By Pete Kane
By Anna Roth
By Lou Bustamante
By Anna Roth
By Max A. Cherney
By Anna Roth
By Alex Hochman
By Anna Roth
San Francisco, CA 94108
Region: North Beach/ Chinatown
Compass Rose Tea Service $28
... with sparkling wine $31-39
Garden Court Afternoon Tea $23
... with sparkling wine $28-35
Mandarin Oriental Bento Box Delights $29.50
Ritz-Carlton Lobby Lounge, 600 Stockton (at California), 773-6198. High tea served Monday through Friday 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., Saturday 1 to 4:30 p.m., Sunday 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: possible. Muni: 30, 45, California Street cable car. Noise level: placid.
St. Francis Hotel Compass Rose, 335 Powell (at Geary), 397-7000. High tea served daily 3 to 5 p.m. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: implausible. Muni: 38, Powell Street cable car. Noise level: affable.
Palace Hotel Garden Court, 2 New Montgomery (at Market), 512-1111. High tea served Wednesday through Saturday 2 to 4:30 p.m. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: improbable. Muni: 5, 6, 7, 9, 15, 21, 31, 66, 71, 76, F, J, K, L, M, N. Noise level: tranquil.
Mandarin Oriental, 222 Sansome (at Pine), 276-9888. High tea served Monday through Friday 3 to 5 p.m. No reservations. Wheelchair accessible. Parking: unlikely. Muni: 12, 15, 42. Noise level: soothing.
St. Francis Hotel Compass Rose, 335 Powell (at Geary)
Palace Hotel Garden Court, 2 New Montgomery (at Market)
Mandarin Oriental, 222 Sansome (at Pine)
A different sort of afternoon tea comes about at the Mandarin Oriental, where California's East-West proclivities have done unexpected and delightful things to the most hallowed of British traditions. It's served just off the lobby in a suave setting of black lacquer, red leather, strikingly patterned cushions, and an enveloping sense of sleek, low-ceilinged quietude. The gleaming black tables are set with red mats, beautifully detailed black chopsticks, black enameled teapots on round black trivets, and framed menus propped up on individual black racks. Four courses of tidbits arrive in a lacquered black bento box on four pastel-hued squares of porcelain. The first square holds three round, tasty canapés -- one with sea scallop, caviar, and scallion, another with lox, caviar, and cucumber, the third with portobello, Gruyère, and cilantro. The next plate holds two overlapping "purses" (turnovers) of buttery phyllo pastry stuffed with warm curried beef jazzed with spice and shiitake, set on a bed of peppery field greens. Two dried-out slivers of avocado-unagi sushi decorate the third plate, but the fourth plate's Selection of Confections is a delight: a chocolate bonbon filled with peanut purée; a tiny triangle of rich, creamy brownie; a petit four of shortbread, marzipan, fudge, and pistachio; a moist and spicy oatmeal-raisin cookie; a juicy wedge of candied ginger; and a delicate cookie butterfly resting on top.
There are five teas to choose from. The Rainforestmint, despite the advertised presence of bergamot and herbs de Provence, is amazingly bland, even after half an hour of steeping. Other teatime basics are off-kilter as well -- the food arrives long after the teapot, and the service is distant and inattentive. But the food -- shiitakes and all -- lives up to the great high tea tradition, and if you want something more traditional there are at least three other places nearby.
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