Friday, May 22, 2015

Township or The Indian Spice of Life

The Slow and Savory Review

Having been brunching around Chicago for almost five years now, it isn't often that Brandy is taken by surprise any more.  "Though I still love what I do, the menus full of eggs benedicts, French toasts, pancakes, and bacon can start to get a little monotonous from time to time," Brandy related to her dear friend Bailey Blue one day, "Without an original hook, I'm afraid it all starts to meld together in my mind."  "What you need is to spice things up a bit!" Bailey suggested, cheerfully, "Find somewhere that's fresh, interesting, classic, yet with a unique outlook."  "Easier said than done, my dear," Brandy pouted.

After a bit of research, Bailey found a spot that she though just might do the trick.  Township in Logan Square, a unique concert venue with a small diner at the front, recently revamped it's brunch menu to feature lots of brunch classics, but tweaked with a little Indian flair by Chef Tamiz Haiderali.  Township's goal with brunch is to serve the neighborhood healthy, organic, and tasty meals at a good price, and this sort of point of view is just what Bailey thought Brandy might like to see.

Township was a little small and narrow upon entering, giving off a friendly sort of old fashioned diner feel with mint green walls and minimal decoration.  "I do like a good old fashioned neighborhood diner," Brandy smiled as they took their seats.  She observed the counter off to one side of the space, set up with individual chairs as well as the open space behind the the dining area, where the restaurant could possibly expand into during busier hours or for events.

The two ladies both began with a glass of fresh Pineapple, Kale, and Celery juice.  Brandy was slightly worried that the vegetables would over take the flavor, but was pleasantly surprised that the major flavor was indeed the pineapple.  "I've come to have a great fondness for green juices in the last few years," Brandy explained, "I feel like if I have a nice healthy juice during a brunch it will help balance out the bacon and alcohol."  "I don't think that's how it works," Bailey laughed.

The first course of action, so to speak, was to try out the French Toast, which came with slivered almonds, creme anglais, and fresh fruit.  Right away, Brandy was impressed that instead of the normal mix of berries, this French toast had been garnished with slices of kiwi and pomegranate seeds, which not only made for a stunning presentation, but also provided a more adult bit of tartness to a dish that can sometimes be made sickeningly sweet.  The toast itself was pretty standard, but good, with a soft eggy texture that would please any die hard French toast fan.  The toast also came with an amazing house made Chai Syrup (an authentic chai flavor too, not the pumpkin-spice-esque chai other places try to skate by with) which was so good that the ladies began trying it with everything, from their coffee to a side of bacon.

For Bailey's entree, she chose the PLaT, a fresh take on a traditional BLT, but with prosciutto and avocado.  The sandwich, Bailey said, was like a dance of textures between the crunchy greens, the creamy avocado, and the tender, salty prosciutto.  It certainly did deliver on the promise of a BLT re-imagined in a fresh and more healthy way without compromising taste.  The sandwich also came with a slice of watermelon ("I do love a bit of fruit on a brunch plate as a palate cleanser," Brandy beamed) and a Spicy Potato Cake, which was a welcome change from a typical side of roasted potatoes or hash browns.  The potato cake was buttery and rich tasting with an almost polenta like texture, as it had a nice crust on the outside.

Brandy chose the Saag Paneer Scramble, which added sauted spinach and paneer, a semi firm Indian cheese similar to farmer's cheese or a low moisture ricotta.  Saag Paneer has been one of Brandy's favorite Indian dishes for ages, so the thought of combining it with scrambled eggs was quite exciting.  Though tasty, Brandy did wish the eggs had a bit more of a spicy punch to liven up the palate.  The dish came served with two pooris, a deep fried flatbread with a sort of garlicky seasoning that took the place of toast on a typical breakfast plate.  Brandy really liked combining the pooris and the eggs to add a bit more excitement to each bite.

