You should do a post about vegetarian cuisine (not that your posts aren't inclusive to vegetarians, but it is amazing how "narrowing" the scope of foods that you eat can encourage a new breadth!). If you are in the mood for an excursion sometime, contact me... As long as there is something vege, I am usually up for it. Also, I have crepe mix and know how to make them (you don't need a crepe maker... just a good-sized low pan), so if you want, we could work on your crepe-making skills. I have an excellent recipe for a dark chocolate ganache crepe cake. My kitchen always welcomes new guests, despite its small size!

Kate said...

Hey, Caitlyn!

You're completely right about vegetarian cuisine. It sucks because a) J deosn't like a lot of veggies and b) I'm so used to eating them the boring southern way (meaning, add butter and salt), so I never get around to posting creative veg recipes. But I'll get on that.

I'd love a veggie outing with you! I'm a big fan of Caravan of Dreams on 6th, have you been there? A lot of the menu is raw, as well, but it's delicious.

I'm excited about your ganache recipe...yeah, I like making crepes in a pan, but in the cake the have to be very thin and even, so haveing a crepe iron is more prerequisite.

I'm going to go hunt you down on facebook. My kitchen is likewise small, but with our powers combined...we are excellent pot luck.

GastroChick said...

Wow, that tea looks absolutely amazing you must have been full to bursting by the end of it though. I will have to check it out next time i'm in New York.

It's interesting how you commented that there were no other men in the room except for your boyfriend, this is the case in London to. I have been to Claridges and the Berkeley and have noticed a distinct lack of males!! Maybe tea is distinctly female pastime!

Lex said...

After reading this entry, I'm definitely going to investigate the traditional team places in Chicago now. My dad makes wicked awesome crepes, so the next time we are home, he can show you some stellar tricks of the trade. He can also make beautiful carmalized birds' nests to put fruit and ice cream in.
Anyway, as usual, love this entry!

Kate said...

Sweet. Remeber my 16th Birthday tea? My mom made a bird's nest then. Ah, the good old days...Wait, but your dad making a bird's nest is way awesomer. As long as he doesn't serve us squirrel in it.

Love ya

glod! said...


Kate said...

Addendum: Coincidentally, there's another great post about teatime fresh out of the oven right now:


Mom said...

I hope this review somehow makes it to Lady Mendl' if I could only get your Dad into a Tea Room...guess he would just say there is be too many carbs and too much sugar!

Glad your Valentine's Day was so special. We had a sweet one and lobster!

sarah said...

omg...i WISH you actually HAD screamed at the waiter about looking like a hobbit. LOL! in a teahouse. how hilarious!

anyway, the little cucumber sandwiches look soooo pretty! (even though mint has always tasted weird to me in savory foods). pretty, nonetheless :)

thanks so much for playing, and hopefully you'll play again on the next one!

the delicious dishing session will be up shortly...though i am being a bit lazy these days ;)

Sarah said...

I've enjoyed reading your blog! (This is my first visit.) I recently attempted a crepe cake and do think it's easier with a crepe pan (or two), but certainly possible without. And lots of variations are possible.

If you want to take a look at my cake, it's at under "We Three Hungry Hungarians."

foodiechickie said...

You so don't need a crep maker. A small frying pan will do great. Good luck.

foodiechickie said...

Here is a link to the crepe cake recipe.

Harriet Vane said...

Interesting post, but as an English lady I must correct you on your definitions of tea!! In England, one has High Tea in the early evening; it was traditionally the evening meal of working-class men or farmers or children. Typically, a middle, upper-middle or upper class younger children would have something like a boiled egg or cold meat and bread and butter, with maybe a piece of cake to follow at this time ~ this also can be called a nursery tea (it would be eaten with Nanny in the nursery). It is absolutely not the meal of gossamer, nibble-sized courses: it always consists of simple fare to fill up the child or man before bedtime. Tolkien's hobbits were fond of High Tea....
Afternoon tea, on the other hand, does consist of lighter, more insubstantial fare such as cucumber or egg and cress sandwiches, crumpets, toast with Gentleman's Relish, cakes, pastries and scones. Historically, the working classes wouldn't have had afternoon tea, only the middle classes upwards.
The distinction in the meals is extremely clear here in England and still functions today along class lines. I'm afraid the etiquette book you were reading was wrong....It sounds like the tea was delicious though, which is the main thing!