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I had a full afternoon tea in San Francisco a decade ago, and I've enjoyed a tea room here in Arizona, as well. But when I was in New Mexico, I had what I imagine will remain hands down the best afternoon tea as well as one of the best culinary experiences of my life. Los Poblanos in Albuquerque is a family-owned historic inn with some of the original ranch and farmland still in use, though lavender is now their primary product. It was designed by architect John Gaw Meem, and has plenty to wander through and discover. More of that later. For today we'll focus on the tea.
The Afternoon Tea at La Quinta takes place, as you would imagine, outside of the La Quinta building. The tea was recently designed to showcase this place and give guests an opportunity to view the building; there is an optional tour of the space after tea to learn more about the history, art, and architecture. Los Poblanos has a commitment to organic and sustainable practices, so the tea, besides being a culinary delight, also focus on seasonal ingredients.
I arrived to my table delighted to find all of our names printed on the menus at each place setting. The settings are elegant while also varied; while you won't find any chipped cups, you also probably won't find matching ones on the table. My only bit of a complaint I'll get out of the way first: it did take a while for us to get our tea and then even longer to get the food items. Especially given that we were on a bit of a timeline being one of the final seatings before the last tour, I would have preferred to spend that time sitting and enjoying my tea instead of waiting.
The first course was an amuse bouche: Chilled Summer Squash and Turmeric Soup served in a delightful gold-rimmed cup. Do you ever drink turmeric tea? This was like a distant cousin of that. It came with the same rich, life-giving quality and was just as flavorful, though without the autumnal spices. But the squash as well as the cool temperature lended also freshness and lightness.
Our tea arrived next. Our waitress offered both iced and hot tea and suggested sharing tea pots if we wanted the chance to try more than one flavor. All of the tea is from local Albuquerque company tea.o.graphy. I had seen Cat's Pajamas (herbal) in my hotel room already, so I chose to share Lavender Peach (black tea) and Clouds & Mist (green tea). All three are excellent. I have quite a shelf of loose teas, herbs, flowers, etc. at home, so I don't praise tea lightly.
When the serving tiers arrived, everything for the table was together. So we didn't have multiple tiers taking up space. The top tier had the Classic Scone with Lemon Curd and Clotted Cream. Perhaps the bottom tier was the starting place, but I was excited for the scone and started there. You can really start anywhere, though, since nothing is hot (usually hot items are the ones to start with at a tea). The small triangles were like a shortbread-style take on a scone. They were decadent and buttery and, while dense, not dry. The lemon curd was excellent.
Though the middle tier was heavier than the bottom tier and therefore probably would have gone better to go after, I worked down the tiers and was also especially eager to get to the Lamb Slider on Rosemary Roll. The bread was fresh and the lamb thin and seasoned. Next to them were the Cauliflower Custard Canapes, which were like a light cheese over more fresh bread.
I passed on the Shrimp with Tomato Aioli in Lettuce Cup, though I did take an extra Classic Cucumber Cream Cheese sandwich in its stead. This is the advantage of going with a couple more people: you can trade if, for instance, one of you doesn't like shrimp and another doesn't eat cream cheese. Though we didn't all eat everything, among the three of us we didn't leave anything. A cucumber sandwich may be a simple object, but it was nonetheless delicious and I was glad to have a second. Again, though, the lighter nature of this one would have been better in the beginning instead of at the end; I was just too eager to get to the scones.
As we were finishing the tiers, our waitress brought one final plate with the desserts. So technically you might say this was a four tier tea (though the scones were alone on a plate, so there may have been room for the desserts there, as well). This was a nice way to enjoy the "main courses" on their own without the tempting desserts being there until you're ready to give them full attention.
And attention they did get. Though they're both beautiful, I was hesitant over the Orange Cream Cake with Strawberry Mousse because I'm always hesitant about citrus desserts. The hesitation was unfounded. The orange is sweet as in something like Turkish delight. And the strawberry mousse is the gourmet, adult version of those strawberry shortcake ice cream bars (which I had been craving). Excellently sweet and fruity. The Chocolate Mousse Pate a Choux would have been wonderful on its own, but the Cream Cake was the star for me. Happily, I also got to have a second cake.
As you can see, it is quite a bit of food what with all of the different bites and breads. You can definitely make a lunch out of it--in fact, I would probably recommend doing so just so that you are able to eat and enjoy everything. It would be a shame to be too full to partake in it all. Of course, you can certainly take things to go, but they're much nicer all together and while you're there. The atmosphere is part of it. Sipping tea and eating and looking out at the original pool and the open lawn. Added plus for some groups: while many afternoon teas are frilly and feminine (which I certainly enjoy), this one does pair normal-sized tables and an open, outside atmosphere with the floral teacups. So it's easier to bring men along, too, who might otherwise want to pass on frilly, feminine tea services.
The La Quinta Afternoon Tea is pure, elegant decadence.
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