Archives for February 2014

Spring, Where Are You?: The Fritos and Foie Gras Edition

It will be March 1 tomorrow.

By all accounts, that is when spring should start, equinox or not.

It’s daylight savings next week, for Pete’s sake!

I’m not even asking you, I’m telling you. Spring should be here NOW.

So here are the things that I wish were on my docket for this weekend:

Drinking margaritas

Eating light, fresh sushi

Cooking with fresh asparagus and tender new potatoes

Scrambling eggs for an outdoor brunch

And here is what I actually will be doing:

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Drinking hot cocoa

Eating lamb stew

Cooking with hearty beef and pasta

Making the fattiest, most decadent vegetarian sandwich known to humankind

Because it’s going to be 10 degrees and snowing this weekend.

Winter, I have given you your due, but to me, you are now dead.

Sun, come to mama.

Everything Gravlax

There is little that is better in this world than a cup of dessert coffee (sweetened condensed milk is the key), a mid morning showing of all of the “Back to the Future” movies, back to back, and a toasted everything bagel with fresh smoked salmon.

Yes, I toast my bagel. You aren’t supposed to in NYC, but after years of pretending to fit in and eating chewy, soft bagels, I have gone back to the toaster. Crispy on the edges, warm enough to melt the cream cheese…oh yeah.

But I digress.

Everything bagels and lox is such an indulgent combination. You can’t eat it before work because your breath is going to be RANK. You can’t eat it in the car because you will be spilling poppy seeds and crumbs everywhere. And you can’t eat it quickly because a bagel and lox is a behemoth of a sandwich.

So, basically, this is a treat you have to eat on a weekend morning with nothing to do except lick the cream cheese from your lips.

Of course, the only thing better than an everything bagel with lox would be an everything bagel with everything gravlax…everything-ception?

This follows the exact same method as used here, so refer there for the picture diagram, but here are some step by step instructions for making what may be my new favorite lox ever. Though it takes some prep time, it is incredibly easy – all you need is some space in your fridge and 48 hours.

Everything Gravlax

Ingredients:

1 lb. salmon filet

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup salt

1 tbsp. each celery salt, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, garlic powder, and onion powder

3 diced scallions

1 large handful dill, washed and chopped

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1. Combine the sugar, salt, and assorted herbs and spices in a bowl.

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2.  Place the salmon on cling wrap, skin side down,  and thickly cover the 3 exposed sides in the spice mixture.

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3. Tightly wrap the salmon and weigh it down with some heavy cans (and, yes, a tiny sugar shaker if that’s all that fits in that teensy weensy space). Then, put it in the fridge and don’t check it for 48 hours.

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4. When the salmon comes out, unwrap it. There will be a good amount of liquid in the loaf pan – that’s totally normal! If your cans got messy, just wash them with soap and water. Then, push all of the excess spice mixture off of the salmon.

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5. Follow these instructions and slice the salmon thinly against the grain. Trust me: the more you do this, the better you get!

That’s what she said.

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6. Serve immediately or the next day on warm bagels with scallion cream cheese.

This is the gravlax to end all gravlax. Salty but not overly so, thanks to the balance of the sugar and the rich salmon. Dill permeates the salmon with is grassy taste and scallions add the bite. The poppy seeds and sesame seeds release their oils into the salmon, infusing it with nutty flavors. And the salmon itself – even out of season – is so mild, so soft, and so satisfying that you might find yourself eating it by the forkful. Use this stuff to scramble into eggs, to top pizza with a creme fraiche base, or to chop into quiches, but honestly…it’s not going to last that long.

I just hope it lasts until the bagel is done toasting.

Wild Edibles – Oysters are in Season!

I’m an oyster lover. Can’t get enough of those briny bivalves.

So when a girlfriend suggested that we get together at Wild Edibles Oyster Bar, I was game. Wild Edibles is a seafood purveyor that has a stand in Grand Central Station and its own small restaurant in Midtown East. It carries incredibly fresh fish and offers a sustainability guide so you can see how sustainable the fish is that you are buying or eating. I haven’t ever bought fish from them, but have often ogled the goods in Grand Central Station.

