Samovar Tea Lounge

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Sitting high above the Yerba Buena Gardens is a small restaurant, Samovar Tea Lounge. I discovered Samovar several years ago and often bring out-of-town guests there for a healthy, innovative lunch offerings. Back then, they were not open in the evenings but have now expanded their hours until early evening. It is warm and inviting with banquettes lined with exotic drapes and comfy pillows. Part of their advertisement is the idea of not rushing and early on, it proved difficult to get lunch ordered and eaten within an hour. Fortunately, they have improved that over the years.

Pictured here is Moorish Mint Tea; a complete lunch which included grilled Halloumi kebabs served on top of a mint salad. Alongside were three dolmas and and a handful of dried olives as well as two Medjool dates stuffed with chevre and topped with a pistachio-crusted walnut. This is one of two standard meals that I have become accustomed to; the Moorish platter mostly eaten when it is warm and sunny and one craves room temperature food that is flavorful and full of fresh, bright ingredients. When it is cold and blustery, I desperately crave the the Indian tofu curry platter with basmati rice and masala chai. Rich and satisfying and warm, it is a concoction I have often tried to recreate at home but I never seem to be able to get it as redolent with spices as they can create.

I can also heartily recommend the Japanese luncheon. In a round, ceramic bento box I was served a seaweed salad, two scoops of rice topped with various condiments, a triangle of seared yellowtale and two shrimp, and some marinated broccoli rabe. There was also a very delicate, subtle tea soup which had some unknown vegetables which were a bit on the soft side. Along with the lunch, I ordered the “upcharge” Matcha service ($5 on their website but $10 in the restaurant). There was a nut-crusted sweet (may have been mochi, but didn’t really taste like it) along with the Matcha and then a green tea-dusted brownie bite was served with the lunch as well.

The Chinese lunch starts with an amazing Oolong Tea coupled with a hot-pot of chicken, vegetables, rice, and a great gingery sauce. The second tier of the service is squash potstickers. The top tier had my dessert; a coconut rice pudding. With the  Russian lunch one is served a folded crepe (they called it a blini, but it was a crepe) filled with smoked trout and topped with capers, thinly sliced onions, and sour cream. You also got a selection of fresh fruit, a “Russian Tea Egg” which was a glorified Deviled egg topped with caviar, and two sweets, a bread pudding that was amazingly stunning — drizzled with a Bergamot honey and studded with dried tea and pistachios, and a single truffle made with smokey Russian tea. The classic, smokey tea had to be “self-serve” by walking to a stand that contained a classic Samovar from which he poured his tea.

Besides the innovative menu for dining, many who visit Samovar do so only for their extensive tea menu. While many are more enthralled with the perfectly brewed coffee, here it is all about tea; white, green, black, pu-erh, or herbal. And if a full meal is not desired, there are enough small bites of sweet treats, sandwiches, or salads which will satisfy any appetite.

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