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Upstairs on the Square in Cambridge

21 Jan
Upstairs on the Square tea

The only stand with the coveted Bacon-Wrapped Date filled with Cinnamon Butter on the top tier.

Our Austen in Boston book club toasted the 200th anniversary of Pride & Prejudice with afternoon tea at Upstairs on the Square in Cambridge.  This restaurant in Harvard Square serves afternoon tea that’s a bit modern and whimsical.

The entrance

The entrance

The restaurant front

The restaurant front

Our menu, with the dishes renamed to commemorate Pride & Prejudice

Our menu, with the dishes renamed to commemorate Pride & Prejudice

Our dining room.  The amounts of pink and purple can look shocking in photos, but looks prettier in person.

Our dining room. The amounts of pink and purple can look shocking in photos, but looks prettier in person.

Zebras were a big theme in the decor

Zebras were a big theme in the decor

The view from upstairs

The view from upstairs

Another stand filled with savories and sweets for our large party

Another stand filled with savories and sweets for our large party

Close-up of savories and scones

Close-up of savories and scones

All tea was served in metal pots. They were labeled as "Gray," "English," and "Rose" to distinguish the pots of Earl Grey, English breakfast, and rose tea.
All tea was served in metal pots. They were labeled as “Gray,” “English,” and “Rose” to distinguish the pots of Earl Grey, English breakfast, and rose tea.
Eclairs filled with a pastry cream

Eclairs filled with a pastry cream

Tarts with fresh fruit

Tarts with fresh fruit

Blue cheese crackers

Blue cheese crackers were divine

This tea stand was made of glass or plastic, and I wasn't as big a fan of the look

This tea stand was made of glass or plastic, and I wasn’t as big a fan of the look

Shades of Pemberley egg salad on profiterole; Mr. Darcy's chicken salad on house-made brioche; Mr. Bingley's four or five thousand a year smoked salmon with caper cream cheese on pumpernickel; and Caroline Bingley's mini gruyere cheese quiche

Shades of Pemberley egg salad on profiterole; Mr. Darcy’s chicken salad on house-made brioche; Mr. Bingley’s four or five thousand a year smoked salmon with caper cream cheese on pumpernickel; and Caroline Bingley’s mini gruyere cheese quiche

Upstairs on the Square tea sweets

Mary’s mini turtle; Charlotte’s classic eclair; Longbourn date nut bread; Mr. Bennet’s chocolate financier; Mr. Wickham’s tiny cupcake of the day; and Lydia’s lemon tartlets with seasonal fruit

The menu customized with Pride & Prejudice names

The menu customized with Pride & Prejudice names

The new Cafe G at Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

12 Mar
Grilled Comte Sandwich with Roasted Grapes and Frisee

Grilled Comté Sandwich with Roasted Grapes and Frisée

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum has reopened with a new wing and updated restaurant.  Cafe G doesn’t serve afternoon tea, but it offers tea, small dishes, and desserts.  It was also the perfect venue for our book club get-together because we were reading The Family Fortune by Laurie Horowitz, and the protagonist’s fictional ancestor was a rival of Isabella Stewart Gardner, Boston patroness of art.

*Hannahbells Cheese with Pear Mostarda

Hannahbells Cheese with Pear Mostarda

I have only one quibble with Cafe G, and that would be the tiny portions.  The “small plates” were truly just that, and some of the main dishes didn’t look filling either.

Trout with Blood Oranges and Mache

Trout with Blood Oranges and Mache

The trout with blood oranges and mache Rebecca ordered might have left me hungry.  That said, everything I tasted was wonderful, service was prompt and polite, and the restaurant looked modern but still comfortably casual and had lots of natural light.

