Since my mother was coming for a visit during Thanksgiving holiday, I looked for an afternoon place that we haven’t been to. Then, I found a coupon for this spot called The House in Gramercy. We both like Gramercy, and with its interesting history behind it, I was very intrigued. Then, I found a coupon that will get us the afternoon tea for half the price! So I bought two coupons; one for my husband and I, and another one for my mother and I. We were all excited to visit the beautiful restaurant. So, this will be a combination if my two separate visits.
It got my curiosity when I read that the restaurant is a restored 1854 carriage house. I like a place with long history or have antique, beautiful architecture. The first thing that I saw when I opened the door was a staircase leading up to the second floor seating area. The impressive feature on the first floor was this beautiful fire place which is still in perfect working condition.
Underneath the staircase was a simple but yet elegant bar, making the most use of the dead space. They had plush and classy bar stools, and there were hooks under the bar for your purse and other personal items, which is always appreciated especially for us girls.
The seating area on the first floor is in front of the beautiful bar, and is not very big space. They have a couple of large tables that allows for 4 people to seat comfortably, and rest of the tables seemed to be for 2 people. The table top was made with white marble, matching the bar counter. The interior was simple with monochromatic color scheme, and one accent wall at the end of the room with fireplace and red brick wall.
I also liked the lighting fixtures on the ceiling that had two crystal chandeliers and one antique looking “candle” chandelier in the middle. The main chandelier was hung under gold-plated ceiling, creating soft reflection from the lights. For the first visit around Thanksgiving holidays, they had small squashes on the tables and fireplace as their Autumn decoration, subtle and simple, yet bring out the warm and cozy atmosphere.
The staircase also has a gold place on each steps that carries the design from the ceiling. There is a uni-sex bathroom at the top of the staircase, and they have another bar upstairs with same marble counter top and black stools.
The second floor is just a bit larger than the first floor, with small pentagon shaped windows and one large half-moon shaped window. I felt like those windows created the old-fashion feel to it, alongside the wooden floor which seemed like original or maybe they specifically chose the type of wood that looks antique?
Since we had the coupon for afternoon tea for two, that is exactly what we ordered. Their afternoon tea comes with a choice of pot of tea, two scones, a choice of sandwich, assorted cookies, and a choice of dessert presented on a 3-tiered serving tray. Right off the bat, the waiter told us that they are out of couple of teas… Our reservation was right at when they opened, so it was not like they ran out after so many customers ordered them. I guess they ran out of the inventory and didn’t order more teas? Anyways, we went with White Peony tea and Earl Grey tea. They were both good, decent tea.
The teas were made at the bar by bartenders, which was kind of funny. They strained the tea leaves before pouring it into the pot, so it had a minimal amount of leaves left in the pot. I liked the way they made the tea, in this way, you are not waiting for the tea to steep, and don’t need to worry about the tea getting too strong the longer it sits in the pot. We didn’t get any sugar or milk, the waiter just dropped off the tea pots and cups and left. Since we don’t usually put any sugar or milk in it, it was ok, but we would’ve liked to have that option…
Then there came the 3-tiered tray with our goodies on it! They use glass plates for all the tier, making it look classic and very pretty.
The top-tier had two scones, buttermilk one and maybe pumpkin spice? The scones are baked by Alice’s Tea Cup. I wish if they will get their scones from Hungry Gnome (http://www.foodlovergirl.com/grand-bazaar-nyc/), since it is my favorite scones so far, next to the ones from Tea and Sympathy. The ones from Alice’s Tea Cup were ok, not amazing but ok. They were accompanied by hard butter and jam, it was disappointing that it didn’t come with clotted cream and jam…
The second tier had our choices of sandwiches. We chose Lobster Club and Egg Salad sandwiches. They came on toasted 4 quarter-cut sandwiches, so basically, the size of a sliced bread as a whole. The Lobster Club sandwich is made with arugula, tomato, and crispy pancetta. It was pretty good, and had good amount of lobster meat. We were very happy with this sandwich. The Egg Salad sandwich is made with watercress. The bread was not very soft, which made it difficult to eat the egg salad without them falling out of the bread with each bite… I prefer a really nice, soft bread with egg salad.
The last tier is for the dessert! We chose Crème Brule (interesting spelling from their menu…either intentional or misspelling, I don’t know…) and Red Velvet Cheesecake. The choice of the dessert were limited, the only other option was chocolate mousse. We realized there are some hurdles we had to overcome before we could eat the desserts. First, they were sitting on a glass plate directly, so we had to figure out how to eat them. Crème Brule was easy enough, just move the ramekin off the plate. But the cheesecake? It was not a very sturdy or solid cheesecake, it was very mushy, sticking to the glass plate. So, we had to either eat it off the tier (which is not easy) or try to move it onto a smaller plate. Second thing, we didn’t have clean plates brought over for dessert. So, either re-use the dirty plate for dessert, or try to locate our waiter (who never really came back to check on us at all) and ask for a new plate. Third thing was that we didn’t have spoons. How in the world were we supposed to eat Crème Brule without spoon??? The last thing was to locate our waiter or just any staff to help us with these issues. After a while, we finally got hold of a staff and asked for a clean plates and spoons.