"You were quite right, Bailey," Brandy smiled at her friend as they finished up their meal, "Sometimes all one needs to fall in love with an old favorite is a fresh outlook."  Township reminded Brandy of one of the reasons she so adores brunch; in capable hands, it provides a chef with a blank canvas on which to build their own vision.  Township not only made this fact apparent, they also brought breakfast back to what it should be, a wholesome meal that wakes up all of one's senses in anticipation of the day.  From the friendly service to the healthy dishes priced mostly around $10 a plate, Brandy found herself feeling quite a fondness for Township's commitment to becoming an asset to their neighborhood.  "Who would have thought all my palate needed was a bit of chai syrup and a dash of international flavor?" Brandy mused, "Just goes to show that though my wanderlust often spurs me to start globe trotting again, there is nothing anywhere else that I can't find here in Chicago."

The writers of this blog were invited by the restaurant to dine at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

The Short and Sweet Review
Township on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 15, 2015

Do-Rite Donuts or Do-Right Up Your Alley 

The Slow and Savory Review

"I just don't understand why we keep loosing!" exclaimed one of the members of Brandy's bowling team.  It had been a full month since they had won a match and the members of the Bowling Brunchers were beginning to think they had incurred a billy goat style curse somehow.  Bad luck seemed to plague them, like the time one of the balls hit an unseen divot in the floor and bounced straight into the gutter, or the other time they managed to hit the pins straight on in the center, but not a single one tipped over because some prankster child had glued them to the floor just before the match.  Brandy looked around her at her team members, seeing them despondently chugging their vegan smoothies and munching on their energy bars.  "There's the problem!" she exclaimed, "What we need is some protein to build our strength and some good old fashioned sugar coated carbs to maintain our energy."  The members of the Bowling Brunchers starred at her incredulously.  "Listen, before our next match, I'm going to bring us the perfect meal to sharpen our focus and get us in the right frame of mind.  No more of this health food nonsense!"

Having set this goal, Brandy zeroed in on the Do-Rite Donuts on Erie.  She knew when she was approaching the Do-Rite because she could smell the sweet scent of frying dough in the air.  The spot was a little small, with more space to move about and sit than Firecakes or Doughnut Valt, but without a full cafe like Glazed and Infused (there was however a nicely shaded patio area just outside).  With the more utilitarian purpose of grabbing and going rather than being a place to stay and linger for a while, there wasn't much to be said about the decor, which was really just fine by Brandy, as it brought the customer's focus to the main event, the wall of donuts.

Since this particular location featured not only an array of sweet treats but also a full menu of fried chicken sandwiches (Brandy noted there were several breakfast sandwiches available, but only before 10:30 am, and as most brunches occur well after that, she decided the lunch menu was more appropriate), Brandy's couldn't resist ordering up a few to take back to her team as well as a half dozen assorted donuts.  "Would you like to pick or have me choose for you?" asked the young sleepy eyed, yet helpful attendant.  "Why don't you decide for me dear.  Give me the best of what's on offer," Brandy replied, feeling adventurous.

First order of business upon returning to the team was to dig into the sandwiches while they were still warm and fresh.  Each sandwich featured a massive fried piece of chicken breast, which was hot, crispy, and deep brown in color.  The CBR was Do-Right's take on the classic BLT, featuring bacon and ranch dressing as well as cheddar cheese and pickles on a brioche bun.  This was most certainly a sandwich for a carnivore, as the smokey bacon and juicy chicken proved extremely satisfying, especially when paired with the tangy ranch dressing.  The Southern featured a nice and crunchy thick cut cabbage cole slaw as well as some tangy BBQ sauce and just enough spice to make things interesting.  The Sweet Heat was possibly Brandy's favorite, as it was both the simplest and most exciting.  Instead of a lot of toppings, the chicken was dressed with a spicy maple aioli and instead of a bun, the chicken was sandwiched between two halves of a vanilla bean glazed donut.  Though a little too on the sweet side, Brandy did like the bit of tang from the aioli, which cooled the kick of spice perfectly.

