Tell Tale Preserve Company and Naivetea launched their monthly tea event this weekend at the Burritt Room, and if you haven't attended many tea services, it may take a bit for the East-meets-West conceit to sink in. With tiny bánh mì in place of cucumber sandwiches and oolong instead of Earl Grey, the subdued affair was rippled with enough whimsy to keep things interesting.
Naivetea is a husband-and-wife operation based in Burlingame and just now making inroads into the Bay Area. They feature a range of oolong teas imported from Taiwan, and Kettle Whistle is an ideal showcasing opportunity. There were three courses plus a cucumber granité amuse-bouche and a spot of sorbet at the end; each oolong was paired with an assortment of small bites from William Werner, Tell Tale's momentarily transient owner.
Some nibbles were ornate bordering on fussy (heirloom tomato sablé with lemon and lardo), some were interesting twists on the teatime snack (salmon rillettes on seaweed brioche), and some were just solidly prepared standards (warm, buttery crumpets with clotted cream and strawberry preserves). The teas were uniformly tasty, in particular a crisp iced peach oolong that perfectly complemented the all-savory first course. Cream and sugar were not on offer, but the complexity of the flavor profiles made the tea shine without accessory.
At $55 per person, the event is spendy compared to, say, the $35 price tag for Top of the Mark's weekend tea. Of course, the menu is much more elaborate and extensive than your typical service, with Werner's painstaking attention to detail apparent throughout. Also: You get a lot of food. It was like cobbling together a full meal out of hors d'oeuvres or tapas; the dozen-plus smaller food items were enough to make dinner seem thankfully far away.
The Burritt's dim back room, familiar as a weekend dancefloor, was a curious choice for the event, as opposed to the light, open spaces often associated with a formal tea service. Nonetheless, a muted sanctuary feel pervaded the space, allowing for quiet observation of the day's offerings. The event was fairly gender-neutral, eschewing ruffles, flower-print furniture, and ladies-who-lunch stuffiness. And while the audience skewed heavily female, there were a handful of dapper gents in attendance, boasting bow ties, argyle, and the like. All in all, a classy affair.
Future Kettle Whistles will be held on July 23, August 27, September 24, and October 29. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to make reservations or for more information.