The Crème Brule was good, not amazing, but good. Nothing special… A good size thought, not too small. The cheesecake, on the other hand, not so great. We were looking forward to having this, since it sounded really interesting. As I mentioned, it was really mushy. Not like a mousse but the kind that you had them defrosted after being in a freezer for a while, and got all too moist with condensation kind of consistency. It had hardened chocolate drizzles, hardened whipped cream, and couple of raspberries on top. Needless to say, we didn’t finish the slice.
We realized there was no “assorted cookies” on the tier. When the waiter (finally) came by, we asked about the cookies. He said strongly “it was on the plate.” Well, if it was not the plate, why are we asking about it? I guess he caught up to this common sense situation, and he said “oh, they weren’t? I will get some for you.” After another 5 min or so, he brought us three cookies. Chocolate chip cookie, jam filled cookie, and more like a brownie type one. They were all just ok, nothing much to say about any of them.
Our waiter was an Asian guy, named Adrian, and it seemed as if he was the ONLY waiter in the restaurant the whole time we were there. And I mean, both first and second floor. That will explain the reason why he disappear for a long time, and we couldn’t find him. But, he still had a few seconds to check on us, or at least made sure we had everything we ordered before bringing it to our table… At the end, he brought out our check with the full value of the afternoon tea for two, $100 ($50/person). The bottom of the receipt had “suggested gratuity” with 18%, 20% or 22% based on $100 bill. He asked how much tip we wanted to give him so that we can process our payment. We strongly felt that the service was not worth any of them, but since I was planing to go back with my mother, we gave him 20% (or $20).
In December, I went back for the second time, but with my mother. I was hoping the waiter was NOT going to be there, and that we will receive a better service from a different server. This time, the decoration was changed out completely to more of a holiday theme. It was really elegant, festive, and pretty.
They had a small Christmas tree on the bar, and the fireplace was also decorated with elegant and beautiful ornaments. I liked how they didn’t over-do the decoration, and kept the colors to minimum.
Since I had the same coupon, we ordered the afternoon tea for two. The choices of sandwiches and desserts came out to be exactly the same as the previous visit, since they were what my mother wanted to try. Even though we ordered exactly the same thing, there were few things that were different from the last visit. First thing was the server. Luckily, it was a female server named Kaitlyn and she was really nice, warm, and efficient. Off to a good start. Our tea came with a tea leaf strainer, sugar and milk. Now it was looking even better. The tea pot was made the same way, so the tea leaves were mostly out, but there is always that little amount of small leaves that are left in the pot. So, having the strainer is better, we can certainly make sure we don’t get any tea leaves in our cup.
Then the scones. We still got the same scones, but the butter and jam were put into two separate plates, which made it easier to use. And I think we got more jam and butter by having them put in their own plates.
The sandwiches were the same portion, but separated into 2 quarter-cut sandwiches on a pick, easier to pick them up and put them on our plate off the tier. And it also made it easier to share. The egg salad still had trouble staying inside the two pieces of bread while we ate them.
Then the dessert. Do you see the difference from the previous photos? Yes, the cookies! They are on the dessert tier! Yes! And I could see that we were supposed to get three cookies per person, total of six cookies, instead having total of three to share among the two of us. We got spoons with dessert, so we didn’t have to ask for one, but still didn’t get clean plate. The Crème Brule was very different this time around as well. It had small chunks of ginger on the bottom of the ramekin. It was a strong flavor and although it was interesting, I was not a big fan. My mother also was not a fan, so we left most of the bottom part that had lots of ginger. The cheesecake was the same as before, very mushy. So many it is how they make it? Or maybe they do keep them in a freezer??? I don’t know…
Another big difference this visit from the previous visit was how our server processed our check. She did it in a way that showed the value of coupon, which was half the price ($50). By doing so, the suggested gratuity was cut in half as well. We gave her 20% tip, which was $10 with the way she processed it. I felt like the male server processed our check to show $100 intentionally, so that he can get high amount on the tip. I don’t know if this is true or not, but if it is…very sneaky…
They have a small uni-sex bathroom by the bar. It is all in black and white, have that antique feel to it that goes well with the rest of the restaurant. The toilet seat is situated at kind of awkward spot, or it was more of the blueprint of the room that was awkward. One side has limited space with the wall coming around it. If you have long legs, you might need to sit diagonally. This bathroom is also a pathway between the dining floor and bar, so the bartender needs to walk through here in order get to the bar or come out from the bar. So, try not to take too long of a time, since they do go back and forth quite often.
One last thing I want to mention is to not to trust the restaurant photo of afternoon tea menu that they have on the website and also used on the marketing post card. Their photo of afternoon tea is so different from what they actually serve. My mother said that it is false advertising (LOL). The photo they use is of course super nice, lots of scones, hand sandwiches, some sort of pies, and lots of mini desserts that are not in the afternoon tea menu. They might want to reconsider using such photo, as that is what customer will be expecting to receive. When we got the totally different looking afternoon tea, we were surprised and disappointed.
Overall, it was just ok, not great. If we had the female server the both visit, our total experience would have been better for sure. We will not be going back to The House, but I am glad I got to visit the old house with much history inside those red brick walls.
The House – 121 E 17th St, New York, NY 10003