Moving on to the gorgeous little gems that were her half dozen, Brandy eyed up the flavors the attendant had chosen for her and the rest of the team.  First was a simple Vanilla Bean Glazed, which was nice, but wasn't quite tender enough for Brandy's liking.  "Perhaps its because these sorts of yeast donuts are usually best consumed hot and fresh," she mused.  The Valrhona Chocolate was next up, which was a dense cake donut with a thick, rich glaze of dark chocolate that wasn't nearly as sweet as Brandy expected it to be.  The Pistachio Lemon was much in the same vein as the previous one, but with a bright lemon flavored glaze that cut through the denseness of the cake and some crushed pistachios to provide both color and crunch.  The Cinnamon Crunch Old Fashioned definitely delivered on all fronts with a nicely crunchy exterior and a spicy cinnamon punch.  The Carrot Cake was surprisingly light in texture with a delectable cream cheese frosting dollop in the center.  Last but certainly not least was the special flavor of the week, the Blackberry White Chocolate Bullseye, which was one of the vanilla glazed donuts topped with a scrumptious white chocolate cream that was surprisingly light (less dense than a pudding, but heavier than whipped cream was what Brandy noted) and three sugared blackberries.  The combination of the juicy, tart berries, the rich chocolate cream, and the chewy yeast donut was utterly perfect.  "Such a shame this one's not on the regular rotation!" Brandy moaned, "But it does make me wonder what other wonders they're coming up with week to week."

Now having stuffed her team full of delicious fried chicken and delightfully original donuts, Brandy felt certain their luck was about to turn around, and that very day the Bowling Brunchers finally broke their losing streak by throwing three simultaneous perfect games.  The substantial dose of protein from the chicken sandwiches (which were priced at an unbelievably reasonable price of about $5 each) combined with the latent energy in the gourmet donuts seemed to have revitalized the team in both body and mind.  "Now, of course we can't be eating like this all the time," Brandy smiled at her team, "But if by some miracle we make the league playoffs, I don't want to hear any complaining about gaining a few extra pounds."

The Short and Sweet Review

Do-Rite Donuts on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 8, 2015

Festival Recap: Rioja Wine and Tapas Festival

As the well traveled bon vivant that she is, Brandy loves a good excuse to learn about different and exciting regions of the world, and recently she had the privilege of attending the Rioja Wine and Tapas Festival, which was held for the first time in Chicago this past weekend in the Grand Hall of Union Station.  The festival showcased the extraordinary wines produced in the Rioja province of Spain as well as local and national chefs creating original tapas to compliment them.

The setting of the festival could not have been more beautiful.  Under the sunny skylight of the architectural wonder that is Union Station's Grand Hall, the festival did an excellent job of adding little touches to the atmosphere, such as the candle lit entrance down the stair way, greeting guests with a keepsake wine glass, and having Spanish guitar music played live by a group of lovely and talented young men.

2015 Rioja Wine & Tapas Festival, Photo courtesy of Wines from Rioja
Brandy began the day sampling wine from the over 50 wineries present, all of which showcased several bottles of Rioja's carefully classified varieties.  The wines from this region are so distinctive because of the moderate climate, mineral rich soil, and the signature tempranillo grapes, which mean an abundance of reds (though a few whites and rosés poked their heads out every now and then) with bold, smooth flavors that generally match well with rich foods like red meat and seafood.  The wines fell into four catagories: Crianza, the most versatile (these are the wines the locals drink on a daily basis), Reserva, acidic and dry with notes of red berries, Gran Reserva, an even deeper flavor with more woody notes, and Cosecha, which is sort of a catch all for vintages that don't fit into the other groups.  Brandy tended to favor the Reserva blends, as they were flavorful and complex without being overly dry.

