Ask the Critics: Where Can I Get a Spot of Tea?

Lauren Shockey
A pot of tea for two at Podunk.
Ellen O. Asks: Do you have any suggestions for places to have afternoon tea? I want something fun in Manhattan, but low-key -- not the Plaza Hotel.

Dear Ellen: Coffee might be running through the veins of New Yorkers, but there's nothing like afternoon tea to help one return to a life of peace and civility. Here are my three favorite places to while the afternoon away like a lady of leisure.

Well-known options include Tea & Sympathy and Alice's Tea Cup, both of which offer good high teas, but the following spots are lesser-known and equally pleasant -- if not better!

Podunk is a quaint East Village tea room that will instantly transport you to a world of calm, thanks to owner Elspeth Treadwell's Midwestern charm and tasty tea blends. Filled with Shaker furniture, bric-a-brac, kids' books, and a mishmash of small tables and chairs, Podunk is decidedly non-New York. The menu features a variety of blends (I'm partial to the Vietnamese vanilla), hot tea punches, lefse flatbread sandwiches, and big slabs of cake. Come with plenty of bills, though -- it's a cash-only establishment, and, despite the name, these aren't Podunk prices. Expect to pay $8 per person for tea only, and $27 per person for a full-on high tea including cucumber sandwiches, cakes, cookies, and scones.

I also like nearby Cha-An, hidden away on the second floor of a small building in Little Tokyo. The afternoon tea set comes with two kinds of sandwiches, scones, and tea for $18. If you're in a savory mood, get the $19 Cha-An set, which includes soup, quiche, tea-smoked salmon, rice, and a pot of tea. However, I generally opt for a pot of oolong or genmaicha, which is green tea with roasted brown rice -- it's got a great nuttiness and I always feel magically revived after drinking it.

Finally, Russian restaurant Mari Vanna is a lovely place to indulge in a pot of tea. The ambiance is a cross between your Slavic grandmother's living room and the Dr. Zhivago film set. Eclectic teapots come to the tables accompanied by a small dish of strawberry jam to sweeten the tea, Russian-style.

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Sarabeth's West has a really cute afternoon tea menu! They have nice tea towers that include their famous scones and jams, tea sanwiches and cookies, and really nice selections of teas.

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