What a pleasure to have three tea experiences in as many days while visiting a cold wintery New York City for a food- and theater-centric marathon. At least several Manhattan food and beverage professionals know how to do things right when it comes to serving tea. And, as we serious tea drinkers know by now, that is no mean feat and not to be taken for granted. The hows and whys behind building a premium tea program at a food service venue are often afterthoughts. Not so at Eleven Madison Park, a thrilling Art Deco-inflected space on lower Madison Avenue, which clearly delivers the goods before, during, and after the meal. They have a tea guy there, Christopher Day, who is passionate and knowledgeable about the leaf, sourcing high-quality teas. From what we tasted, he can also inspire his staff to take the requisite care when serving high-quality teas. I enjoyed three successive and distinct infusions of a beautiful Dayuling high mountain oolong from Taiwan (hand-harvested in Spring 2011 at 2400 meters). Indeed, this experience was a soothing and sweet ending to a leisurely and luxurious tasting menu kind of meal.
But it wasn’t only in a temple of gastronomy that good cuppas (or exquisite pots) were to be had. Bosie Tea Parlor in Greenwich Village has a tightly edited and even a bit idiosyncratic collection of loose-leaf teas for the choosing. I had an aromatic brightly flavored cup of Nuwara Eliya. One tea mate enjoyed a buttery muscatel Darjeeling from the Castleton estate and the other had a single estate Bukhial Assam, each well brewed, using good-quality water heated to the right temperature for the right amount of infusion time. Amazing! This kind of attention to tea brewing restores my faith in the future of spreading the gospel about tea in restaurants and tea shops.
Thirdly, at Boulud Sud (near Lincoln Center), a new sophisticated pan-Mediterranean outpost of Daniel Boulud’s restaurant empire, fresh mint and fresh lemon verbena were each brewed to yield restorative cups at the end of a meal. And did these ever go well with the Levantine-inspired desserts (a sunny, puckery grapefruit sorbet served with cubes of rose-flavored Turkish delight, mascarpone mousse, and sesame halvah, and a chocolate ganache set on a dark cocoa sponge cake spangled with pomegranates, draped with orange blossom cream and an intense dark chocolate sorbet).
When next in New York City, check to see if these places are still doing it right. I am confident that they will be and are hopefully inspiring other restaurants to do the same. A demanding New York audience keeps each of these operations on their toes in a satisfyingly well-choreographed dance of leaves and water.