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The Ritz-Carlton offers three levels of tea: light tea ($8.50); full tea ($12.50); and, our choice, royal tea ($17.50).
The royal tea starts you off with a champagne cocktail, which I found to be a highly effective method of jump-starting an afternoon of leisure.
The high-proof theme continues with the first course, a plate of juicy strawberries doused with Grand Marnier and topped with a mound of fresh whipped cream. Dizzy, perhaps, from alcohol and the opulent atmosphere, unwholesome thoughts about why I didn't marry for money--so I could live like this every day--started creeping into my mind.
Fortunately, the next round of finger sandwiches snapped me back to reality. You get the traditional assortment: sliced hard-boiled egg and chives on bread lined with a tasty roasted tomato cream; cucumber and plum tomato adorned with a cucumber cream; ham rolled around a gherkin and asparagus; and lovely smoked salmon burnished with a few grains of caviar.
The Ritz-Carlton puts out first-rate scones on which you can apply a coating of jam, lemon curd or Devonshire cream. Then get ready to finish up with an attractive variety of pastries. Chelsea buns (they resemble a sweet raisin Danish), chocolate raspberry cake, excellent berry-topped custard tarts and moist carrot and pound cakes are all skillfully crafted.
Unlike the Phoenician, the Ritz-Carlton doesn't burden the uninitiated with too many tea options. Our server offered three: English breakfast, black currant and (ugh) decaf peppermint. I must have made a bit of a face over the choices, because she quickly asked if I preferred another variety. I did, and she was able to rustle up a pot of Darjeeling.
Tea for two? Try puttin' on the Ritz.
Tessa's Tea & Treasures, 4700 North Central, Phoenix, 234-3422. Afternoon tea: 2 to 3:30 p.m., seven days a week.
Looking to chat it up with the ladies over tea? Consider Tessa's Tea & Treasures, which is definitely designed for members of the female persuasion.
Don't take my word for it. "You're the first guy I've seen in here for eight months," said our server, who seemed a bit anxious about what this charge of rugged, manly testosterone that naturally crackles through me would do to Tessa's afternoon chemistry.
One look at the surroundings should tell you why tea at Tessa's is as popular with men as a lip-waxing procedure. This tidy place looks like a setting out of Little Women. The flowery wallpaper, lace curtains, lace tablecloth, frilly waitress outfits, dried flower arrangements, Victorian knickknacks and antique furnishings will take most women back to the New England girlhood they once dreamed about. Guys, however, may find it a little suffocating. The place is also thick with the scent of potpourri, an aroma whose charms are genetically inexplicable to bearers of the XY chromosomes.
The fare itself, however, will appeal to just about everyone. You start off with hot, crusty, fresh-baked scones, right out of the oven, teamed with lemon curd, homemade jam and creme fraiche.
They're followed by a big tray supporting enough hearty sandwiches and fruit to satisfy even the fiercest female appetites. You get cream cheese and cucumber, tomato and cheese and turkey, accompanied by pear, strawberries, watermelon, pepperjack cheese and candied walnuts.
Desserts feature three kinds of yummy miniature cheesecakes (chocolate, cherry and chocolate chip), cream puffs and an assortment of store-bought cookies.
Too bad, though, the tea itself doesn't do justice to the spread. Vanilla, cinnamon spice and decaf currant teas have the same effect on me as potpourri. Fortunately, the waitress scrounged up a Lipton tea bag, for which I was grateful. But it seems to me that Tessa's ought to take its tea more seriously.
When afternoon tea is over, you can wander through Tessa's well-stocked antique shop, browsing for the $5,500 sideboard or $1,200 pump organ you've always wanted. It sure beats picking up your dry cleaning.
Tessa's Tea & Treasures: