An excellent dinner last weekend at the Arlington Tea Tray.
The restaurant was quite empty, perhaps 4 or 5 other tables-- apparently (according to our very friendly and helpful waitress) summer has been slow. The space itself is very pleasant-- open and airy with a cafe up front and dining room further in. (The tarts on offer in the cafe case look very good, btw.). The room, with its tea trays and blue sky panels suspended from the ceiling, bumps up against the border of "cute," and the food and service tends in that direction too--water is served out of clear glass teapots, many preparations involve tea "scents" "infusions" etc.-- but without (to my mind) quite crossing over into cutesey. The net effect is charm rather than fluff-- a very nice place for a date, I'd think.
I began with very nice prosciutto and melon app. It was plated something like a carpaccio-- the prosciutto covering the bottom of the plate in a single layer, while the melon (at least 3 types, amazingly fresh and sweet) was cut into perfect 1/4 in. dice and arranged in the center. I would have liked just a few more cubes of the promised ricotta salata to cut the sweetness of the meat and melon, but the pickled fennel helped in that department. Dining companions shared a salad with blue cheese and I can't recall what else. The blue was a nice respectable wedge, not a crumble-- extremely mild, really barely blue. This was fine by me (not being a blue lover), but those who ordered it would have wished it stronger.
My entree was a well executed fried softshell crab-- tender, sweet, and not at all oily, with a really splendid sauce involving chanterelles and pureed (and whole) VERY fresh English peas. Both my companions had the salmon entree; I can't recall much about the preparation save the delicious thick bacon and the cornmeal crusted oysters on top. The fish itself was tasty-- but overall I preferred my own. A very grapefruity N.Z. Sauvignon Blanc was a good match with both.
We all shared a dessert-- a perfect whole peach enclosed in a very delicate pastry. I called it a "pie-ball"-- but I recall the actual name to be somewhat more appetizing.
I would be remiss if I didn't talk about the tea. The tea list is a book in itself, and there is an extremely knowledgeable tea expert keeping tabs on everything from infusion times to proper brewing temps for different types. Our questions to her were mediated by our waitress (who intimated that if we asked for her directly she might come over and give a full lecture-- which I would not have minded at all, but I suppose not everyone is looking for such when out with a group). In the end, I don't think I chose well; I've been trying to figure out what the deal is with "white tea," as my attempts to brew it have resulted in a slightly floral-scented water. Apparently (we were informed) one needs to use about 3 times the amount I've been using (since the buds themselves are "fluffy"). But even when it is brewed properly I found it too delicate for my taste.
All in all, a very good meal.
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