Afternoon tea at the Pardee Home Museum, an 1868 Italianate mansion on the edge of downtown Oakland, is entirely cooked and served by volunteers. We went in with low expectations: we knew the ambience would be exquisite, but we anticipated a merely standard spread of snacks. We were wrong. There was only one variety of tea on offer, it’s true, but the food was delicious, varied, and elaborately presented.
This isn’t the right destination for connoisseurs of distinctive tea varieties. The English Breakfast blend we were given was tasty but ordinary. (A point in its favor: it was brought to the table pre-brewed to the appropriate strength.) Refills of tea, milk, and sugar (cubed, with proper tongs) came quickly enough to satisfy our voracious appetites. The sterling silver teaspoons and pressed linen napkins were a nice touch.
Undoubtedly, the star of afternoon tea at the Pardee Home Museum is the food. The savory course included beautifully decorated, scrumptious bites. Some highlights: surprisingly flavorful open-faced cucumber sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches with flowers made from radishes and dill adorning their tops, and flavorful chicken salad puffs. Our food restrictions were handled well: separate plates of savories came for the vegetarian and pescatarian in our group, featuring caprese bites and olive puffs.
Scones followed the savories course — iced orange-cranberry scones served fresh from the oven and melting in our mouths. The accompaniments were the only false notes: a too-sweet strawberry jam, and not-quite-real clotted cream (which, per our rules, keeps the Pardee Home from an otherwise deserved five-cake food score). The cream had a thick yogurt-like texture and rich vanilla flavor, but it still lacked clotted cream’s distinctive texture and taste. (If the recipe book on display is to be believed, it was made from mascarpone.)
We finished the meal with a huge spread of sweets. Wafers of sliced almonds didn’t delight, but everything else did. We polished off sugared pecan cookies, miniature cups of lemon curd, chocolate mousse, fruit skewers, strawberry macarons, and Canadian shortbread. The servers kindly offered us bags to take home anything we didn’t finish, but we enjoyed the desserts too much to save them for later!
The surroundings in the Pardee Home are sheer elegance. We ate in a dining room crammed full of vintage china, iridescent glassware, elaborately carved furniture, and a thirteen-point elk’s head mounted on the wall. (We learned that it was a trophy brought home by Enoch Pardee, the house’s original owner and an avid hunter.) Our teacups and plates were charming mismatched porcelain. Every dish brought to the table was arranged with flowers from the house’s garden: roses, cherry blossoms, nasturtiums, pansies, and more. The service (run by friendly, dedicated volunteers) matched the fine ambiance, with the savories appearing as soon as we were seated and each subsequent course arriving promptly. Following the tea service, a docent treated us to a detailed tour of the house. Our only atmospheric complaint was a general mustiness that caused sneezes and sniffles; asthmatics and others with breathing troubles should probably pass.
Date attended: May 6, 2018
Attendees: Erica, Ilana, Hannah, Jasmine, Marissa & Tom
Note: teas at the Pardee Home Museum must be booked at least two weeks in advance. There is a minimum of six guests, and a maximum of twelve.
Location: 672 Eleventh Street, Oakland