*Sweet Maine Shrimp with Potato Gnocchi and Pistachio

Sweet Maine Shrimp with Potato Gnocchi and Pistachio

I ordered the Hannahbell Cheese and Shrimp with Potato Gnocchi off the small plates menu.  I considered a third plate, but thought they couldn’t possibly be that small.  Wrong.  The cheese was good, but Marianne and I were laughing about the “three thimbles” we were each given.  I’m not sure what the crisp/chip on the plate was, but I wish the plate included crackers and I ended up using the delicious, crusty bread on the table.  The pear mostarda was slightly sweet and like a jam, and might have been the best thing on that slab plate. The shrimp were good but I was nervous about just how much butter or cream must have gone into the sauce. The gnocchi were creamy and light, and I wanted a lot more.

*Teapot

English Breakfast tea

The English breakfast tea was standard, but to its credit brewed loose leaf.  I’m not usually a fan of metal teapots, but the small size and shape made it forgivably cute.  Everyone else’s dishes looked beautiful and there were no complaints about the food.

*Chicken Sausage with Spaghetti Squash

Chicken Sausage with Maple Spaghetti Squash

*Braised Beef Masala Sandwich

Braised Beef Masala Sandwich with Goat Cheese ~ Carrot and Golden Raisin Salad

Grilled comté sandwiches, braised beef sandwiches, chicken sausage with spaghetti squash, and ham terrine were among the other dishes ordered.

Warm Doughnuts with Champagne Crème Anglaise

Warm Doughnuts with Champagne Crème Anglaise

My dessert was impossibly good.  Gardner served Champagne and doughnuts at the museum opening in 1903, so this dish was a tribute to that history.  These were not like the heavier doughnuts you might find at Dunkin’.  They were airier and served warm with a slightly sweet Champagne crème anglaise.  My runner-up choice was the banana bread pudding that Kirk ordered.

*Hazelnut Meringue with Caramelized Blood Orange

Hazelnut Meringue with Caramelized Blood Orange

I was surprised to see the meringues that Rebecca and Isabelle chose looked creamy, expecting the hard, dry things sold in plastic tubs at supermarkets.

*Glasses

Cocktails and fancy water bottles, but we think it was just tap water

The total of food, drink, tax, and tip ranged from $25 to $50 per person.  Some of us had multiple cocktails, but I’m not naming names!  Prices were fair and quality was good, though I maintain portions were too small.

*

Amaryllis (I think) and rosemary on the tables

When you’re done tasting, check out the new greenhouse with gorgeous orchids and amaryllis (it feels like there’s not much more to the new wing than offices), the famed courtyard with exotic plants blooming in the midst of winter, the John Singer Sargents, and all three floors of paintings, tapestries, letters, furniture, and those famous canvases sitting empty from the famed art heist .  It’s a uniquely Boston experience.

Windsor Tea Room in Cohasset

4 Dec

Rebecca’s Take:

I’m fortunate enough to live the next town over from this cute country tearoom. I sit down and enjoy afternoon tea here at least once a month, sometimes I’ll go every week. I buy most of my tea from here as they have a wonderful and varied selection of loose leaf teas.

I tried the Yorkshire Shirley had for this visit and found it to be a bit blander than the Yorkshire gold I like to drink but I liked it. I’ve only ordered it once, however, and I have  never bought it to take home so perhaps it’s for someone with a milder palate? I like a little kick with my tea. I will showcase some of my favorite teas at Windsor Tea Shop and Tea Room: the Buckingham Palace Garden Party labeled as a “palace favorite… black tea with the essence of jasmine and bergamot”, and the Windsor Castle blend, “One of the Queen Mum’s favorites. A blend of Darjeeling, Assam, and Kenya Black Teas” — they are both fragrant, balanced and delicious teas.

I also really love their hazelnut tea — a “black tea with a rich hazelnut flavor. Tastes very similar to Hazelnut coffee” — which has real roasted hazelnuts and reminds me of the wonderful aroma and taste of rich hazelnut desserts I’ve eaten in Italy. This brew, when made with a little cream and sugar, has an almost nostalgic flavor for me. It goes really well with the white chocolate and apricot scones served seasonally at the Windsor. And the amazing lemon curd, which Shirley details perfectly in her review below mine. It truly is the best lemon curd I’ve ever eaten and I’ve been lucky enough to go to some wonderful tea rooms over the years. In fact, to me, all other lemon curds pale in comparison to the Windsor’s homemade version. The strawberry jam is nice, not my favorite (I love bonne maman) and the whipped (not clotted) cream is also lovely.

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I really enjoy the Windsor’s scones, too. They always have two choices of tasty scones, a seasonal one such as cranberry or pumpkin and a classic one like maple or oat. They are very good. Not the best I’ve had (that honor would go to these incredible scones I had in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn, I think it was at Choice Greene, this magical artisanal cheese, grocer, baker and  charcuterie shop near BAM, scones that were so authentically British and perfect in every way, they were better than some I’ve had in England!  I also love the very Scottish/Irish scones at Babington’s Tea Room in Rome, which are dry and dense and crumbly and are served with freshly whipped clotted cream and Italian strawberry jam. Babington’s is a 19th-century tea room started up by two Englishwomen and it’s like stepping back in time. Some noted British food critics have claimed it’s more of an “English tea experience than one you’ll find in London, very classic.”

That writ, Windsor Tea Room, for a sleepy sea coastal town afternoon tea spot, really holds its own against the giants. I think they know what they like, they know what works for their community and for the ideal country tea house and they stick with it. They have a pretty big local following of tea enthusiasts who like a buttoned down (yet still traditional and elegant) tea drinking establishment.

And there really is something for everyone on the menu. Even crumpets with Irish butter and local New England maple syrup, a childhood favorite of mine. There are vegetarian options like the grilled cheese and tomato sandwich or a mozzarella and roasted vegetable panini (crunchy, good and filling), soups du jour and four or five cake and pie choices that always look delicious.

But back to my favorite teas here — there are more! I love the Christmas Spice, a “black tea with cinnamon, almonds, cloves, orange peel and rose petals!” — which is a wonderful holiday tea, very reminiscent of Paris winter teas. There’s also the Black Currant tea with real cranberry and currant pieces. Wonderful. There’s also their fabulous Earl Grey Organic (I’m very picky about my Earl Grey’ — too many poor versions on the market today)! The black tea is the perfect match to the right amount of real bergamot oil, it’s another fragrant and delicious brew.

There’s also the classic and very popular local  Courtship Tea, sold in a gold tin, labeled as a “romantic blend for Lords & Ladies, blended exclusively for Donna and Ron Lasko, Tea Consultants & Lecturers,” on Cape Cod’s historic town of Osterville.  It’s a “blend of the finest black teas and the essence of ginger.” It has a delightfully strong (but not too strong) gingery flavor. It’s a great winter tea. Or a valentine’s tea!

I also love their Scottish, Irish and English breakfasts and they have a wonderful chai as well (I am also picky about chai – I like it very spicy and smooth). A soon to be discontinued tea I love is the Coco Cardamon Tango (absolutely delicious!) which is a black tea with cinnamon, cocoa bits and cardamon. I bought a 10 ounce in September and I’m nearly finished with it, it’s so good! Which reminds me, I better get over there next week and pick up more before it’s gone forever (boo hoo)! It’s the ideal “cream tea”. Sweet but not cloying, earthy and mysterious.

Another “mysterious” tea is one of their “exotic” selections… also being discontinued I think! (sad!!!) I make it for my husband every night before bed to help his insomnia. It’s called After Dark which has Egyptian Chamomile, rosehips, peppermint, and a host of other delicate herbs. Another tea I’ll have to stock up on while I can! There’s also an intense, smoky, high quality Puerh Yunnan, which is “a variety of post-fermented tea produced in Yunnan province of China.” And a recent addition is the Indian tisane Tulsi (Holy Basil), an herbal remedy used in Ayurvedic medicine for sore throats, coughs and a host of other complaints. I served some for my husband and myself recently without telling him the name of the tea and he exclaimed wistfully that it must be tulsi, a tea he drank when he lived in India as a Hindu monk when he was very young years ago.

Another tisane we both love from Windsor is the summery, garden party, iced favorite, Wild Strawberry Fruit Tea made of dried strawberries and apples. It’s delightful and refreshing. It’s also a good cocktail mixer when cold! Mix half a glass of Wild Strawberry Fruit Tea with half a glass of champagne and add a little sugar. Voila! Other teas I’ve tasted and enjoyed were Fruity Russian Caravan (served black) and some lovely white and green teas. Perusing their tea shop I spied some other flavors I want to sample like their English Evening, and Tibetan Rhodiola Tea nests (“Black tea with honeysuckle and Rhodiola (ginseng type herb) shaped into tiny tea nests, earthy taste, imparts energy and tastes great with honey) and  Gingerbread Tea and Monk’s Blend (“Black tea flavored with grenadine and vanilla”). They also have a good selection of plain and flavored white and green teas as well as African Bush Rooibos ( the caffeine free honeybush is a house favorite).

The Windsor Tea Shop and Room is inviting and comfortable in a group setting like our book club get-together there, and also pleasant for a nice ‘cuppa’ alone at a quiet corner table. There are Victoria and Yankee and Afternoon Tea magazines at your disposal and a nice background of classical music playing not too loudly for guests to enjoy subdued conversation. The service is knowledgeable, attentive and friendly. The owner, Judy, is an affable and highly informed tea expert and always makes her guests feel welcome, down to the vintage handmade decor, lovingly made by her mother and the beautiful china and adorable tea cozies (which they sell there and of which I’ve bought two)! They are great about changing the water and offering you fresh tea (I think we were all so absorbed in the book conversation and in eating we forgot to do this). And Judy spends time with you exploring the teas and patiently answering all tea inquiries. I’m overall happy with this local gem and recommend it to friends, family and now… to Boston Tea Party readers!

If you’re looking for a cozy, shabby chic cottage, country afternoon tea, this is your place! If you’re looking for a fancier, glamorous tea, try the former Ritz, now the Taj (fabulous) or any number of upscale hotel teas in Boston (which we will be visiting and revisiting and reviewing in the upcoming year)!


Shirley’s Take:

I ordered the selection of sandwiches and sweets with a pot of tea.  They included (counterclockwise from bottom-right): Chicken Salad Sandwich; Mint Cucumber Sandwich; Pumpkin Bread Sandwich; Maple-Walnut Scone; Profiterole; Eclair topped with Mexican Wedding Cake; and Spinach Brownie.  The extensive menu also offers countless other desserts, soups, salads, and entrees.  Rebecca ordered the two-scone basket in the first photo, and Rachel got a grilled cheddar sandwich.

That chicken salad was awesome.  I spied some raisins in there and it had a bit of onion, which I love in chicken salad.  The cucumber sandwich was good, and I couldn’t detect the mint, which was nice because I hate the stuff except in toothpaste and chewing gum.  The pumpkin bread sandwich was really something, like a pumpkin spice cake with the most delicious filling of marmalade, cream, and walnuts.  The maple-walnut scone reminded me of pancakes, and though it was tasty I think I prefer a more traditional scone for teatime.  The other offering that day was a cranberry-orange scone.  The profiterole, cream puff, and wedding cake were all right.  The spinach brownie was like a crustless quiche, eggy and light.

I chose lemon curd and clotted cream to accompany my scone, and whipped cream and jam were also offered.  I couldn’t believe they were served in disposable plastic cups, with all the beautiful china on the table, but they were so good it was completely forgiveable.  Rebecca mentioned that it was “the best lemon curd you’ll ever taste,” but I often have doubts when something is declared “the best.”  She was not exaggerating!  The tart, sweet, and smooth aspects were in perfect balance — not too much pucker.

