Restaurant Review: Restaurant Review

Afternoon tea is back in style

The Steeping Room

The Domain, 11410 Century Oaks Terrace #112, 512/977-8337,
Mon.-Thu., 8am-9pm; Fri.-Sat., 8am-10pm; Sun., 10am-7pm
Restaurant Review
Photo by John Anderson

The Steeping Room

11410 Century Oaks Terrace #112 (The Domain), 977-8337
Monday-Thursday, 8am-9pm; Friday-Saturday, 8am-10pm; Sunday, 10am-7pm

Tearooms became popular in America during the temperance movement, providing an alternative to public houses and barrooms. Serving afternoon tea, light meals, and beverages, tearooms often catered mainly to women and were sedate and subdued in atmosphere. They were a mainstay of American life for more than a century. After World War II, European-style cafes became overwhelmingly popular, and tearooms all but disappeared; consequently, most people have never set foot in one.

But tearooms are making a comeback. The relaxing, civilized concept of afternoon tea is newly chic, and tearooms are enjoying renewed popularity from Kenya to California. The Steep­ing Room is a thoroughly modern version of the classic tearoom: quiet, cheerful, and spotless. Partners Amy March and Emily Morrison have combined the elegance of British "high tea" traditions with the light touch and studied simplicity of the Far East. The menu ranges from crumpets to edamame, spring rolls to tea sandwiches, and it is all executed with such skill that word-of-mouth alone has kept the dining room packed.

"Our mission from the start has been to make beautiful, healthy food," explains Morrison. "Amy is the chef, the real chef, and she has a gift for flavor. She comes up with the greatest combinations of flavors, and she is especially good with healthy, light ingredients." Both women are radiant with happiness; it is apparent that they love what they do. "We also accommodate people with dietary restrictions: At least half of the menu can be made gluten-free or vegetarian." She laughs. "And our cupcakes are the best in town!"

Truer words were never spoken: The cupcakes at the Steeping Room are moist, tender, and in every way superior. The Steeping Room has also become well-known for its light and crumbly scones, served with your choice of clotted cream, honey butter, port-and-fig compound butter, or jam. Pastry chef Lina Bianca­mano also makes a variety of cakes, tortes, and tea cookies, all of which display mastery of her art.

The tea sandwiches, delicate and crustless, are divine as well. Varieties include tea-cured salmon with herbed cream cheese and thinly sliced cucumber; goat cheese with olive tapenade and arugula; pork tenderloin with chile mayo, scallions, and cilantro; and chicken salad with celery, green apples, scallions, and Lapsang souchong vinaigrette. Classic sandwiches (on ciabatta or wheat bread, crusts on) include roast beef, croque monsieur, turkey BLT, and ginger tofu with hummus; all are served with a side of mixed greens and range in price from $8 to $10.

The Century Oaks Tea Service ($19) is in the British style, featuring two tea sandwiches, scone, spread, jam, tea cake of the day, tea cookie, and a pot of tea. The Zen Tea Service ($15) consists of chicken or tofu Napa Rolls, green salad, Matcha-dusted brownie, and a pot of tea. The Napa Rolls are generous spring rolls stuffed with shredded carrots, cabbage, mint, and chicken or tofu, and served with a spicy peanut dipping sauce. Small plates, appetizers, daily soups, and four different entrée salads complete the menu. The cashew Caesar salad ($7.50) is a standout: crisp, cold hearts of organ­ic romaine tossed with creamy cashew dressing, garlic croutons, and toasted cashews.

In addition to hot tea and daily iced tea specials, the Steeping Room offers coffee, juices, chai lattes – even (the devil's own!) wine and beer. The Steeping Room is a tea shop as well as a tearoom: Nearly 100 types of tea are available for take-home sale, all carefully selected for excellence.

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