L'Espalier Fantasy Tea - Long
Wanted to do something different, but special for DH's 40th and decided to get a small group together of his close friends and head to tea at Lespalier.
Atmosphere and service: We were very warmly greeted at the reception area and were ushered into the elevator for the third floor. There, without having to say anything, we were greeted right out of the elevator and directed to our table, which had a nice view of the street and hustle and bustle below. The room was very tastefully done, but we were all into catching up, so I just took in the spectacular flower arrangements. Tables were nicely spaced and was quiet enough to talk and catch up. There were also some (well-behaved) kids around, which makes me think I could bring my chowpups soon.... Service was impeccable. Giving us enough space to chat, but also refilling water glasses and fulfilling requests for food and tea promptly. Everything was well orchestrated and well paced.
Teas: What I did notice was selection of about 12 or more teas in transparent Janear Glass teapots (I have one) with their respective tea warmers below. A beautiful display of the different hues of the teas. Each tea was steeped to perfection by Cynthia Gold, the tea sommelier. We had a tea tasting with her ages ago at the Park Plaza and the tea selection was just incredible. I cannot imagine what she can do with the food and tea pairing at Lespalier. All I can do is drool.....
I started off with a strong tea, a Nepalese tea (Kuwapani Estate) that bold and had such a wonderful complex flavor of rich fruit (almost raisin like, reminiscent of dried, or even cooked sweet fruit) rounded out by a honeyed tone and a hint of spiciness. In retrospect, I should have waited to taste the tea for later, because Cynthia came around and introduced us to a hand sewn white tea blossom from Fujian. The hot water was poured into a wine glass (yes, wine glass) and left to steep. As the blossom unfurled, a layer of lavender, then jasmine and finally amarinth was unveiled. Amazing in the wine glass!! The wine glass concentrated the perfume of the delicate white tea to our noses and the light, flowery, sweet flavor was just amazing! I finished off with the Lespalier blend, which makes (for me) a really nice afternoon tea, that I wish I had for all my afternoons as a pick-me-up. Not too strong, but well rounded and fruity/citrusy.
Food: With 8 of us, we managed to run the gamut of the menu, except the caviar and champagne. (1) Cheese was nothing less than wonderful. A spread of 7 (I think) cheeses. I should have brought the cheese brochure home, but I spaced it. Pity! There was a roquefort and an Italian cheese (soft cheese and name escapes me), but the rest were US cheeses, primarily Vermont and Wisconsin. The standout for me was the Gouda made by a woman who moved from the Netherlands to Wisconsin and started making cheese. Think of your regular gouda, deepen the flavor 10 levels and add a spicy/peppery finish. Nutty, salty, a nice coat of fullness in the mouth. I could eat a whole block myself. Accompaniments to the cheese included this slice of what seemed like a packed dried fruit loaf, including apricots, plums, figs, and I cannot remember what else; sweet and salted almonds; anise and fig bread. I could have the bread alone with the cheese, but my friends would have fought me tooth and nail.
(2) We also got the tea sandwiches: Profiterole with lobster, Jonah crab salad on a croissant, curried chicken salad on wheat, open face cucumber sandwich, smoked salmon with a dab of caviar on sourdough. The tea sandwiches were lovely, but I think the cheese course was really wonderful and a standout. The profiterole was so good, I only got a tiny bite. Sweet lobster meat and not too much mayo, letting the lobster shine. Wish i could have 5 orders of those! The Jonah crab was very good as well. Cucumber sandwich had the sweetness and lightness of the cucumber and the cream cheese transported to an English garden setting and ladies in white Victorian outfits. The let down was the curried chicken. Looking at the menu again, I can't see 'curried', but all of us heard it. I couldn't taste the curry, but the chicken itself was wonderful, like they poached it in the essence of chicken broth and the jam was a nice touch.
(3) Pastries: A tiny, half-dome financier with a brulee on it, panna cotta with matcha powder, chocolate trifle with raspberry (?) foam on top, chocolate decadence cake with little chai merigue, pate a choux swans with espresso cream, ginger lemon scones and cherry crimsonberry scones with clotted cream and apricot and strawberry jams. Everything was very well done, but the best items on the plate were the panna cotta and trifle. The panna cotta was smooth, creamy, slightly sour (like buttermilk), not too sweet. A little piece of milky heaven in the mouth. The trifle was light, summery with the chocolate mousse being not too heavy, but intense in flavor, with the touch of raspberry foam as a lovely acidic, berry counterpoint. The scones were chock full of fruit and had a lovely , flaky texture, indicative of butter usage. Almost perfect, but I didn't care for the larger crystals of sugar studded on the scones. I like the slightly sweet scones where you can lather clotted cream or jam as you please without a tooth ache.
All in all a wonderful value (we paid less than $40 per person and we were stuffed, even when we missed lunch!) to be able to enjoy Lespalier and its culinary treats in its less hectic moments and linger with friends. I hope DH enjoyed himself as much as I did. We will be back to do a tea tasting with Cynthia. I spoke with her at length about doing a tasting and promised to get a group together and e-mail her for a time to go back.
Cynthia Gold is terrific --- I had done several wonderful tastings with her at the Park Plaza over the years, and am very glad she is doing well at L'Espalier.
Thanks for this. I too enjoyed Gold's tea wisdom at Park Plaza and the combination of this with L'Espalier's food sounds amazing and fairly priced.
Looks like I may set out to organize a tea tasting with a Chowhound group. :) Regardless, if you get a chance, go and enjoy the great room, service, tea and food at this Fantasy Tea. I will do this again in a heartbeat!
And I am definitely a big fan of Cynthia's. Had Limster at the tea tasting with us in Park Plaza ages ago and it was a lot of fun. If he comes around Boston again, I would try to co-ordinate something around his schedule.
So glad for your detailed report on this! I have wondered about their tea for many years and never gotten around to going. Sounds like a great way to spend an afternoon with my mom or a friend! Glad it is also so affordable!