Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Amanda in Wonderland (aka Alice's Tea Cup, NY)...

Amanda was getting very tired of sitting by her boyfriend on the corner of Columbus and West 73rd with nothing to do, when suddenly a white rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her. There was nothing so very remarkable in that, nor did Amanda think it so very much out of the way to hear the rabbit to say to itself 'Oh Dear! Oh Dear' I Shall be too late! Amanda started to her feet...and burning with curiosity, she ran down some steps and after it, and was just in time to see it pop through a painted door.

In another moment down went Amanda after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again...

Cake + knifelings, it was almost exactly three years ago that I was first stung by a gentle bergamot note which, in a double-filtered, super-boiled and steamingly startling strain - pierced me. I was not who I was before. I was un-Amanda-ed. It was Tea. True Tea. A sea of tea, and me. Me, and oh my! The clank of silver against the pearly hollow of china. A breath, a broth, a simmering dream. A Darjeeling Earl Grey. A sip something like a slumber and something like a waking. A sip like a first gentle kiss from a prince in the middle of dreaming centuries. It jolted the purkinje fibers of my long forgotten heart. It happened in a place so perfect and it happened so suddenly. It happened in a place that was cake, that was cookies, a place that was berried scones, that was pudgey wholesome sandwiches, a place that was tea, a place that was love.

On my first trip to New York in 2007 I discovered Alice's Tea Cup. I had fallen, ardently and forever, down and into the magical rabbit hole of a dainty china tea cup whose deepest Darjeeling voice implored... drink me. It was an experience which became a memory, another life lived beneath this one, always in the hope of a golden return.

3 long, dry, cakeless years it had been. Then, in 2010, I returned. But had I ever really left?

C + K'ers, I give you, humbly, Alice's Tea Cup Chapter I, my favourite place in this whole wide world (and any other). Even if I live in Sydney, a part of me is always here, amidst the smells and slices, the clanking and the beautiful clutter, in a place that is so resoundingly my idea of perfection.

As always, it starts with the bright spark of your own private imagining. I am going to have to ask you...to picture it. A little cave, a subterranean denizen of darjeeling and green, of rooibos and rose. Down some steps, through a glass paned door. Under and inside. Private and buzzing. A center, within. Wooden tables, polished silverware lovingly used, mismatched cups and saucers in flowers and in patterns, in bright colours and in warm, dull gold. Bejeweled jugs in rubies and emeralds. And pots! Perfectly hot pots! Pots to drive you potty pots! Stout little sure pots! Perfect pots and what nots! Red pots and green pots and cream pots! With lids of another colour. Oh, my! And little tea dripper contraption thingies with china cats that preside above. Qauintly, quaintly. Painted walls. Fairy Wings. Precious jars and towering cake... If I wasn't a Lebanese girl from the Inner West, this is where i'd faint. Make no mistake, troops, you've stepped inside just about the best thing of all... a story.

And as with all stories, let's start at the beginning. Tell me, then, how do you fancy your scones?

Once upon a time, there was beautiful Buttermilk, Lemon and Strawberry, Blackberry, Strawberry and Chocolate and Pumpkin, and there were many, many more. Fresh baked in Heart Ache with little sidekick pots-in-lovely of dolloped ivory cream and beautifully berried jam. Cream and Jam for spreading thickly and mixing into deep dreamy sink-pink stains. Swirls of pink in swirls of cream in swirls of jam. Slice and Cut and Spread. Warm and enveloping and infused with bounding flavours. The Lemon and the Strawberry was a treat in perfection, SweetTartSourScream, it was Summer As Scone. The glazed Pumpkin was a spice-spliced-delicious-in-twice warming little golden glob of fanciful fury. A little cream on top and away you go. Scones with jam and cream always make a bit of Lizzy Bennett out of me, so decadent and glorious and anachronistic, my edible antiques. Alice's scones change daily, every flavour whim you ever had will find satisfaction here. There are a lot of saucy savouries to try as well, but I had trouble not ordering a berried something on the twelve visits we managed to squish into a 6 day NY stay.

Never fear, Alice has got your (ever expanding) back, and it ain't only cake you should be getting excited about. Check out what happens when Sandwich meets Imagination...

