Chowhounds: Valerie, one of the participants at the Tea, has asked me to post this report for her. --Kim
The Mandarin Lounge Afternoon Tea
On the afternoon of August 11, 2002, a group of 12 people had tea at the Mandarin Lounge in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel at 222 Sansome Street in San Francisco. The congenial group was composed equally of Chowhounds and tea connoisseurs from the "Rima wears hats" tea group. This tea lasted from 3 pm to 6 pm.
The Mandarin Lounge was not at all crowded. We were seated around a series of low square tables arranged in a long rectangle so that we could all see each other even if we couldn't hear each other. Half sat on plush chairs or sofas and the others sat on dining chairs with arm rests. I heard no complaints about discomfort. For smaller groups there are cosy nooks on the terraced side of the lounge. The room has no outside views except of the stark entryway to the hotel.
On the menu were five kinds of black teas (Breakfast Americana, Darjeeling choice estate, Earl gold, Celebration, and Orange jasmine), one oolong (Ti kuan yin), two green teas (Kyoto rice, Mountain spring jasmine), and three tisanes (Chamomile citrus blossom, Ginger twist, and Mint melange). All these varieties are available in bulk from the Mighty Leaf Tea company, which retails in San Francisco.
Several of us tried the Celebration black tea, described in the menu as "yielding a sweet, chocolate / rose like liquor". The first infusion was very intriguing, but the flavor did not last. This may have been due to using individual-sized teapots for two people. After several trips to refill our pots, the waiter finally just left us two extra pots of hot water so we could refill at will.
The selection of edibles to accompany the tea was limited to either "bento box delights" or scones. Those ordering scones received two small ones, but the waiter brought extras as needed. These were accompanied by clotted cream, a rather dark and mild lemon curd, and miniature jars of Hero fruit preserves. The lemon curd touched off discussion on whether limes were included and if not, what kind of lemons were in the curd. The addition of lime might explain the off color.
Those ordering the bento box were happy with their choice, but not with the quantity. The bento box included three small Mandarin canapés (all featuring seafood), a salmon spring roll, two pieces of tuna amaki roll, and various tiny cookies and chocolates. I heard the greatest praise for the salmon spring roll. The sushi with mango got mixed remarks, and some of the cookies got left in the box.
Service was cheerful and inobtrusive. We were not rushed. When I asked the waiter about the source of the teas, he brought me a canister to read.
Several in our group mentioned that they thought the price of the tea was too high. At $14 for the scones and tea, $24 for the bento box and tea, and three hours of a comfortable place to meet, I fail to understand their logic. True, the servings were not large, but tea at the Mandarin Lounge clearly was not meant to substitute for a meal. Additional food could have been ordered from the hotel restaurant Silks.
For reservations, call 415-276-9888. Private tea parties in an adjacent Club Room can be arranged with Silks, the hotel restaurant, 415-986-2020.