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Best Bay Area high tea? At a museum in Oakland! [Pardee Home Museum]

  • j

Most locals have never heard of the Pardee Home Museum in Old Oakland, right off Hwy 980 near Oakland's Chinatown/Downtown district. It's not a mansion, but a charming, low-key, "frozen in time" snapshot of one of CA's leading EBay families, who lived in the pretty little Italianate from 1850 to 1982, when the last Pardee died.

We've enjoyed tea shops from Monterey to Victoria BC. So we will go out on a limb and state that Pardee Home Museum's volunteers make THE BEST high tea you can imagine. And they do it on their own dime! It's as if you were in their home and a group of good cooks were in friendly competition to see who could produce the best "goodies" that day.

You need a minimum of four people, maximum twelve. NO exceptions. The dining room isn't large, although on a nice day you could arrange to be served outdoors in the garden. For the very reasonable price of $25/pperson, you get a private high tea (there is a low tea, but why bother when you can get the real deal?) at the date/time of your choice, and afterwards, a private tour of the museum.

Now for the details:
The tea is English Breakfast. They brew it in the kitchen and will bring out as many refills as you want. Our group of six drank four pots, but we're all tea lovers. High tea takes a minimum one hour; we went a bit longer.

The food: OMG, what food! (and yes, we all consider ourselves foodies. The list of the last places each of us dined at is Cotogna, Quince, Aziza, and Commis, just for reference)

Savories – All were delicious, fresh, and generous.
- Open face, crustless rounds with cream cheese and good quality lox
- Triangular sandwiches with ham, arugula. White bread on one side, the other a thin dark pumpernickel.
- Cucumber sandwiches. Open face, crustless; a superior creamy spread topped with beautifully folded, paper-thin cucumber slices fanning in a spiral to cover the top. These were hands-down the best cucumber sandwiches any of us had ever had.
- Mini-puffs of paté a choux filled with finely minced chicken salad
- Mushroom toasts rolled into little logs, tied with chive strings. Beautiful and delicious.
- Crisp cheddar cheese wafers. Delicate and definitely not packaged or a mix.
- Filo pastries with a creamy artichoke heart filling.

Sweets – Again, far superior to the usual.
- Pavlovas. Individual meringues with whipped cream and fresh fruit. You can make pavlovas ahead of time, but you can't fill them until the last minute because they'll soften. These were tender and crisp, just as they should be.
- Lemon curd tartlets. Meyer lemon curd with a really superior pastry shell. Possibly used a little rice flour or nut flour, the shell was crisp but very delicate and thin.
- Cheesecakes with a chocolate swirl on top. A very nice little cheesecake. Anywhere else it would have been the star – but at Pardee, it was barely noticed.
- Almond brittle. If you have never had the homemade version of Almond Roca, you might not realize that (a) it isn't super sweet, and (b) it is NEVER hard. We swooned over this, and mind you, three of us buy Enstrom's nut brittle by mail because we like this stuff so much. But this was better, because homemade and fresh wins every time when it comes to brittle.
- 3 types of cookies: White meringue kisses, chocolate macaroons (with flour giving it the chewy texture I prefer), and a barely sweet, nut-rich wonder called WBC, or "World's Best Cookie."

So…$25 gets you stuffed with superior munchies, along with a tour of the Pardee Home Museum. Bring a flashlight, because there's lots of dark corners full of quaint stuff. It's like visiting a dusty old antique store – except this one feeds you very, very well.

To have such a unique treasure in our own backyard is remarkable. All of us had a fabulous time, and want to urge others to gather their own little group together, and go! (And leave a generous donation – these volunteers work hard, and deserve to have their efforts appreciated)

Remember that the selection of dishes changes regularly. You may get something entirely different. But trust us, these folks are REALLY GOOD bakers, all of 'em.

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  1. yo jaiko,

    I think what you're describing is "Afternoon Tea". Please note the distinction between that and "High Tea",

    http://coffeetea.about.com/od/history...

