Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cherchez Le Blend - François Payard Bakery

Once upon a time on the Upper East Side in the Land of Gotham, there lived a prince pastry chef who provided a consistently excellent and affordable three-course, French-style afternoon tea. People came from far and wide to visit this tea castle where time seemed to stop once one's feet crossed the threshold. This magical place was called Payard Patisserie & Bistro where the tea sandwiches were miniature masterpieces, chocolate flowed like water, and macarons blossomed abundantly.

This tea tin shown once held the signature Payard Blend, a black tea blended by Harney & Sons and a fine tribute to Franco-American relations. Its memorable flavor profile prompted me to turn my memories into a newly refilled tin. So began this tea adventure.

It Takes A Village

Athough the Payard Blend is available with a different label online, I decided to use my local advantage and save myself the shipping costs. Going to François Payard Bakery seemed like a good idea: save shipping, get some exercise, and remedy an empty tin. Truly there are few things sadder to an unapologetic tea aficionado than an empty tin, n'est-ce pas?

Accompanied by my ever faithful travel companion, also known as an unlimited MetroCard, I eagerly navigated Greenwich Village to 116 West Houston Street between Thompson and Sullivan Streets [Subway: Broadway-Lafayette (B, D, F, M)].This is the site that welcomed me:

Be not distracted by this tempting display of pastry par excellence. Focus. Remember today's mission is tea. Carefully reading the labels on all the tea tins, however, I saw no Payard Blend. No Payard Blend?! Where's the Payard Blend? Alas, the elusive Payard Blend tea was not at home.

Culinary Consolation

Instead of dragging myself over to the Plaza Hotel and drowning my sorrow at the FC Chocolate Bar, I attempted to console my disappointingly empty tea quest with a temporary diversion: lunch. The turkey and Gruyere cheese sandwich on pretzel bread paired with a rich, hearty lentil soup greatly improved my disposition.

What tea does one choose after priming the taste buds with such great anticipation? Please don't get it twisted: this was no time for tisanes. A thoroughly enjoyable Earl Grey carried the day. While I sipped my senses suddenly became alert to the chocolates and macarons surrounding me. A jumbo cranberry macaron beckoned like a siren and answering the call, I discovered it pairs quite nicely with Earl Grey black tea. As for the chocolate, where there is François Payard, there will be chocolate.

Happy Beginnings

This summer chef Payard returns to the Upper East (1330 Third Avenue) to open a venue reminiscent of the once beloved Payard Patisserie. That means that my Payard Blend tin hopefully will be filled soon. In the meantime, we'll eat macarons, dream in chocolate, and drink tea.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Releasing Our Inner Pooh - The Tea + Honey Store

Exploring a city on foot gives the walker an opportunity to see the metropolis up close and personal. The bigger the city, the more ground there is available to discover. Every place, whether urban or rural, has its own charms and every step we take is a decision towards discovering them.

For those individuals who ignorantly say that cities like New York lack trees, I merely inquire when was the last time they walked through Central Park? Surely at least one tree may be found on the 843-acre public park. This photo shows a few trees that I noticed during a recent walk and they do not appear to be saplings. Perhaps the person is unable to see the trees for obsessing about concrete. Nevertheless, excuses prevent discoveries. It is time to keep walking.

Blooming Where You Are Planted

Productivity produces evidence. When trees produce buds, blooms and blossoms, it is a visual expression of life springing up from the roots. The blossoms announce that there is work in progress and the fruit is on the way.

Additionally, blossoms stand out among green leaves and their uncommon quality attracts those who recognize their worth, i.e. bees. Honey, the collaboration between bees and blossoms, is a sweet example. I imagine Alan Alexander Milne's character Winnie-the-Pooh would be quite pleased at discovering such productivity.

For the Pooh in You - The Tea + Honey Store (New York)

As a rule, I prefer to keep my palate sharp and to add nothing to my teas and/or tisanes. A tisane (pronounced "tis-an"), or herbal, is an infusion which  does not contain the actual camellia sinensis tea leaf. Curiosity, however, motivated me to try boosting my immune system via adding local honey to a rooibos tisane.

Rooibos (pronounced "roy-boss"), is the red bush herbal grown in South Africa.When it came to selecting and purchasing honey, I visited Nicolas Sampedro and my friends at The Tea + Honey Store on the Upper East Side. Please note: the Grand Central location is closed.

My first ever non-tea purchase at The Tea + Honey Store was Hamptons Honey Wildflower Blossom. I am happily conducting my experiment. Regardless of how the experiment turns out, I have blossoms, some honey and a bear as reminders for me to keep producing. Life is indeed sweet. Cups up!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

To Chef With Love - Tea and Dessert

Strawberry Shortcake with Vanilla Ice Cream
Warning: This post is rated "D". Viewers are asked to use discretion as I plan to discuss in full and graphic detail desserts that contain sugar, cream, butter and chocolate. All calorie-counting obsessives and fad dieters are strongly encouraged to stop reading beyond this point. The author accepts no responsibility for any subsequent urge to consume desserts immediately after viewing these images. Again, viewer discretion is advised.

Raising Cane - A Case for Sugar

Taking My Lumps in Style
Sugar is a powerful two-edged sword that must be wielded carefully. Chemically speaking, our bodies convert sugars like glucose and lactose to fuel daily operations. Our DNA contains the sugar deoxyribose (pronounced dee-ok-si-rahy-bohs), so it would seem that our human frames are wired to receive sugar. Like any other finely tuned equipment, however, our bodies are affected by whatever we choose to add to our individual systems. Avoid adding any substance that keeps your system from functioning well.

Although I take my tea without sugar, I have relatives who routinely take a little tea with their sugar. Every family has its lumps, doesn't it? Being the tea aficionado I am, I encourage them to take the first sip without sugar to get the tea's true flavor profile. Oolong tea being the exception, I'll provide sugar and control the lumps. I'd rather see them consume pure cane sugar than substances carried about in innocuous-looking pastel-covered packets. Quality trumps quantity.

"D" Is For Dessert

Chocolate Lava Cake
Desserts are serious commitments. Dessert makes or breaks the meal. It is the finishing touch, the pièce de résistance, which elevates a very good turkey club sandwich to one of the most memorable meals ever consumed. When offered a menu, I routinely first check the dessert selections and then consider the preceding courses. When it comes to dessert, a strategy is essential.

This Chocolate Lava Cake dessert lovingly prepared by Clint Lafabvre, executive chef at the historic Lakeland Terrace Hotel, was an utterly delightful surprise. Chef Lafabvre clearly speaks my culinary language fluently. It's joy to meet a man who instinctively understands subtlety and nuance are far more effective tools in wooing tastebuds than overpowering them. Lifting my spoon in anticipation, I mentally made these sensory notes:
  • Presentation - simple yet elegant
  • Sense of mystery - a warm, chocolate pudding center hidden beneath a generous pouf of cream
  • Color - one perfect strawberry, a cluster of blueberries, and drizzles of chocolate sauce
  • Texture -  moist, firm, flourless chocolate cake provides a rich foundation
  • Taste - Chocolate, sugar, cream and fresh berries each fully represented and balanced each other
After savoring the very last morsel, I wondered if it was possible to become engaged via dessert. This dessert was that serious. This conundrum requires some tea contemplation. Let's drink tea!