It was upon the advice of the sage woman who "cleansed" my chakras that I began the daily ritual of afternoon tea. While working from home offers a plethora of benefits (staying in your pajamas and catching Oprah), at the end of the day you do not physically leave your work. It is always there.
And so, the seeds of "Tea @ 3" were planted: I would combine the much needed afternoon tea (at 3 p.m., give or take) with a Q&A chat with Chicagoans who know some part of the scene—and have opinions about others. Short of jetting to England to have tea with Camilla and Charles, I couldn't think of a more apropos spot to kick things off than at the Four Seasons Hotel.
The Four Seasons' Lounge Manager is David Vanhove. David is probably the most refined, gracious and charming man I have ever met. Impeccably dressed in a dark suit, his only accessory was a Hollywood-worthy smile. A native of France, David grew up about twenty minutes outside of Paris. He studied at UTEC, a hotel management school where he focused on Food and Beverage.
Once seated in the Conservatory, I yielded to David's expertise in selecting a choice tea. Resting on a delicate oval silver tray, a white "sleeping tea pot," which allows you to control the tea's strength, housed my loose vanilla bean tea made from Madagascar vanilla beans blended with black teas. It was aromatic and sweet but not overbearing.
Those all-too-cute tea sandwiches followed by an array of sweets were also served. When I wasn't chatting away, I managed to nibble on the quail egg salad on rye, roasted Portobello mushroom with oven-dried tomato on toasted ciabatta, and thyme pound cake. I was all too happy to take many of the remaining pastries home. Scrumptious.
Do tea guests often wear hats?
No. To my disappointment, women are apparently not sipping tea in funny, little hats. I know this isn't England, but come on "having tea" seems delightfully authentic while wearing a hat and speaking with a British accent. There is not a dress code, but men in hats are frowned upon.
A hidden gem in Chicago that you know about, but most may not?
The Lincoln Park Lagoon (2001 N. Stockton) for fishing. According to the Chicago Park District's Web site, a variety of fish can be hooked throughout the year. From May to August you're likely to find Bluegill, Channel Catfish and Largemouth Bass.
If I were to visit your neighborhood, what restaurant, café or shop would you insist I visit?
Bistrot Zinc in the Gold Coast. My favorite dish is the mussels, Spanish mussels, which are larger in size, served in a creamy white wine sauce.
What is your favorite dish when dining out?
I do not know of a specific place to find North African couscous in Chicago, but I am always looking. North African couscous is prepared with a sauteed vegetable broth and couscous with Merguez, a specialty lamb sausage. The foie gras at Seasons is my favorite.
If you were a Chicago tourist for a day, what three things would you be most likely to do?
I would go to a Cubs game, take an architectural tour and visit the Shedd Aquarium.
Drink that proves the wonder of alcohol?
The Creme Brulee Martini is a drink I've created. I like to offer guests drinks that are best suited to what they are having before dinner, during dinner and after. This is an after-dinner drink and can even be a dessert. This vodka, vanilla Schnapps, creme anglaise and one secret ingredient that David wouldn't reveal concoction may soon be offered at the Four Seasons. When I know, you'll know.
Chicago is better than ____________? And, why?
I think Chicago is better than New York because you can breathe here. It's green, there are trees everywhere. The lake is incredible. And, unlike many other cities where I've been the people here are so welcoming.
Which European city would you consider to be most like Chicago?
I feel London is somewhat similar to Chicago. Like Chicago, London's architecture is a mix of new and old, the city has many parks and a [prominent] river.
Best Chicago-related advice you've ever received?
Especially since I was moving to Chicago from Florida, the best advice was to get a heavy coat. My sister gave me a Hugo Boss winter coat before I moved here.
If you were a Chicago venue and were writing a review about yourself, what would you be and how would you be described.
More of an upscale restaurant. Polished, neat and clean with an eye for details. Always there for the guests anticipating their needs.
Take your tea with milk or sugar at the Four Seasons Hotel; 120 E. Delaware; (312) 280-8800. Fourseasons.com/chicagofs. Tea is served six days a week from 3-5 p.m.
Jennifer Wennig delights in the wonder of tea and conversation every other Tuesday in Tea @ 3. If you know someone that she should know, please email her.