Now thoroughly educated on the Rioja wines, Brandy headed over to the food stations.  Several quadrants of the hall boasted different experiences, with the corners near the entrance being dedicated to the Cheese Cave, Olive Bar, and Jambon carving station, the sides hosting the dessert stations, the edges holding the chef prepared tapas, and the center island making space for the whole animal carving.  Brandy noted that not only were there several notable Chicago chefs, but also quite a few national representatives from places like Las Vegas, New York, and Orlando.

2015 Rioja Wine & Tapas Festival, Photo courtesy of Wines from Rioja
The tapas seemed to be largely centered around different varieties of Spanish sausage, like chorizo, androlla, and morcon.  The heavily spiced meats of course paired excellently with the bold red wines of the region, as did the rich cheeses, the pickled veggies at the olive bar, and the freshly carved cured and roasted meats.  Some of Brandy's favorite dishes of the day were the seared sausage with white beans and red pepper sauce from Chef Nathan Sears at The Radler, a sausage with ramp pesto from Chef Rob Levitt at Butcher and Larder, another red sausage dish with greens, fresh cheese, and a bright citrus sauce from Chef Cory Morris at Rural Society, and  a curried mussel stew from Chef Carlos Gaytan at Mexique (who was easily the crowd favorite with the longest line).  There were also a few sweets to be had, like the delectable chocolate covered banana sorbet with caramel and roasted peanuts, as well as a smooth basil gelato with candied beets from Zarlengo's Italian Ice.

The day focused around different preparations at the center island, which included a huge collaborative starchy vegetable dish, which was laid out on a length of table, then scooped up and served with flat bread.  The main event, however, was the chefs carving up whole roasted animals, serving everything from the loin to the shoulder to the cheeks, which was definitely not a sight for the faint of heart (or squeamish vegetarians for that matter).

2015 Rioja Wine & Tapas Festival, Photo courtesy of Wines from Rioja

Ultimately, it wasn't even the wine that did Brandy in, but the incredibly rich food that had her sneaking off to have a sit down to catch her breath.  "The Rioja people sure know how to live!" she gasped, "Bold wines, flavorful food, great music... this is my kind of place."  Indeed, the "viva" atmosphere seemed to even be permeating the chefs, who were generally in very playful moods while chatting with festival goers, posing for pictures, and serving up their creations.  Seeing such revelry and excitement, Brandy sincerely hoped that Rioja would be making a return trip to Chicago next year.  "Mostly because I'm sure I missed one or two of the wines," she commented, "And my motto, as always, is leave no wine untasted."

You can see more of Brandy's adventurers at the Rioja Wine and Tapas Festival by checking out the full album on our Facebook page or by checking out this exclusive behind the blog video.

2015 Rioja Wine & Tapas Festival, Photo courtesy of Wines from Rioja
The writers of this blog wer einvited to attend the Rioja Wine and Tapas Festival free of charge as members of the media.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Bunny and Brandy's Brunch Guide: Mother's Day 2015

Still worried where to treat your mum to brunch on her special day? Worry no more! Bunny and Brandy have the scoop on all the best specials in town, neatly sorted for your browsing pleasure by neighborhood.  Please follow the links provided for additional information and to make reservations.

River North
Roka Akor buffet, $98 per person all moms who dine at Roka Akor on Mother’s Day receive a $25 gift card towards their next visit 
 River Roast A la Carte or prix fixe for $140, serves four people Every mom is entered into a raffle for the chance to win a pair of pearl earrings 
Sunda buffet, $55 per person includes a complimentary glass of Champagne for mom along with a
box of chocolate truffles 
Sixteen buffet, $155 per person 
Maxwell's at the Club buffet, $45 per person 
Siena Tavern prix fixe, $45 per person 
GT Fish and Oyster prix fixe, $45 per person Each table will have a choice of three family style dishes plus sides to share 
Shake Shack A la Carte all moms can get a complimentary single scoop cone or cup of vanilla, chocolate or the flavor of the week 
Piccolo Songo Due A la Carte Special dinner menu items are available all day long

