If you’re looking for the best afternoon tea in New York, the Plaza Hotel’s offering is probably high on your list. But is the Plaza Hotel’s afternoon tea vegetarian-friendly? I was there a few weeks ago and found it to be a great experience, and they were quite willing to substitute vegetarian options.
If you haven’t been to tea at the Plaza, here’s what you need to know: this is an old-school afternoon tea: scones, little sandwiches, very formal, the whole nine yards. That said, they are at least a little whimsical; because of the story of Eloise, there’s an “Eloise tea” on the menu that includes more kid-friendly sandwiches (grilled cheese, peanut butter and jelly) and offers lemonade instead of the usual teas. Don’t worry: if you are feeling young at heart, like my wife was, you can get an adult-sized serving of the food that goes with the Eloise tea, along with a cup of grown-up tea.
I ordered the “Golden Monkey Picked” tea from the list of reserve black teas. It was really interesting — a smooth black tea that was flavorful without the bitterness that is often an undertone in black teas. I don’t know a lot of about being a “tea connoisseur,” but according to the wikipedia page, this is a highly regarded tea. Among other things it is hand-picked, which sounds quite tedious. If nothing else, the name “Golden Monkey” is pretty neat.
The tower for the Eloise tea was nice: it looked just like the adult tea, so if you have older kids, they can really feel like they’re participating in a “real” afternoon tea. The desserts on the top shelf were pretty similar to the adults’ tower (my daughter got jello, which I didn’t, and her strawberry had a pink frosting on it rather than dark chocolate). The middle shelf featured scones like everyone else’s tower. But the bottom shelf was different: strawberry sandwiches instead of cucumber, and grilled cheese and peanut butter sandwiches instead of some of the other finger foods the adults get. The sandwiches all had the crusts cut off, so they looked “classy” just like other other sandwiches!
My tower was quite good, with one sort of serious glitch: although they said they would substitute vegetarian options for me where necessary, they forgot. This was a little disappointing — for a place that is as expensive and well-regarded as the Palm Court, I would have expected that they’d get this right. It wasn’t a huge problem, though; they very quickly brought out a new plate (the desserts and scones on the top two plates are obviously vegetarian, so this only affected the bottom plate).
The sandwiches were both classic and unusual. There were cucumber sandwiches, which are par for the course at an afternoon tea. There were no egg salad sandwhiches, which I didn’t really miss. What you see near the middle of the plate is a little tart-like thing with egg that was made with black truffle; it was quite good and probably my favorite. There was also some toast with pesto. The pesto was surprisingly flavorful for such a small dollop.
The sweets were nice, though nothing particularly mind-blowing: a little fruit tart, a little cannolo, cupcake, cookie, etc. There were also some other things I ate before taking the picture: a macaron, a dark chocolate-dipped strawberry, cream puff, and maybe a few other odds and ends. Add to the mix the usual scones (one plain, one currant) and you have quite a lot of food for your money.
All in all, the Palm Court had a great afternoon tea. It is classic, formal, luxurious, and quite expensive. And it is really expensive. Lady Mendel’s serves a five-course afternoon tea for $40, more than a third less than what the Plaza charges. The Pierre serves a tea comparable to the Plaza’s, with champagne, for approximately what the Plaza charges without. So this is definitely a special occasion-splurge kind of place. But for what it is, it’s a great experience, and the vegetarian options are really good — you’re not forcing yourself to choke down multiple cucumber sandwiches because that’s all they had. In every way except price, this is an exceptional tea service.