Let me backtrack a little.  The tearoom is located in Cohasset, a picturesque and peaceful-looking town on the South Shore.  Sweet and spicy aromas greet you the second you walk into the tearoom.  The place is cute and has a relaxed country vibe unlike the fancier hotels in Boston, and is decorated with plenty of beautiful china and quilts.  Walls of tea and teatime things are on display for sale, including some novel items like decorated sugar cubes and teatime-themed nightlights.  The waitstaff was polite and helpful.  At $22 (plus tax & tip) for tea , sandwiches, and sweets, it’s a real deal over the Boston hotels and you’ll leave plenty full.

I think my one disappointment was my Yorkshire tea, a black blend.  It had an undertaste I didn’t like, and bitter or sour aren’t the right words to describe it.  Sugar cubes improved it.  The tea also got cold, despite the pot being in a cozy, though I’m sure they would have been happy to add more hot water.  That said, everyone else appeared to enjoy their teas.  I was feeling adventurous, but next time I would have to go back to my old faithful, English breakfast.  And yes, I anticipate quite a few next times to this tearoom.

Comments from the gang:

Marianne: I had the “Courtship” tea, which was delightful, very gingery and sweet, two potfuls, perfect for a cool fall day. My afternoon tea plate was delicious, the cranberry orange scone a bit dry but compensated for with truly awesome lemon curd. As you mentioned, I think they ought to spring for something other than plastic for the clotted cream & curd, odd to see a plastic cup with lid full of lemon curd on top of a doily-lined English China plate. The background music of romantic/classical music, piano-based, was not distracting and was relaxing. The service seemed very attentive. We were never without enough tea, which is key.

Kirk: I had the House Blend. It was nice, yet subtle. Had two potfuls. Next time, something else for sure. I liked that lunch and tea was offered. Loved the lemon curd too. I agree with Marianne about service and music.

Windsor Tea Room is located at 1 Pleasant St. in Cohasset, MA.

Facebook page for Windsor Tea

“Austen” Cucumber Tea Sandwiches

30 Sep
Cuke sandwiches

I have not been able to get these sandwiches out of my head!  Rebecca from our Austen in Boston book club makes some awesome sandwiches, but these are my favorite, hands down.  Rebecca calls them “Austen in Boston” English Cucumber Tea Sandwiches.  We enjoyed them at our last picnic, and they are so good with a cup of tea — with cream and sugar, of course.

Cucumber sandwiches

Cucumber sandwiches are simple, but these get some complexity from herbs and good-quality bread.  Rebecca uses Ezekiel Bran for Life bread, but my store didn’t have any so I went with Nature’s Pride Nutty Oat (strangely, the packaging says it has a nutty flavor but no nuts, and it’s 100% natural).  Even Joe loved the nutty oat, and he isn’t always keen on the 12-grain-type breads I bring home.  Plus I think ordinary white bread is too bland for something as mild as cucumber.

Slicing cucumber
Using a mandoline gives you uniform slices
Cucumber ribbons
The slices are paper-thin

Rebecca also uses organic cream cheese, nothing artificial.  I went with neufchatel cheese, which tastes just like cream cheese but has a third less fat.  Philadelphia makes one.  I went with the English seedless cucumber she recommended — it has less water and seeds than regular cucumber — as well as the dill.  Rebecca recommends dried chives as an alternative and says they’re better than fresh.  I used both dill and fresh chives, since I have chives growing in my garden and personally love them fresh.

Bread slices
Slathering cream cheese on half of the bread
Layering cucumber
Slightly overlap layers of cucumber, then repeat once

These few ingredients make up a sandwich both delicate for tea and snacking, but hearty enough to fill you up, to my surprise.  Now, I once made cucumber sandwiches on this blog way back when, but in retrospect I didn’t have a great formula.  You need the right ratio of cucumber slices to cream cheese to bread, and this recipe has it.  I foresee many chilly afternoons with these babies and a hot pot of tea.

