Sanmotoonge, The Hardest Cafe to Find in Seoul

There's no way I would have found, or even have know about this cafe, if it wasn't for my friend Claire who lives in Seoul and frequents this place. To get to Sanmotoonge cafe, it takes a subway ride followed by a cab where Claire had to direct the cab driver, and a 15 minute walk -- all uphill! But oh, the views!

Once we got there, I spotted the yellow Volkswagen and it reminded me of Merci, a shop and cafe in Paris that has a tiny car in front.

We arrived there at 11AM, just as they were opening and we took a look around the place. There are multiple sitting areas on different levels. 

The outdoor spaces are breathtaking with wonderful views. It was too cold to sit outside, so back inside we go.

The lower level has rooms set up like a children's playroom and a living room. 

After ordering a couple of tea lattes (a little on the pricy side since you're paying for the view) at the counter by the entrance and picking up our drinks (no table service), we chose a spot one flight up and took seats by the window.

We slowly sipped our drinks (my tea latte came sweetened), snacked on the little packaged cookies, and enjoyed the calming views...

including this one of the Seoul fortress wall that snakes up this mountain.

It's one of those tea spots where you feel completely comfortable and don't want to leave...especially when you know you have a 15 minute walk just to find a cab.

INFO: Sanmotoonge97-5 Buam-dong,Jongno-gu | Seoul, South Korea | +82.2.391.4737

Posted on January 27, 2015 .

Afternoon Tea Review // Palm Court at The Plaza

The Plaza is the one place most people think of when they think of afternoon tea in New York City. Because of that, The Plaza know they can charge a lot more than most afternoon tea places, and they do. They recently had a refresh of the design of Palm Court, where the afternoon tea is served, and I went back to check it out with Sara and Georgia. (See my last visit in 2013.)

SETTING: ★★★
The refresh of the space looked pretty much the same to me, but with some minor changes. The biggest change is the circular bar in the center of the room so it feels more like a bar/lounge than a formal tea room, which was how it felt like before. No more white tablecloths (replaced with mirrored surface tables), more casual seating, and overall the space felt much more casual. I prefer the look of the Palm Court before their refresh.

SERVICE: ★★★★
The service was very friendly and our server did a great job explaining the items on the menu we had questions about. 

TEA & TEA SELECTION: ★★★★★
Great tea menu with a nice selection of Palais des Thes teas. I loved the teapot that seemed normal sized, but somehow poured endless cups of tea. (I didn't even need to ask for more hot water which is rare!) I liked how they used a rectangular piece of paper that was placed under the teapot that had the name of the tea printed on it (or written in my case).

We all ordered "The New Yorker Tea" and it came out on a round three-tiered tray. The sweets at the top, savories in the middle, and scones on the bottom tray. The presentation is lovely. 

SAVORIES: ★★★☆
Let me first start by saying that the afternoon tea at The Plaza is a whopping $65, which is $10 more than most other hotel afternoon tea services. With the premium pricing, I want DAMN good tea sandwiches and The Plaza failed to deliver. For that price I want my savories prepared tableside! The tea sandwiches looked a little sloppy and tasted fine, but not "I'll pay $10 more" amazing.

SCONES: ★★★
The scones came out warm, wrapped in a cloth napkin. I knocked off a star since they brought out one set of clotted cream and jams for all three of us. I really wish they had brought out three sets. One set was definitely not enough, so we did ask for another.

SWEETS: ★★★
The sweets were excellent, with a nice variety -- delicate and tasty. Each mini sweet treat was perfectly portioned and adorable. This was my favorite course.

How could I not give five stars for service when our server was nice enough to get me a pink cotton candy from the kitchen after I spotted one at a table nearby. It's part of the "Eloise Tea" service and as a HUGE cotton candy fan, I loved it. (Very cute idea of using a pretzel stick to wrap the cotton candy around.)

OVERALL: ★★★
I can't get over the inflated pricing, but I would recommend at least one visit, just to give it a try.

INFO: The Palm Court at The Plaza | Fifth Avenue at Central Park South | New York, NY 10019 | 888.850.0909
AFTERNOON TEA HOURS: Daily from 12:30PM - 4:30PM 
COST: The New Yorker, $65 | Menu

Tea & Sweets at Tiny Pinecone Teahouse

Remember Matsunosuke, the cute Japanese bakery that served pies and fluffy pancakes? Well, that place has gone and a pop-up teahouse, Tiny Pinecone has taken its place. They'll be there till mid-February.

What you'll find at Tiny Pinecone are tea and sweets so it's a great little spot for a tea break. 

I met up with Georgia and Sara and we snacked on a bunch of different sweets, all made in-house.

These mini Quince and Goat Cheese scones were a highlight for me. No clotted cream needed, they were perfect on their own. SO, SO GOOD.

To drink, I got the homemade chai, which was a touch too sweet, but still tasty. I'll have to go back for their Royal Milk Tea, which is also offered on their beverage menu, which are all teas, no coffee.

