Friday, March 18, 2016

Classic Afternoon Tea at the Disneyland Hotel - Steakhouse 55 - March 12, 2016

The Disneyland Resort had announced that classic afternoon tea would be served at the Steakhouse 55 restaurant inside the Disneyland Hotel, and I was interested in trying it.  I love tea, and I'm a fan of afternoon tea.  I still really miss the Practically Perfect Tea that used to be offered at what is now the Paradise Pier Hotel.

The husband and I attended the afternoon tea for a lunchtime seating on March 12, 2016.  I checked in at the podium, and then we waited for a few minutes in the lounge before being taken to our table.  The first time I went to breakfast at Steakhouse 55, I was surprised to note that the restaurant was well-lit, though I should have expected it.  I'd only previously been there for dinner, when the lights are dimmer to set the ambiance, but it made sense for the restaurant to be bright instead during breakfast, which was the same for afternoon tea.  We were taken to a two-person table towards the back, and the hostess said our server would be with us shortly.

The husband and I perused our menus in the meantime.

Menu choices for classic afternoon tea at Steakhouse 55 at the Disneyland Hotel.

Three choices are offered for tea service.  The classic tea party includes scones, tea sandwiches, dessert, and of course, tea, for $50 per person (AP discounts, and presumably cast member discounts, apply).

Classic Tea Party elements.

The premium tea party includes all the elements of the classic tea party as well as a glass of sparkling wine, a salad, and farewell truffles, and that costs $65 per person, before applicable discounts.

Premium Tea Party elements.

There is also a kids tea party offered, for $35 per child, before applicable discounts.

Kids tea party elements.

The husband and I both opted for the premium tea party.  We then perused the menu of available teas.  When our server came to greet us, she told us that we were of course welcome to try as many of the teas as we liked, but she did recommend that we have one pot at a time.  She also mentioned that the teas could be served hot or iced.  I was actually surprised at that since it would never occur to me to have iced tea at an afternoon tea, but I guess they were being accommodating to people's preferences.  I'm not generally a fan of flowery teas and fruit teas, and I tend to like my tea strong, so the tea that really caught my eye was the Perfect Afternoon.  When we told the server that's the one we wanted to start with, she mentioned that it was the strongest tea on the list.  Of course it was.

List of available teas.

There was also a list of other adult beverages that were available.

For an adult twist to tea.

We also asked for water, and after we'd ordered, we were ready for tea to start.  First, they brought out the sparkling wine.  The sparkling wine being served was Fairy Tale, which has been the signature sparkling wine at the Resort for some time, and which I love, but I hadn't realized that it was from Iron Horse.  Many years ago, at a wine dinner at Catal Restaurant in Downtown Disney, I'd discovered a riesling from Iron Horse that I'd really loved.

Table settings already in place for tea.  I love the clean, clear pattern.

Iron Horse Fairy Tale sparkling wine.

I liked the teapot that they were using for tea, but I did think it was very plain, with just the bone white.  I didn't want anything too flowery, but maybe some kind of subtle solid-color accent might have gone nicely with the pattern of the china.  It wasn't a very large teapot, which made sense if the intention is that you are going to try several of the teas in succession.  And, I have to admit, even though I wasn't planning on using the milk, I was disappointed that it was cold.  It would have been nice if it had been even a little warm, or even close to room temperature, as pouring cold milk into hot tea really dampens the temperature of the tea.  In this case, it wasn't even just the milk that was cold, but the container was as well, so we figured that meant the entire container had been in the refrigerator.  Serving warm or even room temperature milk is definitely more labor intensive than serving cold milk but it would have been a nice extra touch.

Pot of tea with milk on the side.

I really enjoyed the Perfect Afternoon tea.  It definitely had a bold tea flavor and was a good accompaniment to the menu items, especially the scones, since they're fairly sweet.

Beautiful color of the Perfect Afternoon tea.

In addition to milk, also brought to the table were sugar, sugar substitutes, honey and lemon.  I generally don't put anything in my hot tea, but it's nice to have the items available for people who do use them.

Sugar comes in the form of crystallized sugar sticks.

Honey and lemon for your tea, if you please.