The restaurant is tiny, with a small bar and a few tables. It is definitely casual and extremely focused on seafood. If you don’t like fish or shellfish, don’t eat here.

But if you do…prepare to be amazed. You can choose from a variety of menu items, specials, or even just choose a fresh fish from the market case and design your own spices and marinades for it!

We went with a few oysters:

Kumamoto – small, sweet, creamy. A great beginner oyster. 

Skookum – like the Kumamoto, but with more body and richness. 

Salt Aire – Large, briny, pleasantly metallic. An oyster for oyster lovers. 

Beau Soleil – a classic oystery flavor. Mild, briny, with a very “oceanic” taste

Blue Point – Incredibly fresh and mineral-y. Full of body with a plump texture – one of my favorites of the night.

Canada Cup – Juicy and meaty, with a very tart, briny finish. Delicious with some cocktail sauce and a slice of buttered bread to cut through the salt of it.

 

These oysters were around $2.25 each – not cheap, but absolutely worth it. So fresh, so delicious, so unpretentious. And every day there is a happy hour, where oysters are only a dollar. Great service, great food, and at those happy hour prices, I will definitely be back for more of those marvelous mollusks.

Wild Edibles on Urbanspoon

How to Approach a Tasting Menu

Originally published at Whisked Foodie

A tasting menu is a huge commitment. A commitment of time, a commitment of money, and a commitment of appetite. It isn’t something that should be entered into lightly. You need to take the time to prepare and to anticipate. Follow these steps before you undertake a tasting menu:

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Consider the cost

It’s not just the cost of the menu. The cost of alcohol, the cost of menu supplements, and the cost of tip. This isn’t the time that you want to be mentally calculating your budget or praying that your debit card works. This is a wonderful, often once-in-a-lifetime experience and should be savored, not stressful. It is better to wait until you can really enjoy yourself then try to go before you can afford it.

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Will you like the restaurant?

If you hate the scent of curry, then that hot Indian restaurant in town isn’t going to impress you no matter how many James Beard Awards the chef has won. This is a big decision, so don’t base it on popularity or on something your friend liked. Be sure to go somewhere that you will really enjoy.

Give yourself time

The servers certainly can speed up your meal, but why would you want them to do that? Part of the glory of the meal is sitting back, relaxing with a wine pairing, and enjoying conversation with your fellow diners. This isn’t just a meal, it’s an experience.

Ask questions

Don’t know which wine to choose for dessert or what uni is? Just ask! Servers at fine dining restaurants are usually passionate about food and are more than happy to assist you in your choices. It isn’t about upselling you; it’s all about enhancing your experience.

Have an open mind

Who knows when you will get the chance to try frog legs or tomato gelee again? You don’t have to eat everything, but if you don’t at least try everything, you might as well go to McDonald’s for dinner.

Leave the diet at home

This should be totally self-explanatory.

Breakfast in the City

I have been all about breakfast lately! Bye bye steak and spaghetti, hello eggs for breakfast, waffles for lunch, an roast beef hash for dinner. Here’s where I have been getting my fix!
IMG_20140223_115007_989 Country breakfast at Citrus

Sure, this place might be most known for its trendy Latin-Asian fusion, but it does a damned good skillet fried egg with crispy bacon and a side of creamy, cheesy grits. It’s not mind blowing, but considering that it comes with a (spicy and potent!) Bloody Mary, the price is really reasonable. The bacon is crispy, the grits are buttery and rich, and the eggs are cooked but not at all rubbery. Plus, it’s super kid friendly, right down to the fountain where you can let your little ones congregate – there is always at least one parent there watching over all of the others.