The Loop/West Loop
The Florentine A la Carte Every mom gets a set of homemade Chocolate Raspberry Muffins to take home
bellyQ A la Carte Opening early at 10:00 
Formento's A la Carte special items like carbonara frittata, spring vegetable frittata, mushroom & goat cheese tart, lemon-ricotta pancakes 
Piccolo Songo A la Carte Special dinner menu items are available all day long

Driehaus Museum buffet, $90 per person (includes museum admission) a special complimentary keepsake photograph

Magnificent Mile
Michael Jordon's Steak House A la Carte The first 23 moms to order the 16oz. Prime Delmonico will get a free steak knife

Gold Coast
Eduardo's Enoteca A la Carte Complimentary Glass of Fresh Squeezed Red Ruby Juice for Mom 
Devon Seafood Grill buffet, $38 per person 

Lincoln Park
Chez Moi A la Carte 
Geja's Café A la Carte a complimentary 5 minute masage for all moms 
The J. Parker Small bites and cocktails
Balena prix fixe, $39 per person sweet and savory starters to share, then guests can choose one entrée each

Ceres' Table A la Carte all moms receive a complimentary glass of Prosecco with their meal 
Wood A la Carte 
Kit Kat Lounge prix fixe, $39.95 per person Madam X will be performing ABBA songs all morning, select cocktails included with the price of the meal 
Ann Sather (Belmont location) A la Carte special items like baked ham, roast leg of lamb, grilled salmon, roast turkey, beef tenderloin, spinach lasagna 

Lincoln Square
Luella's Southern Kitchen A la Carte All moms will receive complimentary house-made praline candy

Nana A la Carte 

Bucktown/Wicker Park
The Bristol prix fixe, $39 per person Choice of one entrée and sides to share for the table

West Town
Unite Urban Grill A la Carte 

Prairie Grass Café Northbrook buffet, $48 per person 
El Tapeo Oakbrook A la Carte 
Drury Lane Theater Oakbrook Terrace buffet, $40 per person 
Biagio Portage Park buffet, $31.95 per person drinks included with the meal price 
Legno Portage Park A la Carte

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Kitchen or The Invisible Concierge

The Slow and Savory Review

Having so many friends scattered across the globe who could pop into Chicago for a spur of the moment visit at any time, Brandy has to be constantly prepared to show said friends a good time, which of course should center around an unforgettable meal.  Case in point, this past weekend Brandy's dear chum Babka (world renowned Polish rock star) popped into town for a quick visit.  "You are the keeper of the brunch secrets," Babka said to Brandy, "So I ask you to take me to the best brunch you can find before I continue on to the next stop on my tour."

Faced with trying to find a brunch reservation on short notice at one of the hottest places in town, Brandy turned to Reserve, a dining concierge service that just launched in Chicago, which allows users to find reservations quickly and easily, send reservation info to friends via a simple text, and even pay for the entire meal straight from their phones.  The moment she learned that Babka was headed into town, Brandy hopped onto Reserve, entered the day and time she wished to brunch, chose from a list of top notch restaurants, and in less than an hour, her reservation was confirmed.  "Thank goodness!" Brandy exhaled, "Now I don't have to take the poor girl to some grungy diner in the middle of nowhere for some rubbery pancakes and dry scrambled eggs!"

The restaurant Brandy had chosen to meet Babka at was The Kitchen, a beautiful open downtown space right on the river.  Removing her dark sunglasses cautiously, Babka took in the beautiful high open ceilings, the twinkling light fixtures, the gold and glass tables, and the all around fresh and beautiful space, which took full advantage of the gorgeous views of the city outside with the help of a wall of windows that flooded the dining area with sunlight.  "As always, your taste is exquisite," Babka said, approvingly.  Brandy breathed a sigh of relief.

