Coffee & Tea

Buffet brunch at the Ritz & the Teddy Bear Tea (long)

Stanley Stephan | Dec 9, 200204:01 AM     2

Finally tried Sunday brunch at the Ritz-Carlton.

However, I thought I'd mention the Teddy Bear Tea. Around Christmas time the Ritz has a tea for children. I have never seen it advertised.

It really seemed festive. Everyone was decked in their holiday best, the boys in suits and ties and little girls in their finest velvet and taffeta dresses.

Lots of balloons, a piano playing Christmas songs, and one of Santa's elves giving out balloon animals (He seemed like a nice guy. You have to have give points to someone who spends the day dressed in an elf outfit and is also very pleasant.)

It seemed like a nice thing to do during the holidays for children.

Anyway, back to brunch. It's $55 and champagne is not included. Champagne by the glass ranged from $11 - $35.

The service really is stellar. I've been lucky enough to have visited some nice hotels around the world and I have to say the service at the Ritz probably tops the list. Ok, I'm avoiding the food.

Two weeks ago I had a champagne brunch at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. It was $70 and for an additional $10 you could have unlimited good champagne. In terms of service and dessert the Ritz wins. In terms of everything else, the Waldorf really ran away with top honors.

The food at the Ritz is about as good as the Garden Court at the Palace. I'd stick with the cold seafood, salads, breads, omelet station and desserts. Avoid the chafing dishes, the carving station and the cheese.

There's a caviar station with three types of caviar, warm quarter size blinis and all the accompaniments. Caviar is not within my area of expertise, but it tasted fine. I'm just not a caviar fan.

There was a selection of smoked fish and lox. One of the smoked fish was outstanding, but the lox was really tasteless compared to the Waldorf's exquisite and flavorful lox. Heck, I've had better lox at Noah's Bagels.

Martini glasses held beautiful cold asparagus soup which was one of the outstanding dishes. Pure, wonderful asparagus flavor with a taste of sour cream or perhaps crème fraiche. I'm not a fan of cold soups, but I really loved this one. It was so pretty I made an exception, tried it and was glad I did.

Soups were really well done. I also sampled the hot pumpkin soup which was elegant with the right amount of spice and a perfect, pleasant. pumpkiny flavor.

The cheese was a disgrace, especially in California. I know something about blue cheese and the blue at the Ritz was just course and flavorless. None of the other cheeses tempted me. At the Waldorf, the selection was top notch and I think I even recognized one or two of California's top cheese makers. The Ritz should take advantage of some of the local cheese talent. Point Reyes would have been a much better than what was served. If it was Roquefort, which in my opinion was out of the question, it was from Roquefort-R-Us.

Wonderful selection of rolls, scones, morning buns, danish and muffins. I had a really tasty cream scone. Probably one of the best in the city. The croissant I had was buttery, but I would have liked more crunch on the exterior. Not up to the standards of Bay Breads or Tartine. but still very good. There were also bagels.

There were a number of pates and a really nice looking selection of fresh fruits that I passed on.

I did not try the omelet station, but they looked very good. I refuse to spend $55 for an omelet, waffles or breakfast dishes.

Cold salads were barely adequate. The tomato and mozzarella had tasteless and out of season tomatoes. The cheese was fine, but this is a dish that needs summer tomatoes.

The persimmon salad with frissee and candied pecans looked promising, but the fuyu persimmons had no crunch and were rubbery.

There was a nice red and gold beet salad. Yhere were a few more salads that I passed on.

There were only three non breakfast entrees in the chafing dishes. There was some sad looking eggs Benedict that I avoided. All the meat was overcooked and dry. As a comparison, the Waldorf had about eight entrees and they were all delicious (although I passed on the warm salmon since I had three different cold versions at the Waldorf).

The chicken with wild mushroom risotto and brussel sprouts was dry. The rice and mushrooms were ok, but calling it risotto was stretching things.

I had a scallop from the fruit de mar for comparison with the Waldorf. While the scallop at the Waldorf was sweet and juicy, the scallop at the Ritz was dry and fishy in a bad way. I think this dish had couscous but it was bad bad. (Sorry about that line.) There was a pork dish that was again overcooked and forgettable.

For hot vegetables, the garlic mashed potatoes were very nice with whole roasted cloves of garlic on top.

The mixed hot vegetables were overcooked, but really tasty. The asparagus fell apart as I tried to move it to my dish, but it tasted just great. The carrots were very sweet. The one thing the Waldorf failed miserably at was asparagus. They had about 4 preparations, both hot and cold. They were all bitter and tasteless.

It seems that the thing to do is include a sushi in buffets. BOTH the Waldorf and the Ritz should rethink this. I don't think this is the strong point of either buffet. Lovely little white china clams shell dishes are available to hold the wasabi and ginger at the Ritz.

The meat at the carving station was under the heating lamps a bit too long. The rack of lamb was dry. The accompanying truffle sauce didn't add anything.

There was also a pork loin stuffed with chorizo sausage which looked more interesting than it tasted. The pork was also dry and the sausage didn't bring the flavor together. There was some forgettable sauce on the pork.

The desserts were wonderful. Siekel pears are among my favorites and there was a dessert of these pears warmed and stuffed with a creamy custard.

There were nice pieces of buche de noel with green chocolate leaves.

The best dessert was the fruit tart. It looked great and tasted better. The fruit was on a shortbread crust spread with cream. Each fruit, blueberry, boysenberry, strawberry, persimmon were the best examples of the type. The strawberries tasted like Chandlers and I don't know where they found out of season berries that could rival the best of summer's crop, but they were wonderful. A truly memorable dessert.

Tiny Chinese soup spoons held puddings and mousses topped with berries. There were various berries in martini glasses (love that presentation). There were a number of cakes, cookies and chocolates.

In the unlikely event I go to the Ritz brunch again, I think I'll just head straight to the dessert table and try a little of everything.

There was fresh squeezed orange and pink grapefruit juice as well. It was California oranges and I prefer the sweet Florida OJ at the Waldorf. Actually I think Odwella does better OJ than the Ritz where the juice was slightly bitter.

I used the Waldorf as a comparison because it was a recent experience and actually made me decide to see how supposedly the best of SF stacks up.Also, I was taken aback about spending $80 for brunch. I wanted to check out prices in SF. For the extra $15 at the Waldorf there was two times more to select from than the Ritz and the quality was superior. I'd return to the Waldorf. The Ritz, probably not but it still gave me a pleasant memory.

Actually, the Ritz put me off of buffet brunches for a while. If I'm going to spend big bucks, I guess I'd rather have a well prepared dish rather than one that has been in a warming dish too long. The Ritz is elegant, but for me it's about the food.

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