That’s when you enjoy that Bloody Mary. 
IMG_20140217_084259_522 French breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien

I haven’t ever seen any Parisian eating a breakfast that even remotely resembles this, but if they knew how tasty it is, then they would be all over it. A soft boiled egg, with tender whites and a thick, hot yolk, is the ideal vehicle for slabs of tangy levain bread. Or, you can slather the bread in whipped cream cheese and top it with some soft smoked salmon. This hits all of the great breakfast points for me – eggy, light, filling, and savory. It will keep you full until lunch without feeling like you have a carb hangover.

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Chuao maple bacon chocolate bar

Okay, so it isn’t breakfast, but it has maple in it. And bacon. But not too much – just enough to add a really salty note to that creamy milk chocolate and almost insanely sweet maple.  It’s the ideal mixture of sweet, sharp, and very rich – there iss o much cream in the chocolate that it melts on your fingers. They sell tiny bars of this, which is great…because when I buy big one, I eat the whole thing.

After all, it does count as breakfast. 

 

Otto’s Tacos is A Taste of Home

I’m not going to fool around with some twee opening about how I love NYC but I miss California’s Mexican food.

Because I have already done that.

I’m just going to say it.

I found a piece of home at Otto’s Tacos.

Otto’s Tacos was opened in late 2013 by Otto himself. You couldn’t hope to meet a nicer guy. He is always at the restaurant and is the first to tell you that he isn’t a cook – he just loves and misses southern Californian taco trucks. That’s where the idea for the restaurant came from. He assembled a top-notch culinary team and brought the restaurant to life.  the joint is super casual – order and pay at the counter and then eat the food at your seat. It isn’t huge and it isn’t about atmosphere – it’s nice and clean but this is about EATING. The restaurant makes its own corn tortillas every single day, multiple times a day, and you can see the shells for your soft tacos being pounded out as you order. The prices are really reasonable, and a couple of tacos will only cost you about 7 bucks. But come on…how satisfying could that be?

How about majorly satisfying?

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Carnitas taco

Usually my favorite type of taco. This pork is expertly made – juicy and tender but not mushy. It retains a bit of a bite, which is a pleasure compared to overly greasy versions at big box chains. It’s so juicy that it almost saturates the tray – really flavor packed with porky taste. It’s accented by a slightly spicy salsa verde and a sprinkling of cilantro and chopped onions. And that tortilla…wow.  Thick and pleasantly lumpy and doughy in some places, charred and crisp in others. It’s the difference between a hearty 7 grain bread and Wonder bread…amazing how much it adds to the final product.

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Carne Asada

That same fabulous tortilla, this time with charred, chopped steak. It’s crispy but not fatty and chopped finely so there are no unwieldy or chewy pieces. Wow…it’s actually even tastier than the carnitas, which I rarely say. This is a great amount of steak, especially for the price – not gristle or overdone, gray meat here. It just needs a hit of the hot sauce on the table and it’s a complete meal.

 Well, almost…

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Masa chips

NOW the meal is complete. These masa chips make tortilla chips look like child’s play. They are pillowy inside and very crunchy outside, with an intense, corn-y taste. Otto says that these came about by accident – they had made some dough too thick for chips, so ende dup frying the thick, un-dried dough and voila! The moisture content is what results in the crisp-fluffy texture. Dip it in the accompanying spicy chipotle sauce for a creamy sauce with a gentle heat that builds – skip the guac, which needs more lime and cilantro to make it a contender.

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Finally, don’t forget the churros.

My dining partner isn’t the biggest fan of churros and was sure he wouldn’t like  these.

Guess who ended up stealing the last one?

These arrive piping hot, drenched in cinnamon and sugar. Try not to burn your moth as you dip int into the sweet dulce de leche dipping sauce.

I would come back here in a heartbeat. The price is right, the food is great, and it’s the next best thing to a flight back home.

Plus, I can take the subway home instead of sitting in traffic on the 101.

Disclaimer: This was a press meal and the restaurant paid for me. I was not required to write a review and the opinions are my own and unbiased. 

