Monday, May 18, 2009

Tartle Me This, Lady Mendl

Dear Mouse,

"Tartle." Ahaahahaha. See? Still funny.

I am, all in all, very pleased with our Mother's Day this year. I think we chose the perfect venue for a couple of reasons. One was its sheer, shameless, frilly, satisfying Mothers-Dayness. The other is that soon, as you know, I will be the last of us Hart ladies to leave my neighborhood, moving from a building in which all of us used to live to a building .. well, to your building. Hi, neighbor!

I've lived in my 'hood for - lets call it 8 years. Though I walked past it every morning on my way to coffee, I never noticed the quiet, unassuming bronze plaque embossed with a small teacup at the top of one of the brownstone steps. Occasionally I would read about Lady Mendl's, the tea salon in the heart of Gramercy Park on Irving Place, and think, "That sounds nice. It's too bad it's imaginary."

Then wouldn't you know it, I was hanging with the GC and he had to go to pick up a book from a friend of his "who works on Irving Place". We ascended the steps to The Brownstone, opened the door, and stepped into the 18th century. A beautiful parlor. Flowers. Antiques. Soft Music. Lace curtains . A big fireplace and giant mirror. China teapots. Soft conversations. Turns out The Brownstone is an inn, called, appropriately, "The Inn at Irving Place", enclosing the famous tea salon. I booked a Mother's Day reservation right then and there, sending several completely confusing texts to you and Mom in my excitement. I'm just grateful we all wound up there on the right day.

The day itself dawned clear, sunny, cool and perfect, inspiring flowered dress/white strappy sandals attire and bridal shower fantasies. We were seated at a table in the main room and for - 2 hours? some decadent amount of time - we sat and chatted while people called us "madam" and brought us snacks. I think The Mother was pleased.

Ok. The skinny:

As I See It, Reasons to Go to Lady Mendl's:

* the sugar cubes that each have a pink rose piped onto them
* the word "tartle" (see picture above)
* an infusion of period girliness and opportunity to indulge any Jane Austen fantasies
* scones with proper accoutrements:
(clotted cream & berry jam)

* finger sandwiches! L to R: egg salad, smoked salmon, cream cheese/cranberry bread. there was cucumber too of course

* six courses.
* No decisions. Just pick a tea and await whatever snacks they bring you
* the TEA. Seriously. Now, I'm a dedicated coffee drinker and have cared about tea exactly twice in my life: When I was a 16-year old hippie at theatre camp who stashed Red Zinger bags in her overalls, and when I lived in Ireland where coffee is expensive and tea is actually a delicious social ritual. Even when I go to reputed 'tea houses' here I've been pretty underwhelmed by the experience.. the flavors are usually frustratingly thin for my palate and there is no satisfying adrenaline payoff. :-) BUT this was something else. At Lady Mendl's, you get, of course, a menu of teas for each person to choose from. They bring a china pot of each and leave it at the table, filling your cup for you occasionally and keeping it warm (mostly.. the Mom had a complaint on that front). The Mother drank a rose petal/black tea called 'Marbury Rose' that had a deep body and sort of a winey color and character (she didn't love it, I did). Mouse, you ordered a traditional English Breakfast type called "Winey Keemun" (a name which I very maturely repeated for two hours), which wasn't winey at all but "exquisite with milk & sugar", said the menu. I, for some reason, ordered a jasmine green tea called 'Gramercy Pearl'. I don't even usually like green tea! I find it generally kind of bitter and straw-tasting. This was mellow and fragrant and gorgeous; I sat happily in a jasmine cloud until it was time for cocktails. (And you get a serving of each kind of tea leaves to take home! Thumbs up.)

Reasons Not to Go:
Ok, I have to say it:
* The Food.

This is not to say it was bad! Heck no. I enjoy tiny sandwiches, chocolate-dipped strawberries, and the odd tartle as much as the next gal. You can't really mess those up I think. But if pressed - and this is a food blog after all - I'd have to say it's really nothing special. For example, I loooove scones with clotted cream and I certainly devoured these. But, at $60 a person (the Mother's Day rate, it's usually $35 for high tea), I feel those scones should have been hot from the oven. Or at least hot. Also, as to the "extras" which are meant to justify the higher price, I can only assume we're talking about the cocktail (mm), the take-home tea (mm), and the extra sandwich "course" of heart-shaped cream cheese-on-slightly-stale -cranberry bread (hm). As in, the same cranberry bread used in the chicken salad finger sandwiches. I cry foul. The dessert - a 'crepe cake' with vanilla custard drizzled with raspberry sauce - was bland, as was the salad with strawberries and goat cheese (I make a better one, perhaps I'm biased). But then, as I said, I crave strong flavors, and that is NOT what High Tea is all about. A cucumber sandwich is meant to soothe Lady Mendl's nerves, not excite them.

All that said...I'd go again. It's all about the production values. And it really is a delicious way to spend a couple of lazy hours with a special person who needs some Merchant-Ivory-style fete-ing.

The cocktails were pretty (left to right: plain (mom), peach (Boo), and pomegranate-infused (Mouse). First thing I do in my new place? Brew up a serving of Gramercy Pearl.

The Boo


Arlene said...

.....and I have one of those cute sugar cubes that have a pink rose piped onto it.
It was a gift from said Boo......and I love it!

annie said...

A cucumber sandwich is meant to soothe Lady Mendl's nerves, not excite them.

i love this sentence. and now an ode to the graham cracker!