Sunday, December 2, 2012

Adventure awaits at Samovar Zen Valley

Tea Time Alert: The Zen Valley branch of Samovar is now closed, but you can still visit their downtown and Castro branches. If you just want a cuppa tea and scone, check out their new Tea Bar on Valenica street. The menu referenced in this post is still available at their other two restaurants (but double check with their website).

If they need a new James Bond villain, he could live here, at Samovar Zen Valley. This cozy warm retreat from blustery fall weather would shelter him in a secret room. He would survey his domain as his waitstaff/minions charm spies  and locals with various Tea services to extract information in a personable and effortless manner. You are very full and sleepy, getting sleepy. (Now, where did you hide the zip drive shaped like a tea leaf?)

This tea shop lends itself to fantasy, with its variety of food options. We enjoyed the "Paleo" and the "English." Samovar also has a wide variety of teas to choose from, and they let you mix and match to your own preference. J.K. chose to have the Seasonal Tea of the day (it was suggested with her Paleo tea service) an earthy green tea, which is served in a traditional Asian style. Here, you flash the hot water over your tea leaves, enjoying each different level of flavor. The first couple pours are always lightly touched with tea as the hot water has only seconds to encourage the leaves to open and release their secrets. As you drink more and more small cups, you find the tea develops a richness and depth as the leaves unfurl having absorbed more hot water. You can practice this with any tea, and it is a fun way to change how to appreciate your favorite leaves, allowing you a new perspective on their flavor.

Asian style tea service gives a new perspective to tea flavors.
The Paleo Tea Service includes Kale and Carrot Salad (Drizzled with Tangy Sesame Dressing), Steamed Beets and your choice of Wild Smoked Salmon, Braised Tofu or Smoked Duck. Of course Tea Time chose the smoked duck. (Smoked salmon just doesn't seem right without cream cheese and, preferably, a bagel.) The smoked duck was meaty and gamey, its flavor enhanced by the smoke. The menu points out that early humans ate wild-foraged veggies and animals, and grains came later. It isn't really "afternoon tea," but it is interesting and extremely healthful. Maybe a little too healthful. It was well prepared and and we ate it all, but we probably wouldn't order it again since everything on the plate is served at room temperature. This is presumably because the paleo people didn't have fire? The Chinese Tea Service looks interesting, but is available only at the Yerba Buena location.

Paleo Tea Service with Smoked Duck and veggies
Our plan to blog afternoon teas in the Bay Area means we also got the English Service as well. Tea Time is very good at sharing, although this was not homestyle serve yourself, more of "here a piece of duck for a wedge of quiche" type of split. Black Breakfast Blend tea is usually served with this tea option, but Angela chose a Mint Green Tea instead. It was served in a nontraditional tea pot, but in the regular English way, of allowing the tea to fully unfurl and steep so you reach the full depth of flavor on the first sip.

Steeping tea pot with Asian style cup
 Angela enjoyed the Cherry Oat Scone, the crunchy oats on top lending a sweet crunch that is just as yummy as sugar sanded on top. (Probably more healthful too.) This generously sized triangle shaped scone came with berry jam and the traditional Devonshire cream. You can also order this treat a la carte and entice your friend (or enemy) into spilling the beans about their plans when you surprise them with their own, since $7 gets you two scones, plus jam and cream.

Cherry Oat Scone and fixin's
Angela chose the smoked salmon quiche and it came with a mixed greens salad. This is a generous meal for one with a personal sized quiche that is served at room temperature. The salad came with a generous amount of grated carrots on top. The greens were a nice counterpoint to the eggy pie with a flaky crust. Perhaps this quiche steps out of the realm of "afternoon tea" and into "high tea," as it replaces the regular sandwiches you most often get to enjoy.

Quiche and side salad
Although you could choose to nibble the fruit whenever you want, Tea Time ate it as 'dessert,' but that wasn't dessert enough for us, so we ordered the Platter of Tea Sweets. (Please forgive us, we have what's known as the "sweet tooth.") Apple, pear and cantaloupe were not enough to satisfy us on this drab day.

Fruit, the sometimes dessert.
The English Tea Service came with a plate of fruit (above), but  we decided to order the Platter of Tea Sweet as this let us sample all the dessert delights they offer at Samovar for a good price. This dessert plate was also on the "healthy" side (right? isn't mousse a food group?) and rounded out the meal nicely. We took some of this tray to go, but hightlights were the matcha green tea mousse with brownie, and the stuffed dates were a delight.

Platter of Tea Sweets L to R
 coconut rice pudding, homemade butter cookies, green tea mousse,
fudge brownie, apple &pear slices, walnut-chevré stuffed dates
This is not a stereotypical "British afternoon tea" experience, but it is a cozy and pleasant place to spend an afternoon, especially a chilly and wet one. The food is good--and good for you--and the service is pleasant and relaxed. So get your imagination in gear this winter (yes, it's nearly here!) grab a journal, ipad or book and head over to Zen Valley Samovar. Watch out for spies!!

The communal table and afternoon tea.