A Less Than Perfect Valentine’s Day Meal at Public

I have been incredibly lucky in my Valentine’s Day dining experiences. I have dined high on the hog. I have slummed it and enjoyed it. And I have always, somehow, gotten my money’s worth in both food and special atmosphere.

Well, don’t worry if you are feeling jealous. It seems as if the lucky streak has ended. I had a seriously disappointing Valentine’s Day meal at Public.

I have wanted to come here for a long time. It’s well-regarded as an Australian inspired Michelin starred restaurant with a chef who excels at cooking game meat. It’s also supposed to have a great bunch, and its website promises a super romantic atmosphere.

I could get down with some romance.

However…this isn’t what I would call romantic. Dark and candlelit, yes. Also  jammed in like sardines with a deafening din and such narrow aisles that I was nervous about servers bumping into my chair all night. It is very hip and totally fun – but not what I would call romantic. Sorry, not at all.

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The bread sounds great but it is standard. The Aleppo pepper is literally undetectable in the cottony roll, but the orange foccacia comes out better with a strong citrus aroma and tangy flavor.

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Pear and lavender gazpacho with smoked tofu and truffle oil

Better than I thought it would taste. The lavender is very mild just adding a hint of floral scent to uplift the smoky, meaty taste of the tofu. The truffle oil adds another savory level to the sweet, fruity aroma of the soup. However,this lacked flavoring for – there were no spicy notes, too much smoke in the tofu, and it was generally boring.

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Roasted carrots with cilantro, avocado, and Meyer lemon confit

Enjoyable. The carrots are sweet and covered in nutty sesame seeds. the avocado is buttery, a nice texture juxtaposition to the tender-crisp carrots. The lemon really perks up the dish, adding zest and brightness to such a grounded, earthy dish. The cilantro is a very good addition, keeping the dish from being to one note. This is good, but not destination worthy.

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Wagyu carpaccio with fried polenta and truffle aioli

By far the best dish of the night. Mm, mm good the beef is thinner than tissue paper, so well marbled that it is pale pink, not red at all. The fat actually melts on the tongue, with the meat following up with a gently mineral taste. The fried polenta is a hot, crunchy counterpart and the truffle aioli releases its heady scent thanks to the polenta’s heat. This is what I want all the dishes to taste like – it’s well seasoned and varied in texture. It lets the raw ingredients shine while still providing interesting cooking techniques. It is a definite high point.

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Lamb with Bone Marrow Toast, White Beans  and Romanesco Sauce

This is forgettable. The lamb is tender but not grassy or deep the way that lamb can be. The beans are buttery but where is the creamy, warming, hearty nature of them? The romanesco has some salt and garlic, but mostly parsley…who wants a mouthful of that?

I really can’t remember a whole lot about it, and no I wasn’t drunk. I just ate so much awesome food this last weekend and I can’t distinguish this dish.

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Sticky chocolate cake with milk foam

A very strong finish to an up and down night. The cake is indeed sticky and dense, taking more like milk chocolate than the bitter, dark stuff. It’s like a mixture between a brownie and sticky toffee pudding, with soft innards and delightfully crunchy, caramelized edges. Teh milk foam is a creamy, light component that is a fun play on vanilla ice cream.

If this restaurant didn’t get so much hype, I would have liked it more. If it hadn’t advertised itself as a cozy, romantic spot instead of a buzzy hip one, I would have liked it more. If i hadn’t had other wonderful Valentine’s Day meals out, I would have enjoyed it more. But it did. And I have. I can’t excuse a restaurant for a merely okay meal and okay service when they are charging  a premium, no matter how busy the night. Because I have had exemplary food and service on Valentin’s Day. And I hope that Public is capable of more – I feel that with the Wagyu and the dessert, there may be hope – it will just be awhile before I get up the nerve to go back and see.

The Game Festival at Henry’s End – Worth the Trip!

I don’t get out of this damned borough enough.

