We treated ourselves to a Lyft ride to the Heathman so we could enjoy the signature Northwest rain and not worry about parking downtown. I got to wear my jazzy paisley rain boots and Valerie loaned me a creamy knitted shrug to ward of any chill. We were feeling wonderfully expectant of our tea.
And then we saw the lobby. I expected to find the room seen below. Unfortunately, it had been updated.
We were seated at a low marble table with a beautiful blue velvet sofa and comfortable beige arm chairs. A fire was lit in the modern fireplace. Our spirits were on the rise. We waited for one of the two waiters to greet us. After about ten minutes, I went in search of the hostess to explain our third guest would not be joining us so could we have our tea? She was on the phone (with her boss, she later explained) so she gave me the "I'll be right with you” gesture. Okay…that went on for a few more minutes. Not the level of service I would prefer.
Eventually, we did begin our tea service. We were cheered to see they used Smith Teamaker, a local tea blender with a long tea pedigree. Smith has multiple shops around Portland, their flagship store in a 100-year-old blacksmith shop. Valerie chose the Georgian Caravan tea. The name is a nod to the traditionally smoky Russian caravan tea, said to have been created by the black tea being stored near campfires during the long journey from China to Russia, in the saddle bags of pack animals. The tea was delicious and Smith packaging is quite lovely, so we added a canister of the Georgian Caravan loose leaf to take home. I chose Bungalow tea which was described on the menu as a blend of first and second flush Darjeeling tea leaves. This tea needed a longer brewing time than my usual Yorkshire Gold, but after about ten minutes, it fully opened up and became very flavorful. When next in Portland, a visit to Smith Teas is definitely on the agenda. www.smithtea.com
Portland chef Vitaly Paley opened Headwaters at the Heathman restaurant, and their afternoon tea service is inspired by his Russian heritage. Pastry chef Megan Jeans interprets the Russian pastries with finesse and flair.
Everything on the three tiered server was interesting looking, fresh, and tasty. The printed menu does a good job of explaining the savory and sweet items. Each of the eight loose teas available is described in detail, so even tea novices will be able to choose a tea to their liking.
Tart Olivier is a play on a historic Russian salad, here presented in tiny tart shell, garnished with even tinier cornichon slices. Georgian cheese bread, Khachapuri, was a rich, cheesy roll, made with local honey.
Middle tier: Flaky mushroom turnovers, delightful walnut-stuffed eggplant rolls garnished with pomegranate seeds, powdered sugar-covered Russian tea cakes, and excellent orange and pistachio halva.
Top tier: Pryaniki, old-world style spiced cookies with a honey glaze, Steopka, which is reputedly Paley’s grandmother’s recipe for walnut cake, Tort Po Kievski, an elegant multi-layered hazelnut and coffee flavored cake square, lemon bars, and a rather tired version of Russian honey cake, Medovik Torte.
I feel confident in critiquing the Medovik torte, as I made a few in preparation for one of Hidden Valley String Orchestra’s donor fêtes. The concert featured Eastern European music and Polly suggested the honey cake. It is made from spiced cookie-like layers that soften once the torte sits with its filling and frosting of the amazing combination of caramel, butter, and honey. It is finished with crumbled cookies over the top and sides. The Medovik tastes best about 3 or 4 days after it is assembled. I’m thinking that theirs sat a bit too long and tasted a tad stale. Overall though, the quality of the savories and pastries was very good.
Our Russian tea menu at www.myteaplanner.com is similar in spirit while adding some Russian foods not specifically served with tea but too yummy to leave out.
Charlotte’s Marinated Mushrooms
Open-faced Smoked Salmon Sandwiches on Swirled Rye
Caviar Platter with Blini
Kulich with Paskha Cheese Spread
Russian Cheese Tartlets
Russian Tea Cakes
Poppy Seed Cookies
I also appreciated Headwaters at the Heathman’s interesting beverage menu. Besides the hot tea selection from Smith Teamaker, a flight of vodkas including Russian, local, and infused vodkas is available. And as should be at all urban hotel afternoon teas, sparkling wines are offered. We ordered a cava and a brut rosé sparkler which were both delicious but unfortunately were served in wine glasses because “we are out of champagne glasses.” Huh?
Wonderful food and fine quality tea, elegant, if modern, surroundings but a bit rough in the service and organization department. The overall experience was most fun due to my charming companion. Many thanks to Valerie for being my Portland tea co-conspirator. We are already planning our next tea outing, to Hotel de Luxe: