The nip in the air and the incessant drone of Christmas music means it’s that time of year when we take Melis sa’s mom to tea.
High tea in the American interpretation almost universally means standard black teas served in the lobby of a reasonably nice hotel to guests ensconced in overstuffed chairs from which they may or may not be able to extricate themselves. Oh, and fussy finger sandwiches and dried-out scones.
It may sound like I’m down on tea. Not so. Boring black tea is still delicious, and finger sandwiches make me laugh every time even if they aren’t culinary triumphs. Plus the whole point is to spend some happy time with family during the holidays. I’ll gladly go to tea every year. Zero Grinch.
But what if there were a hip tea in a provocative location with legitimately delicious food (and a lot of prosecco)? There is! Tea at Taschen.
Taschen is the German publisher of beautiful books on fascinating topics ranging from arts and culture to history to, well, this:
The Taschen bookstore is one of the quirky amenities that makes Tim Headington’s Joule Hotel the gem it is for downtown Dallas. And while the crowd at tea may not have been quite as coutured up as your normal Joule lobby dweller (they let me in after all), I recognized stylish Lakewood moms and urbane downtown neighbors. The conversations in the cozy space also seemed hipper and wittier than perhaps one would expect from tea.
The space contributed to the banter. In addition to Taschen’s eye-catching conversation starters, the room is decorated with the elevator murals from the Mercantile tower. The rest of the hotel contains many other rescued mosaic works from that historic building.
At a time when the city was spending tens of millions of dollars to persuade another developer to renovate the Mercantile block, preservationists and Angela Hunt had to go hat in hand to Headington to save these wonderful works of art. It’s a very Dallas kind of preservation story, but today we’re lucky that we have more than just pictures to remember these lovely pieces.
The most notable aspect of the adventure was the menu itself. The teas were wonderfully flavored takes on classic varieties. Texas chile chai was powerfully brewed with outré chile spice. None of the teas were for purists, but paired with the strong flavors of the food, their flavorings seemed like good choices. The Joule egg dish paired beet-cured salmon with smoked trout roe in a quail egg shell. The hard spice macaron delivered a sweet-savory combination of foie gras mousse and Sauternes gelée. The last time I drank a Sauternes, I wished it had been a gelée; so this ingredient felt validating.
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Some of our party felt the sweet second half of the menu was too dominant, but that may have resulted from the chef’s confidence in the dishes. Headington concepts uniformly excel at scones. So even though I think cranberry-white chocolate is as tired as pumpkin spice, the perfectly baked pastry was a joy. The sole disappointment of the trip was the strawberry peppermint shooter with its overwhelming flavor of Scope.
Did I mention that they just kept pouring the prosecco the whole time? For $79 per head inclusive of tax, tip and valet (and they weren’t kidding; there was no easy way to tip extra), this felt like a pretty good value given the visual presentation, the quality of the ingredients and the general deliciousness of the fare.
England is about to turn into a bad imitation of a Huxley novel, so get down to the Joule to enjoy a delightful American version of what Great Britain used to do when it was a civilized country.
The Taschen Library at the Joule, 1530 Main St. (downtown)