I mean I love Manhattan – I love sleeping here, working here, and especially eating here. Some of the world’s greatest eating experiences can be found just a cab ride from my front door.

And some are better found a train ride away – just over the bridge, in Brooklyn.

I’m not talking about hipster Brooklyn. You don’t have to wear a smaller jeans size than your girlfriend or carry a copy of “on the road” in your back pocket.  I’m talking about just Brooklyn being a place that happens to have outstanding food.

The food is at Henry’s End.

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Don’t expect much in the way of decor – it looks like any suburban pub. Families, friends, and longtime diners all crowded around the small tables. Christmas lights stay strung year round and you may find yourself next to a toddler having a meltdown.

It’s the kind of place where you expect a solid burger and maybe some frozen fries.

Not where you expect a totally memorable meal.

Though unpictured, the butter that comes with the varied bread basket is excellent. The bread itself is good if not great, bu that butter is sweet, soft, and dense – like whipped butter but with a smoother, heavier texture.

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Seared foie gras

Excellent. Nothing groundbreaking but foie is already perfect – let’s not reinvent the wheel, okay? This is a decent sized serving with a good sear on the outside and a warm, melting texture inside.  It is smooth and cuts with a spoon – clearly high quality. It’s served with softly poached pieces and a fruity balsamic glaze. Soft, lightly crunchy on the outside and rich beyond belief – at $17 it is the best priced foie dish in town, and thus one of my favorites.

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Pistachio crusted goat cheese and beet salad

Creamy herbed goat cheese is warm and unctuous inside its thick, fried coating of breadcrumbs and nuts. The beets aren’t overly spiced – they are earthy – really beets for beet lover. The lightly dressed spring leaves alongside lighten up the dish – it’s a welcome addition to what is sure to be a meat heavy meal.

Especially if you go, as I did, during the annual game festival, when game meats are heavily featured on the menu.

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Buffalo Pappardelle

Un-friggin-real. I have only had buffalo in burger or filet form, where it tastes lean and rather sweet. These short ribs are almost unrecognizable as buffalo – it is as fatty as pork. I mean that in a good way. Is there a bad way to mean that? The pappardelle is thick and eggy, clearly made in house. It’s draped in that soft, fatty buffalo that breaks apart on the tongue with the flavors of rosemary and red wine resonating through the palate. Some sharp pecorino cheese on top is the perfect finish.

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Antelope with sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts

This is so good I could cry just writing about it. I was nervous to order antelope because I don’t like really earthy flavors – they go muddy and dirty to me. This, however, is by far my favorite game meat. Ever. It comes seared medium rare and cuts like filet mignon. It tastes like filet too – soft, juicy, and with an incredibly mild taste – nothing too iron-y or woodsy here. It’s really juicy but not fatty. It’s lean but still soft, not cottony. It’s rubbed with cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon, bringing out the sweeter side of the meat. It’s served on a bed of mashed sweet potatoes and salty roasted Brussels sprouts – a great counterpart to the dish’s sweet elements. I ate every ounce of this and could have eaten more – not because I was still hungry; the portion is very ample – but because it was so delicious. Please get this.

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Mud Pie

Chocolate ice cream with a very nice Kahlua kick to it – almost enough to get you tipsy! Oreo crust, viscous hot fudge..yeah this is the ideal end to a hell of a meal.

The best part is how this meal taste, but the second best part is how reasonable it is  because it REALLY is. Just so delicious, so interesting, so well portioned. It’s worth a trip across the bridge.

Contrary to what they say on Survivor, it’s nice to get off the island.

Almond Croissants at Lady M and Dining Fine at The Andaz

What have I been eating lately? This stuff:

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Almond croissant at Lady M

This bakery, famous for its 20 layer crepe cake, also makes one hell of an almond croissant. The edges are crispy and wonderfully crunchy while the middle and inner pale layers are moist. The top is glazed with sugar and sprinkled with slivered almonds. The filling is the best part. A thick layer of almond paste is hearty, nutty, and sugary – it’s like the best marzipan on the planet. The croissant is large but still carefully constructed – it’s the perfect breakfast or coffee time snack.