    7 Replies
    1. re: escargot3

      Yes, but unfortunately, if you search on sites such as Yelp, you will be better off searching under "high tea" or "tea shop". Also, at this point, several websites have not allowed any of us to list the Pardee tea as a restaurant entry - you'll only find it under the Museum or Local Attraction category. Not where you'd expect to find info on arranging a private tea, I'm afraid.

      1. re: jaiko

        A high tea with only english breakfast? really?

        1. re: bbulkow

          Agreed! Where's the Orange Pekoe?

          1. re: grayelf

            Yes, English breakfast is a bit robust for afternoon tea.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              Actually, we consider EB weak, LOL. Two of our group were Turkish, so they prefer a very rich Turkish black tea they bring back from their visits with relatives in Turkey. My DH is from Hong Kong, so he grew up putting cream & sugar in his tea - he likes it triple-strength and heavy on tannins (too much so for me) when he mixes it all in "English style"!

              1. re: jaiko

                Afternoon tea should be a bit more delicate than drinking a coffee-equivalent in the morning. It's for sipping, relaxing and socializing, not getting amped up. Also, it should be more food-friendly than something super-tannic that's loaded with cream and sugar (she says, finishing off the last of her double-strength Scottish breakfast, with lots of cream).

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  We LOVE Scottish Breakfast, LOL! My DH is one of those very lucky people who is never affected by caffeine. He can drink a triple espresso right before going to bed and it never bothers him a bit. Can you tell I'm jealous ;))

                  DH has gone through a lot of changes during our time together, but there are just certain habits that not even forty years of marriage can alter. But he's still a keeper!

    2. Great tip, thanks for the lovely report. Here's the website for particulars, http://www.pardeehome.org/tourinforma...

      1. >>Where's the Orange Pekoe?>>

        Request it when you make the reservation. Like most tea rooms, people come for the food, not the tea. Go to Teance or Many Rivers if you want a tea tasting. We got a charcoal-roasted Darjeeling at Many Rivers last time we were in Sebastopol that is outstanding.

        3 Replies
        1. re: jaiko

          I had a nice tea tasting at Aroma tea shop (Richmond dist. branch) this summer. Thanks for the Many Rivers tip. I've bought tea at Infusions Teahouse in Sebastopol but didn't have Many Rivers on my radar.

          1. re: jaiko

            That's not a bad idea. We often take tea with us when we travel. As long as they can provide a pre-warmed china pot, we'll be in business -- can't abide tea made in a cup. Still sounds odd to me to call yourself a tearoom and not focus attention on the tea, though. A tea tasting is a very different proposition in my book and would not be a substitute for afternoon tea.

            1. We had tea there, and it was quite heavy on the sweets. So I agree the volunteer bakers are good, but they need to get someone to work up more sandwiches!!

              Also, Afternoon tea is a trend. So if you give in and call it incorrectly as High tea, you're only creating a muddle for people who don't know the difference. Stick to your guns and shout it out, AFTERNOON TEA!

              3 Replies
              1. re: teatimeadventures

                Frankly, most people go for the sweets. If you want pub food, it's best to go elsewhere than a tea room, actually. Even Lovey's only has very light savories. There's a fine Irish bakery in the Inner Richmond with lots of good savories to buy and take home.

                To update: My friends and family loved the Pardee Museum's amazing High Tea so much, my niece and I went so far as to petition Yelp (successfully) to include them when people searched for "high tea" recommendations.

                Fortunately – or unfortunately, for us – several people read about Pardee and did their own teas, making Pardee now 14 reviews strong with a solid five-star rating (a distinct improvement over the 4 they originally had over four years' time)!

                The only problem is that one of those inspired by my review was Luke Tsai, food critic for the East Bay Express. He details his own five-star teatime, and why Pardee is now booked up four months in advance for reservations: http://www.eastbayexpress.com/WhatThe...

                1. re: jaiko

                  There is an event at the Pardee on 9/15 honoring two local women with a tea and pastries/savories serving for $15 which sounds like the "light tea" option. It may already have filled up but here is the link to Annalee Allen's always useful column in the Oakland Tribune:

                  http://www.insidebayarea.com/news/ci_...

                  1. re: jaiko

                    That's neat that Chef Tsai picked up on your CH recco, jaiko. Thanks for linking.