A quick glance at the drinks menu made for easy decisions: a Mimosa for Babka and a Berries and Rosemary for Brandy.  Babka thought her mimosa was very well done, not being too sweet or acidic, but perfectly fresh and fizzy.  Brandy's cocktail, which had self explanatory flavors, was quite springy and refreshing with the herbs complimenting the berry flavor nicely.

The pastry menu proved to be an insurmountable temptation, so both ladies ordered up a Canelle, which is a traditional French pastry made with a custard base and baked to caramelized perfection.  "But what does it taste like?" Babka questioned.  "Sort of like a really good fortune cookie," the helpful waitress responded, and this answer seemed to please Babka.  The pastry did indeed have a nice caramel like flavor with a chewy exterior and a soft, eggy interior.  "It would be rather nice with a cup of coffee, don't you think?" Brandy asked.  "Yes, what were is the fortune? I still can't find mine," Babka replied, perplexed.

Next, in keeping with the sweet theme, the ladies split a Dutch Baby Pancake, which came adorned with fresh berries, mint, and ricotta cheese.  The texture of the pancake was slightly crisp and lightly chewy with a deeper flavor than a typical pancake.  The berries and cheese felt a bit heavy on top of such a delicate thing, but the taste was suitably subtle and fresh, especially with the little bit of mint.  "If I were eating this as my main course, I wouldn't mind a bit more berries on the side, as this beautiful little pancake can barely hold what's on top of it," Brandy commented, "But as a shared course or a starter, it does make a lovely impression for the rest of the meal."

Babka chose the Smoked Salmon Bruschetta as her entree, which consisted of diced salmon scrambled eggs, and greens atop a large piece of toasted bread.  Babka found the salmon to be exceedingly fresh and tender, but not over overpoweringly smokey, while the eggs had a downright silky texture that she really enjoyed.  The bread did seem a bit tough to cut, but Brandy supposed it was necessary in order to support the large amount of toppings.

Brandy decided on an old standby, the Steak Frites, which featured a dry aged Slagel Farms cut, topped with an herbed butter, two over easy eggs, and served with large portion of fried potatoes.  "I'd always thought frites meant a thin and crispy French fry," Brandy confessed, admiring the thick cut sticks, "But these are nice regardless."  The steak was cooked to an utterly perfect medium, only made more decadent by the addition of the melting butter on top of it, a touch one rarely sees on a breakfast steak.  Though the portion of steak was a bit small for the price (about 5 pieces for $23), Brandy was already rather full from the previous dishes, and so felt quite happy.

At the end of the meal, Babka was mightily impressed to see that Brandy had already taken care of the bill, via Reserve, meaning there was no sitting and waiting for the check, nor was there any more fuss for the server (in addition to the meal charges, there was also a $5 concierge fee).  Although the service at The Kitchen was impeccable, one thing Brandy did dislike about Reserve was that the tip level had to be decided before hand when entering the payment information, not after the meal when one could truly judge the quality of one's treatment at the establishment in question.  "Not that I ever tip under 15% anyway, even in the worst of circumstances" Brandy shrugged, "But I'd still like the option."  "Thank you for another fabulous brunch, my friend," Babka gushed as they collected their things, "Now I am fueled for the nine hour bus ride ahead of me."  "Yes, those road trips in a luxury tour bus can be quite trying, can't they," Brandy replied.

The writers of this blog were given a credit towards their meal by Reserve in exchange for an honest opinion of their experience.

The Short and Sweet Review

The Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Tea Time with Brandy: Spring Time Cocktails with Nielsen-Massey

Spring is a time for all sorts of things like weddings, flowers, gentle rain storms, and allergies.  Of all things spring means to Brandy, one certainly excites her more than the others, which is the ability to drink outside.  "There's nothing quite like relaxing in a garden or on a patio with a cool drink in your hand and sunlight on your face," as Brandy likes to say.