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Russ and Daughters Gravlax at The Shop

Perhaps the greatest gravlax on the planet, now served at a delightful restaurant in The Andaz 5th Avenue. The restaurant is stylish and sleek, but the menu is nothing like the hotel restaurants of yore. The ingredients are all sourced from individual butchers, bakers, and fishmongers from all over the 5 boroughs. It’s more like a marketplace where you can get food made than a standard restaurant. We had Schaller and Weber mini bratwursts that were juicy, savory, and surprisingly sweet. We had Feather Ridge eggs whose yolks were so thick and yellow that they were nearly orange. And we had thickly cut gravlax that is permeated with fragrant dill and pepper, layered on as lab of cream cheese and a toasted bialy studded with sweet caramelized onions. This place is a great treat brunch place.

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Burrata at The Smith

Yes, I come here all the time. And, yes, I always rave about it. But that’s because it is always…always…ALWAYS great. The service is wonderful, the prices are fair, and the food is delish. The burrata is better than many I have had in sub-par Italian restaurants. It’s a creamy, ample portion; served with salty and savory roasted red pepper relish, bitter arugula, and a couple of thick, crunchy croutons. A tasty appetizer or its own small meal with a slice or two of the accompanying French bread.

Afternoon Tea at The Plaza

This post was supposed to go live on Thursday – I am so sorry for the delay! Between the snow and the…well, the life that had to go on despite the snow…I totally blanked on publishing it! Direct from drafts, I bring you this post!

Is there anything as lovely as afternoon tea? As refined, as relaxing, as indulgent?

I think not.

And there is something especially decadent and “ladies who lunch” about enjoying it at the world-famous Plaza hotel – I mean, if it’s good enough for Eloise…

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The Palm Court is where tea has always been served. Sitting beneath a glass dome on golden chivari chairs or plush banquette while tuxedoed servers fill your cups with fragrant peppermint tea and your glasses with chilled ice water…if there is something more “Downton Abbey than this in America, I demand to know where it is. Wear your pearls, ladies, and for heaven’s sake, leave those wretched cell phones on silence.

Just call me Lady Violet.

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The Fitzgerald Tea

Though you could go with The Chocolate Tea or The New Yorker Tea, The Fitzgerald is the way to go. It’s only $10 more and includes the best desserts and luxury sandwiches.

 I always regret not getting a glass of  champagne alongside.

photo 2 (10) Tea sandwiches

The finest this side of the Atlantic. House smoked salmon – only gently smokey and incredibly silky, layered on soft white bread with dilled cream cheese. The final luxury touch is a dollop of salty caviar. I love those little fish eggs. Don’t forget the curried lobster salad, with huge buttery chunks of lobster or the truffled egg salad, topped with a single, rich quail egg in a crumbly shortcrust pastry.  The savories are The Plaza’s forte – these tea sandwiches are without rival in either taste or variety in the city’s tea scene.

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Scones are a little dense and hard, but the buttery, insanely rich, almost mascarpone-like Devonshire cream, tart lemon curd, and fragrant strawberry jam do a lot of good in making you forget the scone’s leaden texture. Not perfect but damned good. 


photo 3 (6) The desserts are just…sigh. Lovely. The brownie is a little dry but the marshmallows are soft and sweet and the cream puffs are ideal – crunchy pastry surrounding vanilla bean flecked custard. The perfect way to end a 2 hour late lunch.

Tea at The Plaza isn’t cheap. But it’s a wonderful treat to share with out of town guests, a best friend, or a loved family member. I can’t tell you how transporting it is to stop in the middle of working and shopping and laundry and emails to take 2 hours to just sit…and eat beautiful things…and drink tea out of elegant china. It’s an indulgence that I don’t often take, but when I do, I am always glad that I did.

You will be, too.