by Truly Malin
New York, New York
May 25, 2003
Jen and I were three steps in the door when we knew we had stumbled upon something so impossibly precious that we simply didn’t own the appropriate outfits to do it justice. Directly inside the entranceway was the shop, walls stacked to the ceilings with tins of tea in wooden cubbies. Beyond the shop was the timeless (actually circa 1854) salon du the, gloriously bright and welcoming on a rainy day. Everything was light: light wood, light white walls, light food, airy palms in intimate corners, and waiters in immaculate whites carrying trays of gleaming pastries and steaming teapots.
On a white-clothed table, the tea menu was waiting. The menu – and this is just tea, mind you, had 400 selections, requiring a separate book to explain its intricacies. We summoned the tea sommelier for a lengthy consultation, after which Jen selected an Earl Grey and I an Assam from Rungagora (to my delight, the sommelier couldn’t pronounce that either!). These arrived in individual white porcelain pots while we pondered the lunch menu with its spa-like, vegetable-intensive creations, each in a sauce flavored with tea. Jen chose the daurade royale and I went with a melée de légumes with tofu. Tofu, can you imagine? In a French tearoom?
With lunch on its way and hot cups of tea in hand, we surveyed the room and our fellow diners. There was a healthy smattering of fabulously dressed rich Parisiennes, but we also saw a solitary male diner who immediately brought to mind words like "fop" not normally heard outside of a Victorian-era English novel. This guy could have walked onto the set of Interview with the Vampire and bagged a role as an extra – without changing clothes. I couldn’t see his feet, but wouldn’t have been surprised to see satin slippers on them. On his table, resting next to the lace dripping from his tailored cuff, was what appeared to be a dead bird.
The bird didn’t prevent us from enjoying our entrees, or from indulging in selections from the "Patisserie Chariot Colonial" (that’s French for dessert cart!) Naming a child would have been easier than choosing a patisserie. We ended up with chocolate cake topped with fresh berries, and a chocolate apricot tarte - both were delicious, and so rich we couldn’t finish them.
At about 30 euros each for an entrée, tea, and dessert, this wasn’t a cheap lunch, but the rarefied atmosphere more than justified the splurge. Our waiter confided that "Louis the Vampire" was a regular, and his "dead bird" was actually a fan made of feathers. Mariage Freres has branches in the 6th and 8th arrondissements, and outposts in the major department stores, but only the Marais location has its own resident dandy!
Métro Hotel de Ville
From journal Paris: Les Copines d'Abord