Ham and cheese? Not on your little, lovely life. Boring sangas are so 5 minutes ago and not at all on the menu at Alice's. Exclaimation mark snug in between two slices of wholesome bread goes down in so many delightful ways here: I can't pronounce it but that didn't hold me back from the lapsang souchon smoked chicken breast with granny smith apples and herbed goats cheese on 7 grain bread. Or perhaps an open faced smoke salmon with lemon dill butter on black bread? This one just goes swimmingly down your throat to glorify the empty caverns of your carnivorous bellies! So divine.

There's roasted cumin carrot sandwich with olive tapenade goats cheese and black sesame seed, black forest ham with gryuere and whole grain mustard. And a winsome cucumber and watercress number, as light and as cool as an annorexic starlet. Jesus luscious christ! What could be better than this sandwich line up? Perhaps an unlimited helping as part of the Jabberwocky Afternoon tea!? These sandwiches are little parcels of culinary HooHa! Even if you hated cake and tea (poor, pathetic you) you could come here for the sandwiches alone. Or for wonderful soups and salads or a kitsch little kiddie menu. And don't even get me started on breakfast, what with the hot caking and the bacon hashing that goes on here.

But come on, now. Let's get down to our real agenda, I don't want to waste your time. Let's talk about what really matters. The twin pillars of all good civilisation. Let us talk about tea, and then let us talk about... cake...

Tea, Myself and I. Where do I begin. How does one begin. Neil knows what I'm talking about. So does Leo. So do Celeste and Hela and Shirley and Jo and EB. So does Dan - when I don't make it too strong. So does Adrian these days as well. Mick likes it black, no nonsense. Ash likes it more often that I can brew it up. Tea. It just might be the only thing I can believe in in this world. CakeKnifeTealings...

...Blood might be thicker than water, but when you add some noble leaves of camellia sinensis to some still water, after youve heated it up and steeped it for just the perfectest of whiles and then poured it, languidly, in slithering waves of spiralling amber agony into an angelic arc of willing ceramic, sweetened a little here, splashed with milk a little there...well the family Bechara just gets lost in the haze. My perfect ritual. The sounds and the smells...a little beautiful leaf, into a warmed, solid pot, steaming water over and in, patiently patiently, and then the swill, the rise and the fall, the arc of the pour and the beautiful liquid cresent as it radiates from pot to cup, suspended, shimmering in the air, before it lays down to rest, languidly and forever.

Delicious Darjeeling, Darling Darjeeling, my Healing, Feeling gets-me-reeling Darjeeling. Earl Grey it and I Die. Earl Grey anything and I die. Beautiful, warming, exquisite infusion, bright and beaming and silent with the body of its own true flavour. Liquid Nabokov. RichnessLightnessSinkingFallingWarming. Drowning. Ahhh.

Tea at Alice's is the best I have ever had tea. They have a 'contraption', which double filters and pressure boils water into the most sublime medium for a range of tea so true and exotic that it becomes a heaven. The tea list itself gives me the jollies. Whether it's the noble and luxurious Gyokuro in a vivid green, or Rooibos Bourbon - very vanillaed, or a Mango Flip with hibiscus and raisins, you'll know you've arrived. The Darjeeling Earl Grey is a tea so perfect in its sound and fury that I can't even describe it. Kissed with bergamot oil and as smooth as an eternity in your lover's arms, it embraces you and cradles both your being and your knowing. Alice's Tea, with Indian black vanilla, rose and Japanese green is a sharp and cooling infusion with chirping notes of fragrant floral, it's what a Zimmermann summer dress would taste like - as beverage. The Drink-Me-Detox is a liquid Snow White, pure and innocent and beautiful. It's a maddening melange of Pai Mu Tan and Silver Needle Jasmine tea in White and gentle rooibos - and absolutely delicious. I could go on forever...

This is the face of the amazing man who managed to sit through daily jaunts to Alice's in stupefying New York heat. He was patient and loving, he could stand me ranting on about tea and how perfect this was, and how dainty that was. But there are just certain things some guys can't appreciate, a good hair day is one, and cake...is another. You reckon you've caked? Think again. Confection Perfection goes a little something like this...

