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Restaurant Review: Park Plaza Perfects High Tea

Fresh Treats and Unique Teas Contribute to Cultured Experience

By Jillian Berry

Swan Caf

Boston Park Plaza Hotel

64 Arlington Street

Boston, MA 02116

(617) 426-2000

The Swan Caf at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel is one of only a handful of spots in Boston that offers traditional tea service every afternoon from 3-5 p.m. The caf is elevated and open to the bustling lobby, but a player piano and lush fabrics drown out the noise of the lobby and create an intimate setting.

This sophisticated location offers multiple tea services, including a traditional service ($23.50) and a seafood service ($25.50). Both are served as three-course meals accompanied by a choice of teas, which you choose from a list of approximately a dozen varieties.

The Swan Caf ’s own tea blend is an unusual mix of Ceylon and green teas with a hint of vanilla and other flavors. The tea is medium-strength with an initially sweet taste that gives way to a little bite at the end. The Boston blend combines Indian and African teas to produce a strong tea that is more bitter and less sweet than the former. With a little milk, however, it is just right.

The first course of the service is a cranberry scone with Devonshire cream and strawberry preserve. The scones are baked fresh for each person, so we waited ten minutes, but the warm treat that emerged from the kitchen was worth it. The scones are incredibly moist and dense, and break without crumbling. The preserve and Devonshire cream (similar to butter) just add to the buttery and flavorful scone.

Although the scones were incredibly filling, they were just the beginning. The second course is a multi-tiered tray of treats, including chicken salad, egg salad, shrimp salad, and asparagus tea sandwiches. The seafood service consists of smoked salmon, tuna salad, crab salad, and shrimp salad sandwiches. The sandwiches are unconventional, with a thin and crunchy layer of toast topped with the various fillings — as opposed to the more traditional small, white bread sandwich. The smoked salmon sandwich has very high quality salmon accompanied by capers. The chicken salad sandwich has a fresh and creamy filling that compliments the crunchy bread well.

In addition to the sandwiches, the second course includes pound cake, petite fours, chocolate-covered strawberries, and truffles in both services. There are two different varieties of pound cake, plain and orange. Both are moist, sweet, and wonderfully dense, and the pieces of oranges add a great burst of flavor. The petit fours are beautifully decorated with their pink icing and sugar flower tops, but, as is often the case, they looked better than they tasted. The icing is far too sweet for the tiny cake, and I just could not finish it. The chocolate-covered strawberry was also a little disappointing; even though the strawberries are slightly tart, perfect for this treat, the chocolate is too thinly spread and not creamy enough. Finally, the truffles of sinfully rich dark chocolate cleanse the palate from the other indulgent sweet desserts.

The final course of the meal is a tea-infused cr me brul e, which comes in a tiny tea cup. It is much lighter and less sweet than a traditional brul e. The tea infusion adds a subtle flavor, if not so subtle brown color, and it is a great end to an amazing meal.

Overall, the wonderful food is made even better with attentive servers, making this a memorable meal. Even though the portions are small, there is so much that I left stuffed. But let’s be honest, this was not a cheap experience you could enjoy every day. The Swan Caf is a great place to bring your parents when they’re in town — they’ll think you’re so cultured. Whatever the reason, you should get dressed up and experience high tea at least once in Boston.