When Jen invited me to tea at the Captain's Cottage, we both had certain expectations. We've both had real English teas and been to multiple tea houses, some even in England. And the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena and Tudor House in Santa Monica are awfully hard to beat as far as quality of food, authenticity of the fare, and ambiance. For me personally, the name 'Captain's Cottage' summoned up visions of Gull Cottage in GHOST & MRS. MUIR. Or, at the very least, an interior design theme along the lines of something you'd see in Coastal Living Magazine, lighthouses, shells, ship's wheels, etc.
The interior of the tea house in question was...pink. Pink and frou frou. Pink, frou frou and twee. Twee, in case you weren't raised on British regency romance novels, means 'too cute for words.' So cute that it makes your teeth ache. Ribbons and lace and tea cozies and frosted tea cups and pink things and roses and swags and pink things and...and...well, twee. Not a lighthouse, shell or ship's wheel in sight.
There were two rooms with tables adorned with 'lace' doilies, floral patterned place settings, and large floral arrangements. The proprietor was an adorable apple cheeked older woman with ginger curls tucked under a white lacy mob cap, long Colonial style dress, and apron. She was the only person manning (womanning?) the tea shop and asked us if we'd like to sit in front by ourselves, or in the back room. We'd arrived for the last seating of the afternoon and there were only two tables occupied; a youngish man and woman, two elderly women. Both couples were seated in the back room, so Jen and I chose to sit back there as well, rather than sit by ourselves amidst the twee in the front.
The lace table cloth and floral arrangements, upon closer inspection, proved to be plastic. Now, not to be a snob (and neither Jen nor I are particularly snobby...just experienced in the ways of tea), but this is something you just wouldn't find in an English tea house. But since this place seemed to be run by the one woman, doing all the laundry and replacing flowers on a daily basis was probably too much to put on her plate. We settled down with our tea menus (there was no food menu; everyone was served the same fare). Jen chose Irish Breakfast, a black tea, and I settled on Moroccan Mint, a Chinese gunpowder green tea infused with mint. We each got our own tea pot (one of the touches I liked about the place was that all of the tea pots were unique) and tea strainer. We discovered the use for the strainers about halfway through our pots of tea; each was a third of the way full of tea leaves, resulting in a brew so strong that we had to ask for more hot water to cut down the pucker inducing tannins.
First course were tiny scones, one lemon and one cinnamon a piece. There were four little 'biscuits' as well, and a small dish of lemon curd, raspberry preserves, and double Devonshire cream. Given my choice, I'd use at least twice as much Devonshire cream as was served on only one scone. But since we were sharing, both Jen and I portioned it out in unusually parsimonious amounts. We decided we needed to make our scones and buy several jars of cream and preserves to make up for it. Still...the scones were hot and tasty.
Second course. Small open faced 'sandwiches' with egg salad on yellow bread and chicken salad on sourdough. The bread was a bit stale and the salads, while tasty, weren't particularly English. Not a cucumber in sight! Also served in this course was a 'crisp' with seafood salad. It was a Pringle's potato chip with krab salad.
By this time, we were having a hard time keeping straight faces. Sarcasm and irreverent humor run deep in both of us, part of our respective family heritage. We were trying to match our demeanors to those of the elderly ladies (the younger couple had long since left) and the quiet Enya-esque music playing in the background. I felt like Mary Tyler Moore at Chuckles the Clown's funeral. We tried not to look at each other as the next authentically English course was served: three types of spinach pastries, all of them to be found in the Trader Joe's frozen food section.
In the meantime, the two elderly women were happily taking pictures of the place to show their relatives. They were obviously having a great time and enjoying both food and ambiance equally. Who were we to spoil their fun? We tried to keep both sarcasm and giggling at a low volume.
But it wasn't just the food served, but the soft voiced description of each course offered by the apple-cheeked proprietor. She was so...cozy. So...sincere. And so apple checked and sweet that she'd have made a great serial killer. You know, the type of motherly type that chopped up unwary travelers and made meat pies out of their remains.
(And yes, this really DID go through my mind at the time...we'll just leave the psychoanalyzing till a later blog, okay?)
The capper was the dessert course; a slice of pumpkin loaf with very good whipped cream...and a Toffeyette (sp?), little caramel candies with a hazelnut inside, capped with a round of chocolate. You know, the kind you can buy at most grocery stores. Again, it was the serious description of the candy that nearly did us in ("Now this is a hazelnut enrobed in rich caramel, with a milk chocolate disc on top)...but we managed to hold the giggles in check 'till the proprietor had gone back into the kitchen.
Definitely a fun experience, and while not our cup of tea (oh, you know I had to say it somewhere in the post!), there is obviously a place and a clientele for Captain's Cottage, pringles and pink.
Thank you, Jen!