Brandy is especially fond of a good punch in the spring time (punch as in the drink, not a belt round the face).  Punches are easily made in single servings or large quantities, as their simple combinations of ingredients usually don't require a large amount of prep or math.  A good Edwardian punch is usually fruity in nature, but can often contain little surprises to the palate to keep the drinker coming back for more.

As the weather started to warm up ("Well, I suppose 45 degrees is warm for Chicago," Brandy reasoned), Brandy was struck with a desire for a nice glass of punch, so she began checking her cabinets for ideas.  When she came across a bottle of Nielsen-Massey Pure Almond Extract, she had an idea.  Brandy has always loved the combination of cherry and almond, and taking those flavors into a punch recipe could be just the thing to quench her thirst.  And so the Almond-Cherry Spritzer was born.

If you would like to try some of Nielsen-Massey's high quality Pure Almond Extract, Brandy will be giving one away to one lucky reader.  To enter, simply leave a comment and how to contact you on this post, on our Facebook page, Twitter page, or Instagram before Wednesday May 6th.

The Almond-Cherry Spritzer

2 parts vodka
1 part tart cherry juice
1 part sparkling lemonade
1 teaspoon Nielsen-Massey Almond Extract per serving
Marinated cherries for garnish

Combine vodka and cherry juice, stir gently.  Add in the almond extract and sparkling lemonade.  Serve over ice and garnish with cherries.

Optional Ideas
  • Want more of an almond flavor than a cherry one? Add a splash of amaretto!
  • Try freezing your cherries inside ice cubes for a pretty look and to keep the drink from becoming watered down.
  • Leave out the vodka for a delicious non-alcoholic punch!
The writers of this blog were provided with products from Nielsen-Massey in order to facilitate the writing of this post.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Commons Club or High Time for High Tea

The Slow and Savory Review

Brandy sighed, gazing out her window on a cold, rainy Chicago spring day.  She was missing England.  "I do love The Windy City," she moaned, "But sometimes one just longs for things like the smell of sea air, a walk through a foggy moor, or a decent cup of good British tea."  Unable to shake her homesickness, Brandy phoned up her old friend Brocco Leigh Binto and asked if he might be able to invent something that would make her feel better.  "Well, that could take years of research, development, and testing," he told her, sympathetically, "But I did hear that the Virgin Hotel just started up a high tea service.  Maybe a little taste of your home land would cheer you up."

Brandy decided to take Brocco's advice and enlisted him to accompany her to The Commons Club on the second floor of the Virgin Hotel.  The space boasted impossibly high ceilings, a playful library, and a semi-casual dining area surrounding an ornate bar.  Much like its downstairs sister restaurant, Miss Ricky's, the space had just enough rock and roll feeling to it to make it stylish without being obnoxious.

Upon browsing the menu, Brandy discovered that the tea service had a little twist: it featured not only traditional tea time snacks and pots of hot tea, but also six seasonal cocktails, all featuring different Rare Tea Cellars teas.  "They're calling this an Upside Down Tea Party," Brandy observed, "Presumably because you'll be upside down under the table when its over."  "It's a good thing the Virgin Hotel features a Bow Truss Coffee in room pour over service then," Brocco smiled.  And so encouraged by that useful feature of the hotel, Brocco and Brandy threw caution to the wind and ordered round after round of tea cocktails until they found they'd (somewhat) accidentally tried them all.

Gentry Cove (on the right)- gin, vermouth, strawberry, lemon, and Earl Grey Brandy likened this one to a Pimm's Cup, in that it packed plenty of punch with a nice fruity finish.  This was light, infinitely drinkable, and perfect for a spring day.

Pomp and Circumstance (on the left)- gin, aloe liqueur, butterfly pea tea, corn flower, passion fruit This was probably the most stunningly presented cocktail of the day, as its top layer was a vibrant blue, the middle was a royal purple, and the bottom a sweet shot of passion fruit nectar.  The taste was a little too vegetal for Brandy's liking, but Brocco enjoyed it.