Because we'd ordered the premium tea party, our first course was the salad.  I was pleasantly surprised that it was a rather nice salad, with romaine lettuce rather than iceberg, and a few different accompaniments on the lettuce as well and a nice dressing that didn't oversaturate the salad.  They also added fresh ground pepper upon request.  It was a nice and refreshing start to tea.

A nice salad to start with.

The main elements of the tea were brought in a stacked tower, with the scones on top, the tea sandwiches in the middle and the desserts on the bottom.  Accompaniments for the scones were on a separate plate.

Scones, sandwiches and dessert.

There were two kinds of scones, one was a black currant scone and one was a blueberry scone with lemon glaze.

Blueberry scones with lemon glaze and black currant scones.

The scone accompaniments were Devonshire cream, lemon curd and blueberry lemon preserve.  I did think it was kind of interesting that the blueberry and lemon themes were repeated in the scones and in the accompaniments.  The Devonshire cream was wonderful, as you'd expect.  I mostly put that on the scones.  I liked the lemon curd but I'll admit I wasn't sure how the tartness of that would work on the scones, so I didn't end up using any of it.  The blueberrry lemon preserve was quite nice, and I had some of it with the black currant scone.

Devonshire cream, lemon curd and blueberry lemon preserve.

The tea sandwiches consisted of cucumber and watercress, heirloom tomato and mozzarella (basically a caprese), egg salad, and smoked salmon.  I enjoyed all of the sandwiches.  They were all different enough from each other that you could enjoy the various flavors.

Tea sandwiches.

A different view of the tea sandwiches.

Dessert consisted of chocolate-dipped strawberries, mini fruit tarts, and four different flavors of macarons.  The flavors have apparently changed during the time that tea has been offered, but on this day, the flavors were pineapple chocolate, white and dark chocolate, pistachio maraschino, and raspberry chocolate.  I enjoyed the desserts, though I didn't have all of them because I was feeling that there was quite a bit of sugar overall during the meal, and that's without putting any sugar in my tea.  The scones were sweeter than I remember them normally being when I've had them elsewhere - perhaps the lemon glaze on the blueberry added to that.  For the mini fruit tart, I ate the fruit on top and left the rest of the tart.  I really enjoyed the chocolate-dipped strawberry (neither the husband nor I like white chocolate, so he scraped the white chocolate off and just ate the strawberry, while I was able to enjoy the milk chocolate one) because it was a perfectly ripe strawberry, not too sweet and not too sour, and the size of the strawberry was enough to evenly balance the sweetness of the chocolate.  Even though the macarons were smallish and were shared by two of us, having four of them seemed more than I'd have expected.  I probably would have preferred for there to be two of them and then maybe some additional fruit on the side instead of the other two macarons, maybe a couple slices of honeydew or cantaloupe, which are mild enough in flavor not to overpower the other desserts but wouldn't add as much to the sweet flavors.


I think part of the problem for me in feeling like the sweet factor of the meal was too high is that I didn't have as much tea to drink as I'd have liked.  We did finish our first pot of tea, and when we were ready to try our next tea, it took a while for us to get the attention of our server, who was helping other guests.  So we sat for a little while without any tea to drink, and I did end up having more of my water than I normally would during a meal where I also have tea.  When we finally were able to speak to our server, we ordered our next tea, and that seemed to take a while to come out as well.  So, at a meal advertised as afternoon tea, I spent too much of it without any tea.  If I'd had more tea available throughout the meal, I think it would have cleaned out my palate more from the scones, and having the tea with the desserts would probably also have presented a better balance.  At one point, I sat there for a while waiting to have some more of my dessert until I had tea to go with it.  Our initial pot of tea was brought out by someone other than our server, but otherwise, everything else we received and needed was handled by our server.  Maybe it would be better to have someone assist the server so that if someone needed another pot of the same tea or even a different tea, the other person could take care of that.  If someone needed assistance in picking out what tea to have, it would make sense for the server to handle that, but for people like us who have very definite ideas of what kinds of tea we like, who don't need the extra assistance and just need to make our tea request.  I'd wanted to also try the White Tip Darjeeling but didn't have time.  Towards the end of our meal, the husband actually asked if I wanted to order a pot of that, but I didn't want to wait the extra time to get it, as we'd already been there for a while.  If they don't want someone other than the server attending to the guests, perhaps they might give fewer tables to each server and have more servers so that the server isn't spread as thin among their various tables.  (For those who know me, yes, there was English Breakfast tea on the menu, and yes, I love that, but no, I wasn't going to order it because there were other teas I wanted to try.)