Chcolate and Orange in OhMyGod. This is downright Jaw Jazz. Seraph as sponge, towering layers of cream and cake and gorgeous very velvety iced chocolate. Look and Please Touch. Drool and Swoon and Smile and Sigh. Cut and Slice and Box and Eat and Lick and Dream. This was glorious. Glory. So dense and moist and oranged, happy flavours, sure and clear and not too sugared. Smooth and rich and buttery, so deep. Just watch and awe...

At this...

And this...

and This one too!

But Stop. We need to talk - about something serious.

About something sticky. Something slightly Chocolatetricky.

About something gloriously, grandtastically gooey.

With Buttercream Icing so nicing. Nutella Cake with Buttercream Icing.

Okay, i'll attempt to maintain an illusion of dignity. But in all honesty, you'd have to alphabetise and file a list of all the illegal, immoral, embarrassing and down right stupid things i'd be willing to do (in public) for a piece of this Baby. It is wet, like a french kiss, Chocolately, like Willy Wonka's imagination, Hazelnutty, like a hazelnut and as Bananas as Mel Gibson lately - but with more ButterCream. Beautiful, angry, angel of a cake. Cake as Dream. Ache-As-Bake-For-My-Tummys-Sake Cake. It is delight, layered with decadence and frosted with pure, ailing joy. Leave to grow molten an hour or two in a take away box in NY summer heat, and you have got just about the most sensuous experience spare change can buy. It made its own memories inside my mouth and there it will hover in spirit and in legend, like a sweet, chocolately bananaed intangible, encased in its own gentle cream, until the very day I die, right besides...

plates of freshly baked cookies and

lively lemon tarts with deep, dark blackberry hearts.

I am spent. Spent with the memories, the love, the tea, the sugar, the sandwiches, the highs, the lows, the honey, the cups, the smells and sounds and tastes. The cubes of sugar. The looking hole into the kitchen.

Curioser and Curioser! This is one rabbit hole you want to get wandering down as soon as you can. It is a must do on any trip to New York, some of us have planned trips to NY merely as pretext for finding ourselves here again. I love Alice's. I love Lauren (who I met in 2007) and her partner who set this enchanted establishment up after never finding the perfect place for afternoon tea. Your efforts and your imagination could make me weep. Take my credit card, you already have my heart.

There are three Alice's in NY. Chapter I happens at 102 West 73rd, II at 156th East 64th, III 22o East 81st.

And, the REALLY good news, you can buy all teas online, ohmygodyes here! At www.alicesteacup.com

There you have it, my definitive tea and cake experience. The truth is, i'll never in the world be able to get out of it anyway. I got a commendable amount of Alice's loot (tea and pots and trinkets) back through Australian customs and am trying to recreate (as much as I can) - and like a bit of a Mad hatter - the experience of Alice's at home. It'll have to do for now.

I am so happy knowing this beautiful place exists and I can't wait to come back, even if Danny can.

Thanks to Dan, Jeff and Leo for comprising a little tea party, 3 blokes were better than nothing. Special Platonic Thanks to Leo who *got it* and almost weeped along side me.

Alice's, Amen x.

7 comments:

bowb said...

12 visits in 6 days!! i am doffing my hat to you, and also pining for some of that cake.

chocolatesuze said...

dude it has been way too long between your glorious posts! the nutella cake is making my soul cry

Blue Penguin said...

Oh wow! Wow indeed! This was exactly what I needed to fall over while plotting places to visit on a trip to New York later this year. And I'm also so very pleased to have fallen over your blog (while hunting for photos of Pieno), which I can't believe I've never seen before - such lovely food. So much better described than I can muster yet! Hooray for cosy tasty Sydney food blogs!

Fouad @ The Food Blog said...

Amanda. Jesus. Finally! The dust had settled on the porch, the weeds had overgrown, winter had come and gone and no word from you. It's an immense pleasure to read your thoughts once more. Keep it coming habibi. Now I feel I have a reason to return to America hehe. I hope you've saved some tea for me to try! Maybe you'll need to brew some up.

amanda said...

hey guys, thanks! penguin, you also have to try magnolia bakery which is around the corner from alices on columbus.

foo, law is only ruining my life for six more months! ta x

Anonymous said...

Lady, such a joy to read this! I'll be cake day dreamin now.

Love your blog- and i never use the L word lightly.

Reemski said...

At last...so glad to have you back...