Où Est Le Thé (Where’s the Tea)? – Russian Tea Room

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Call me intensely logical, naively optimistic, or just plain crazy. Please take a number and form a queue to do so. Yet, I reserve my right to form an independent opinion. So, there was no reason for this unapologetic tea aficionado not to visit New York’s Russian Tea Room.

New York Restaurant Week and Open Table made the reservation process very simple. Viewing The Russian Tea Room online menus, I noticed familiar names like “Vladimir”. “Ah,” I thought, “Being Russian-themed, Kusmi Tea’s Vladimir makes sense.” It was very reassuring to think a tea room cared to serve actual tea. So having visions of piping hot tea streaming from samovars, I booked a 2:00 p.m. reservation for one person and specified  “TEA” in the comment section.

There is no such thing as being alone when tea is present.

Troika of Trouble

I anticipated a memorable first visit to The Russian Tea Room. Indeed, it was quite memorable. I remember:

  • Navigating New York City Transit trains on a weekday holiday
  • Arriving 14 minutes late
  • Being seated 10 minutes later
  • Beginning my first course 20 minutes after being seated

Do the math please.  At the meal’s close, my server Sasha apologized that he didn’t receive notice for 20 minutes that I was the only person in the party. Is there an app for that?

Lesson learned: Humans use technology and not vice versa. Fast, free, and convenient Open Table reservations mean little if a restaurant’s staff does not communicate well among themselves.

Nevertheless, it takes more than front-of-the-house faux pas to distract this tenacious tea drinker. “If there is tea,” I told myself while waiting, “then it all will be worth it.”

Where the Russian Meets the Road

Having studied at length The Russian Tea Room menu options, I chose the following:

Traditional Tea Room Red Borscht

(Request with sour cream)

Chicken à la King

Chocolate Pyramid


Russian Country

(Keemun, Assam, Ceylon and Formosa Oolong with a touch of Lapsang Souchong)

No, that is not a Russian samovar. As it was, the server struggled to squeeze between tables to deliver the tray of hot tea, small cookies and cherry preserves safely. Add cherry preserves to my Keemun, Formosa oolong or Lapsang Souchong? No, thank you very much. (I passed the cherry preserves to the table next to me since I could hear her request some.)

Given the reputation, the decor, and the menu prices, this tea presentation seemed out of sync. Oh well, what is inside the cup is more important to me than the cup itself.

At last, it’s time to drink tea. Cups up!

Wait… what is this hanging from my teapot?

Perhaps The Russian Tea Room is unaware that Harney and Sons Soho, as well as many other tea purveyors, sells loose leaf tea here in New York City. Whenever any tea room advertises an elegantly expensive “High Tea” and then doesn’t serve loose tea it sends mixed signals.

Shouldn’t the tea matter at The Russian Tea Room? If I had only known, then I’d share my smoky Queen Catherine (Harney & Sons) or my soothing Kusmi Tea Prince Vladimir or… Yes, please fill in the blank. Better yet, bring an infuser.

There are only four words when I think of The Russian Tea Room:

Been there. Done that.

T-shirts and other souvenirs are available for sale, but I’ll leave them for the tourists.

Let there be tea.

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