Sunday, March 20, 2011

High Tea | The Russian Tea Room

My best friend Lisa and I made reservations for high tea at The Russian Tea Room this past Saturday to catch up over tea and bite-sized fare. Lisa has always been going on about how she wants to try all these places in the city for high tea, and this weekend seemed like the perfect opportunity as we both had an unusually open agenda. What better way to spend time on a Saturday afternoon than over pots of tea, gossiping about the latest happenings in our life?

Founded in 1927 by members of the Russian Imperial Ballet, The Russian Tea Room served as a gathering place for Russian expatriates as well as those in the entertainment industry. The iconic New York space boasts a gilded interior with bold colors of persimmon red and a greenish blue.

Inside The Russian Tea Room, looking towards the restaurant's entrance. The mâitre d' seated us in a cozy, intimate booth.

The Russian Tea Room offers two high tea tastings. The first is the high tea menu, which includes assorted sandwiches and a tastings of two American caviars over blinis (i.e., miniature Russian buckwheat pancakes), assorted scones, cupcakes, and petits fours, as well as a personal pot of brewed loose tea. The second, royal high tea menu, includes everything in the high tea menu but includes an additional tasting of two Russian caviars over blinis. I went with the high tea menu, as I'm not really passionate about caviar, with English Breakfast tea (i.e., Ceylon tea), and Lisa went with the royal high tea menu with Formosa Oolong tea (i.e., India black tea).

Our assorted sandwiches and blinis came served on a stacked plate stand, the top holding the caviar blinis, and the bottom two holding the assorted sandwiches. Our waiter said the chef recommends starting at the top and working our way to the bottom plate. The blinis I had during our high tea was the tasting of American Paddlefish caviar (on the left) and American Hackleback caviar (on the right) served with a little bit of crème fraîche or sour cream over a miniature blini. The first was really subtle and light (just how I like my caviar), and the second was a little sharper and saltier in flavor. The blinis were soft and thin, probably my favorite part of the top plate. Lisa's included an additional tasting of Siberian Osetra caviar and Russian Osetra caviar.

The second plate in the stacked stand contained three miniature sandwiches. Starting at the back left, going clockwise, were the following sandwiches: artichoke with red pepper and a sun-dried tomato goat cheese, Roquefort bleu cheese and pear with walnuts, and shrimp salad with rémoulade. I really enjoyed the artichoke, red pepper, and sun-dried tomato combination, as it had a strong sun-dried tomato flavor throughout. I also enjoyed the shrimp salad sandwich--it was simple and refreshing. The bleu cheese sandwich, on the other hand, was utterly repulsive for me primarily because I think blue cheese tastes like stinky feet. I wish I was a lover and connoisseur of cheese, but my taste buds dictate a different destiny for me. I do have to say that I was brave enough to give it a try (something I normally don't budge on when it comes to stinky cheeses, haha). Not all was lost though--Lisa wasn't disappointed as she just ate my share along with hers.

The bottom plate of the stacked stand contained four miniature sandwiches. Starting from the back left, going clockwise, were the following sandwiches: New York smoked sturgeon with dill and sour cream, curried chicken salad with raisins and pecans, smoked ham and turkey with truffle croque monsieur, and smoked Scottish salmon with chive cream cheese and cucumber. All four of these were definitely my top favorites during the main part of our high tea. The smoked sturgeon was just like a whitefish salad sandwich--very solid here. The curried chicken salad had a zing of spice from the curry flavors along with a little crunch from the pecans and sweetness from the raisins. The croque monsieur was toasted and melted perfectly. Even though the truffle flavor was very subtle and inconspicuous, I still enjoyed it very much, as it just reminded me of the authentic version I'd find in a Parisian café. Also, the smoked salmon on pumpernickel is a classic high tea nibble--I love the clean flavors of the cucumber mixed in with the punch of the chive cream cheese.

Butter cookies served in between sandwiches and dessert.

Similar to the sandwiches, the assorted desserts came on a stacked plate stand. On the top plate, there was milk chocolate and white chocolate. On the middle plate, there were two kinds of cupcakes--on the left, a vanilla cupcake with chocolate frosting, and on the right, a red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting. On the bottom plate, there were three types of scones--from the left, going clockwise, a plain scone, a red currant scone, and a pecan scone. The scones were served with butter and Bonne Mama preserves (peach, bing cherry, and another flavor that escapes me now). I was already full at this point, so I just tried the red velvet cupcake and the non-plain scones, adding butter. The cream cheese frosting was done really well, but the red velvet cake was a little on the dryer side. The scones were perfect and delightful, adding a lovely end to our high tea at The Russian Tea Room. They were still warm when they served them to us on the stacked stand, so imagine a tad bit spread of butter melting onto its warm center. Delicious!

Lisa and me having high tea at The Russian Tea Room!

Findings: I would say making a trip to The Russian Tea Room is a must on every New Yorker's local bucket list. It is a delicate gem on the island of Manhattan and having its beautiful space, attentive service, and delightful tea fare grace your life will definitely put a smile on your face. Lisa and I had a great time catching up here--in fact, we were so relaxed that we spent a total of three hours from the start of high tea at 2 PM talking, sipping, and munching)! Tea time in the city on the weekends might turn into a monthly ritual for us now, since our inaugural visit to The Russian Tea Room was so fun and enjoyable. The food was pretty good, but what I really believe is that you come here for the experience. I would say the price is a little steep for it to become a regular place to dine at, but making a visit here once or twice on one's New York City dining repertoire will surely bring back great memories when you think back to it down the road. I know I'll remember my first time having high tea here!

Price point: $50 for the high tea menu, $85 for the royal high tea menu.

--March 19, 2011

The Russian Tea Room
150 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019

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