The chiffon cocoa cake with hojicha frosting was also quite good, with the tea flavor really coming through without being overpowering.

All the baked goods were very flavorful, delicate, and not too sweet. There wasn't anything I had that I didn't like. I'll have to go back before they're gone from that cute space.

INFO: Tiny Pinecone | 58 West 8th Street | New York, NY 10011 | 347.469.1119

Posted on January 22, 2015 .

HARBS

HARBS (all caps) is a Japanese cafe and bakery that recently opened in Chelsea. Thanks to Kathy, I was able to join her for a tasting.

The bakery is on the corner of 22nd and 9th Ave., and it seems unassuming, but once you enter and go to the right to enter the cafe, you see exactly how big the space actually is. 

Lots of comfortable seating and they never rush you, so it's a great way to spend an afternoon chatting with friends over tea and slices of fluffy cake.

The servers are very friendly and surprisingly everyone speaks Japanese. They were all trained in Japan for two months.

I LOVE (all caps) chestnuts, so it's not surprising I ordered the Houji-cha Marron, a chestnut flavored green tea. Milk tastes great with this tea so give that a try. The teaware is adorable, by the way.

HARBS does cakes. That's all you'll find in the glass cases at the front of the shop. They do a lot of cream cakes, so if you love cream, you'll love HARBS. 

The first cake I had was the Waguri tarte, a red bean and whipped cream cake with chestnuts brought in from Japan. VERY GOOD.

Next, two more cakes! 

The Mille crepe cake, HARBS-style with fresh fruit and cream in each of its six layers. Cakes are made fresh daily, and once they're sold out, they're sold out. You can really see and taste the freshness with each cake, but this one especially.

The white cake slice is their Rare cheesecake, which is a non-baked cheesecake with crushed peanuts on the outside. It's got an interesting tang to it, and isn't very sweet, so it's not like a typical cheesecake you've had in the past. It's one of those things that you keep eating to see if you like it and before you know it, you've eaten the whole thing.

If you're looking for a new place for tea and cake, this is it.

INFO: HARBS | 198 Ninth Ave. (22nd Street) | New York, NY 10011 | 646.336.6888

2014.

A lot of eating and traveling happened in 2014...

I went to Paris and ate lots and lots of food with tons of butter. See what I ate for breakfast (including the best croissant EVER!), and a couple of very memorable meals at Mariage Freres and L'Arpege. I spent seven days in Paris, and this is where I stayed. A tea experience is always a must, and that included one at NINA'S Paris. I can't travel without having afternoon tea, and I had two during my visit. One at the Mandarin Oriental, and the other at the Shangri-La Paris.

Unfortunately, on this trip, for the first time ever, we got pickpocketed on the way to Musée d'Orsay. But there's nothing a macaron or a baguette can't cure.

florence-2014.jpg

From Paris, I went over to Florence, Italy where many, many gelatos were had on a daily basis. See 10 things to do in Florence and the fantastic afternoon tea I had at the Four Season Firenze. Take a look at the apartment that was rented here, the many uphill climbs I endured at the Boboli Gardens, and the day trip I took to Siena!

A quick weekend trip to Jacksonville, Florida to see a friend. We went back to the museum where she got married (one of the most gorgeous setting for a wedding), and of course, afternoon tea at the Cozy Tea.

In the fall, I headed out to San Francisco with my friend Michele. Priorities, so see everything I ate in San Francisco. I loved the tea experience I had at Song Tea & Ceramics and wished there was one just like it in New York! I did A LOT of riding in cable cars and rode one to get to the afternoon tea at The Fairmont San Francisco.

A month ago, I went to Seoul, South Korea! No Michelin starred restaurants are in Korea, but the thing to eat is STREET FOOD. See all the street food I ate, including that super tall soft serve ice cream. I loved the Korean traditional tea and snacks I had at Dawon, the food court at Shinsegae, and the six shaved ices I ate. Afternoon teas were had at The Shiilla Seoul and the Park Hyatt Seoul.

I'm hoping for more travel in 2015!

I started posting my Michelin starred lunches this year and went to my go-to Gramercy Tavern for their Soup and Sandwich special many times throughout the year.

I had an exceptional lunch at Eleven Madison Park where the service was beyond amazing. The photo above was one of the courses served, a carrot that you can add ingredients from the tray to your liking.

My favorite sushi place is 15 East, where I had a very tasty sushi omakase lunch. A tasting menu lunch at Jean-Georges was also excellent. And last but not least, a seafood tasting menu at Marea, which blew me away.

When not having 3 hour long lunches, I have 3 hour afternoon teas. Here are all the ones I went to in New York City this year.

I went to:
- Bosie Tea Parlor
- Crosby Street Hotel
- New Museum
- The Peninsula Hotel
- The Pierre
- Bergdorf Goodman
- St. Regis
- Press Tea

When not busy eating, I was creating recipes with my friend Queenie. She and I worked together to make everything that involve an oven. I create the recipes that only involve a toaster oven. 

Posted on December 29, 2014 .