The other tea that we did request was the Russian Earl Grey, which initially intrigued me because while of course I was familiar with Earl Grey tea, I'd never heard of Russian Earl Grey before.  As I'd mentioned previously, I generally don't add anything to my hot tea, but I do enjoy lemon in my hot tea on the occasions when I have a cold.  I really enjoyed this tea, which had the flavor of lemon in it, but while I can't properly describe the flavor, having the lemon flavor infused into the tea gave it a much cleaner taste and flavor than adding lemon into the tea separately.  It was enough of a lemon flavor to give it the scent and taste but it wasn't too tart.  It was really a nice tea.

I asked the server about the teas that were offered with the meal, and she said that they were all loose leaf teas, fresh brewed, and they were from Tea Leaves and Twinings.  I'm a fan of Twinings, but I hadn't heard of Tea Leaves before.  At first, I didn't realize she was referencing a brand name and thought she just meant tea leaves, but as she was explaining that a rep from the company had come to explain the teas to the servers and staff, I realized that must be the name of the company.  And lo and behold, here's the Russian Earl Grey from Tea Leaves.  I'm amused that the story our server relayed to us about the tea is actually on the website, that tea was brought from China to Russia via the desert, and lemon was added to the tea to hide the dusty flavor.  I think I'm going to need to order some of that.  (And for those of you who know about me, buying tea, and the husband, yes, he knows I'm likely going to order it, and no, he didn't object.  Of course, he doesn't know that I've looked through the other teas available there, and I might be ordering more than just the Russian Earl Grey.  Shhhhhhh!!!!!)

Finally, the last item included in our premium tea party were truffles.  Inside the cute packaging were two truffles, Tahitian vanilla and salted caramel.  Yes, I was done with sugar by that point.  We saved them for later and shared them with friends.  I do love that the truffles come in a pretty and branded container which makes for a nice memento/souvenir.

Truffles to complete the premium tea experience.

A nice memento/souvenir of the afternoon.

Since there are two choices offered for tea (not including the kids tea), how would you decide which one to order?  Is $15 worth the extra price for a salad, a glass of sparkling wine and truffles?  Of course, it all depends on your preferences and budget.  If your entire family of 6 is attending, that's a lot of extra cost.  If you're not a fan of salad or don't partake in alcoholic beverages or are allergic to chocolate, the premium tea party might not work for you.  (I didn't ask if a non-alcoholic beverage could be substituted for the glass of sparkling wine.)  For us, we were glad we'd gotten the premium tea party.  Having the additional salad was definitely nice, and without it, the meal would have seemed even sweeter.  I did enjoy the sparkling wine, helped by the fact that it's a wine I already liked.  And while I didn't need the extra sugar of the truffles, it was nice to share them with friends, and I like having the souvenir to keep.  If you're going with other family members, some of you could order the classic tea party and some could order the premium tea party and just share the extra elements.  That could work among friends as well, as long as you agree ahead of time who gets what!

The restaurant was busy but not full when we were there, so it seems to be a popular offering.

Overall, I did enjoy the afternoon tea.  My experience might be a little jaded because I have a couple of local places that I can go to that have excellent afternoon teas, including one that's basically a proper English tea, and I really, REALLY miss the Practically Perfect Tea that I'd mentioned earlier.  This tea isn't something I'd likely attend on a regular basis (though I do have plans to return shortly, to enjoy it with friends), but I think it's a lovely offering for people who want to be able to enjoy the experience of tea and don't necessarily have a favorite place to already go to, or who want to try something different.  Whether for locals or tourists visiting Disneyland, it's a nice interlude during the day, and definitely a nice option to celebrate a holiday or an important milestone.  When we were there, we happened to overhear another party who were attending as a surprise retirement party for their mother.  What a wonderful idea!

A premium tea party adds enjoyment to any day.