Annoy Your Friends!
Tea at the Ritz-Carlton means instant envy
You could run a cucumber through a mandoline, stuff it between Wonder Bread, and cut the sandwich into tiny, crust-free rectangles. You could even buy some fresh scones from your local bakery, and then serve them with hot Earl Grey poured into your finest china. But you still wouldn’t be able to tell your friends you had afternoon tea at the Ritz-Carlton.
And that’s the point, isn’t it? To brag, then bask in their envy? Otherwise, common sense might tell you that $49 per head is too much to pay for a meal that’s completely unnecessary. To top if off, it’s also inconvenient. The Ritz offers its tea service only on Thursdays, at noon and 2:30 p.m., when most people are still at work.
But once you find yourself at the hotel from which the word “ritzy” was coined, you’ll look out its picture windows at the blue Pacific and think, “This just might be worth it.” Besides, compared to other frivolous and silly luxuries in life—like day spas and tanning salons—at least here, you’ll be fed.
It starts with a table setting of linens, real silverware, and a vase of roses in full bloom. A menu is placed over a folded napkin, but the only thing to choose is which drink to accompany the sandwiches, and which tea to sip with dessert. Everything else is set.
Along with a preview list of the treats, the menu also includes a quote by Henry James. As if to justify the whole ritual, the author’s words are printed in earnest and read: “There are few hours more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
First to arrive will be the cold drinks. The bellini—peach nectar topped off with champagne in a ridiculously skinny flute—is as bright and sunny as the melodies the house pianist will play throughout tea time. Teetotalers can opt for the non-alcoholic strawberry spritzer, which fizzes like a soda, but isn’t as cloyingly sweet.
Next, six finger sandwiches come arranged on a plate like nigiri sushi. Because of the tiny portions, each hors d’oeuvre-sized morsel must be savored slowly. In between dainty bites, conversation should flow. Chat about how much the nightly rate for a room must be. Whatever you do, don’t rush. If you’ve finished half the sandwiches before the pianist has completed a song, you’ve gone too fast.
Besides the fact that it goes against the whole spirit of afternoon tea, powering through the food will cause you to miss its finer points. You’ve got at most two bites to appreciate the detail that goes into each item, so relax and enjoy them.
For instance, notice how the smoked salmon is rolled tightly in a crepe with herbed Boursin cheese and topped with crème fraiche caviar. Marvel at the shaved cucumber, which is carefully layered in a striped pattern on top of a swatch of bread. Taste how the basil goat cheese and the fleck of micro basil tame the perky heirloom tomato sandwiches. Then appreciate the sweetness which the dollop of roasted pepper mousse brings to the egg salad. And try not to dribble juice when you bite into the bleu cheese-stuffed and pistachio-dusted strawberry. But do save the lightly curried chicken salad in the tart shell for last—it’s the best of the lot.
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After the sandwiches comes the tea. Since it’s too fruity to stand up to the sweets, skip the raspberry herbal brew for the more traditional varieties. The Darjeeling’s assertively musky bitterness is particularly fit to cut through pastries, especially the hot scones.
Before consuming, slather lemon curd, strawberry jam, and Devonshire cream onto this English cousin to the buttermilk biscuit. The rest of the sweets include a raspberry-stuffed macaroon that chews like taffy; a pineapple tartlet filled with a sultry coconut cheesecake; a maple bar lookalike called an espresso cream puff; and a Grand Marnier Bavarian chocolate cake as dense as a brownie.
By the end, you will be full, beaming and boasting that you’ve had afternoon tea at the Ritz. And when your friends laugh at you when you tell them you spent $100 and change on finger sandwiches and pastries for two, you’ll know it’s just the jealousy talking.
The Ritz-Carlton, 1 Ritz-Carlton Dr., Dana Point, (949) 240-2000; www.ritzcarlton.com. Afternoon Tea is offered every Thursday at noon & 2:30 p.m. $49 per person, excluding sales tax, gratuity and parking.