Sandwich profile
This post also appears at What About Second Breakfast?

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Boston Public Library at Copley Square

24 Sep

This is the first of our reviews of Greater Boston places that serve traditional, British-style afternoon tea.  This post also appears at What About Second Breakfast?

BPL16

The main branch of the Boston Public Library at Copley Square sure sounds like the perfect place for afternoon tea: historical architecture, a courtyard complete with fountain, murals by John Singer Sargent, scores of books for Austen lovers like us.  In general, it did not disappoint.

BPL1

The atmosphere was more casual and relaxing than the local hotels that serve tea.  You don’t have to dress up much, or sit up very straight.  There is no maître d’ or harpist.  The room is beautifully and classically decorated.  But on a Friday afternoon few of the tables were occupied so most of them were not set, leaving the room feeling slightly empty.

BPL10

The polka dot china was cute, but the plain white teapots, sugar holder, and creamer were a disappointment.  The food was good, and the caterer is new-ish.  At $22.50 plus tax and tip (the 18% gratuity is included in the check), it’s more affordable than tea at most hotels, though it seemed like less food.  But after more cups of tea, I felt positively full.

BPL11
BPL14

The watercress sandwich with lemon aioli was surprisingly and pleasantly fragrant.  The caper on the smoked salmon was a nice touch, the apricot chicken salad sandwich was all right, and the cucumber and herb cream cheese was traditional but always a favorite.  The crumbled bacon and tomato sandwich was an unusual addition to tea, but so good.

BPL15

The blackberry and peach tart had the perfect balance of sweet and tart in a crisp pastry shell.  The raspberry and lemon cream tart was simple but delicious.  I’d been wondering, “What the heck is a chocolate sinclair?”  It turned out to be an ultra-rich and dense chocolate cake, and the small size was just right for the intensity of the chocolate.

BPL13

The currant scones were served with Devonshire clotted cream and four fruit marmalade.  The only problem with them?  I wanted more.

BPL9

I had the Ceylon tea and was happy with it.  Kirk’s peach and ginger tea smelled good.  Erica and Karen seemed to like their teas, but I forgot to ask for their verdicts.

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In my personal ranking of Boston-area tea venues, this one is around the top.  The food at the library wins over Hallowed Herbs in Quincy and the Four Seasons, is about the same as the Langham, and almost as good as the Taj.  The ambiance is better than the Four Seasons, Hallowed Herbs, and Langham, but not the Taj (if going by the room alone).  But for a more relaxed and unfussy feel (and Kirk was a fan of this), the library wins over the Taj.  The service was good.  The company is always excellent.  😉  My verdict: Visit it!

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I’m adding the additional thoughts of Kirk:
Wonderful review, Shirley! I agree! My tea (it was a black tea)  was more peach than ginger in taste, which was fine by me (lol, I’m more peach than ginger, err  more of a fan of Marianne (ok Maryanne is the common spelling, but as this is a Jane Austen bookclub..,) than Ginger). Yes, what a wonderful nose the tea had! Maybe that was the ginger. I thought I had the best seat in the room. To my right eye, the corridor and courtyard.To my left, the delightful company. 🙂 Speaking of the corridor, it was amusing when two women stopped in the corridor to check out what we were eating and waved at us! That certainly added to the relaxed feeling I had (try that at the Taj). I don’t normally like to be observed eating, but it was perfectly fine there. I was impressed that the manager was willing to do a Tea only option for one member of our party who wasn’t sure about eating. I certainly enjoyed the food…did have a slight “reaction” to the cucumber (lol, Rebecca’s was much better last
Sunday!). I agree about the bacon and tomato. Loved the salmon and caper as well. I would be delighted to go back in a couple months!

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A side table is decorated with a map of Quebec

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Chandelier in the cafe

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Balcony in the courtyard

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Fountain in the courtyard

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Artwork in the room