Fields of France- vodka, anise liqueur, Campari, tonic, honey, lavender tea Not normally a fan of anise flavored things, Brandy was surprised to have enjoyed this drink, which had a lovely floral quality to it.  This concoction was probably one of the better showcases for the tea that inspired it, which is flavored with various berries and flowers.

Bold as Love- rum, mint, green tea, lemon, verbena This one was both Brandy and Brocco's least favorite of the bunch.  It was a tad too herbacious for their liking, and baring a slight resemblance to a mojito, Brocco wished it would have been a little sweeter.  "Maybe Bold as Love is the wrong name for this," as he put it, "I'd call this the Bold as Like-quite-a-bit-but-not-in-Love."

Sunny Day in London- gin, brandy, sherry, black tea, honey, cream Although most of the other cocktails came adorned with colorful flowers, this one came simply presented over crushed ice in a pretty tea cup, and made Brandy burst into laughter when she saw it.  "What's so funny?" Brocco asked.  "It's called a Sunny Day in London, but it's cloudy.  Get it?" Brocco did not get it.  Regardless, Brandy thought this was the best cocktail for enjoying with the food because of its rich, sip-able flavor.

Spring Fling- vodka, St. Germain, lemon soda, jasmine green tea The last cocktail of the afternoon was also one of the prettier ones, having a vibrant green color which set off the flowers floating on the top and reminding Brandy of a pond covered in lily pads.  Its flavor was bright and fruity with an almost melon like flavor that Brocco quite enjoyed.

As for the food, the offerings were pretty traditional: a few finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, a couple bite sized pastries, and a cookie.  Brandy was a tad disappointed that there weren't more modern takes on the nibbles to match the creativity behind the cocktails, but she thought everything was quite lovely all the same.  The Crab and Shrimp Salad Sandwich was a nice change of pace from the more traditional Smoked Salmon and Cucumber sandwiches, but all three were delicate and tasty.  The scones were tiny indeed, each one about the size of a bite or two, with flavorings like walnut, pistachio and cherry, and cinnamon raisin, while the jam and cream came adorably presented in a tiny tea cup and looking like some sort of dessert in and of itself.  "Whipped cream?  On your scone?" Brocco questioned upon spying the confection.  "No dear, clotted cream," Brandy corrected him, "It's sort of like a buttery spread.  Go on, try it."  And with one scoopful of the stuff, Brocco was a changed man.  The little pasties were nice, especially the rich chocolate tart with candied hazelnuts on top, but the dainty financier with cherries and almonds had its own rustic charm too.  Brandy simply adored the presentation of the shortbread cookie, which had its lower half dipped in chocolate, as it was shaped like a tea bag and even had string tied to it, making it perfect for dipping.  "Sadly, we've neglected to actually order any actual tea," Brandy observed, and then shrugging, she dipped the thing in one of her cocktails.

Whiling away a rainy afternoon with a high tea service at The Commons Club might have normally made Brandy even more home sick for dear old England, but with more than a few cocktails in her system as well as some excellent nosh, she actually felt quite contented.  "Not only did we drink our way through the entire menu, we may have also drunk an entire garden this afternoon," she giggled as she eyed the colorful flowers in her empty cocktail glass, "But I'd say these tea cocktails do make for a lovely change of pace for a tea service.  I can see myself coming back to this season after season as the menu shifts."  Brandy also loved the relaxed, yet refined atmosphere of The Commons Club, where the well dressed servers and bartenders were polite, chatty, and very well informed.  With the tea service only $10 a person and the cocktails coming in at $12 a piece (actual pots of tea were also available for $7, but also several premium selections ranging from $14-$55 for high rolling tea connoisseurs), Brandy also thought the prices weren't too outrageous.  "Well, it certainly wasn't the most traditional tea service I've ever attended," Brandy said grandly as she made her way down to the hotel lobby, "But I do have to admit that I feel quite a better going out than I did going in."

The Short and Sweet Review

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