Each year around the holidays I try to do a little something special with my kiddo to celebrate the winter festivities. Here in Portland, there are loads of things to see, experience, and taste during the holiday season.
We enjoy the magic of the Oregon Zoo’s ZooLights each year (members get in early each year!). We’ve gone to see the Nutcracker Ballet (as well as Swan Lake). We’ve taken the drive up to Leavenworth, Washington to explore all the seasonal treasures that this mini-Bavarian-themed town has to offer (including its impressive nutcracker museum). We’ve experienced the fun of The Portland Christmas Revels, watched the Christmas ships go by at night from our waterfront perch at Salty’s on the Colombia (they also put on a great Christmas brunch, complete with giant nutcracker display, a chocolate fountain and even, Santa himself), and walked Peacock Lane (in icy conditions, even!). We’ve munched on roasted chestnuts in Portland’s living room, surrounded by a tightly packed crowd, as they lit up the big tree. But we have never been to The Heathman’s famed Holiday Tea — that is, until now.
A holiday treat
My little is a child of discerning tastes. He’s big on fashion, high on art, and honey, trust me, he can bring the drama! So going to The Heathman for high tea with a 7 year-old was NEVER going to be a problem for me but what I was surprised to see was just how lovely it could be for anyone, big or little and that’s all thanks to the details made perfect by the excellent staff of The Heathman Restaurant.
Everyone from the doorman, to our waiter, to the bus staff (who helped my little find his sunglasses again before we left), to the restaurant GM (who dropped by our table to chat with us at the end of tea and ended up swapping her bejeweled spectacles for the aforementioned sunglasses and a pic with us) — all helped to make our time there — magical!
A historic Portland hotel
As you enter the holiday tea court seating area, you can’t help but feel transported into your favorite holiday movie. You know the one where everyone seems to have a much more fabulous life than you, filled with breezy shopping trips in the big city, and elegant dining options, even when they’re just dashing in spontaneously for cocoa and a treat somewhere.
The tea court at The Heathman (built in 1927 and one of only a small handful of historic hotels left in Portland) is lavish, with a lushly appointed room, filled with cloth-covered tables, linen napkins and cushy banquettes to welcome you — all of it bathed in the glow of tiny white lights coming from the enormous Christmas tree nestled in the corner by the staircase that leads to the mezzanine and Heathman’s cozy library.
There are huge historic (18th-century) paintings by French landscape artist Claude Lorrain installed along the side wall and a 100-year-old crystal chandelier (that was once used in the U.S. Embassy in Czechoslovaki) dangling above a dramatic circular banquette in the center of the room, that is topped with a festively lit golden deer floral display.
All of which serves to make you feel like a chi chi fancy pants — especially if, like me, you typically have to save your pennies to give yourself a special treat like this (even during the holidays).
Best of all — the food!
Afternoon Tea at The Heathman Restaurant is a long standing tradition in Portland and it’s one Chef Michael Stanton and his culinary team and the restaurant’s staff take very seriously. This is traditional English high tea with a Pacific Northwest twist, using locally sourced ingredients, like the salmon they thoughtfully smoke in-house used in the smoked salmon profiteroles (my kiddo’s favorite — he ate his AND mine!)
The tea service is $32pp and includes a pot per person of your choice of loose leaf teas and a tiered rack packed with finger sandwiches (smoked chicken salad in pita and cucumber and watercress, anyone?), savory profiteroles, goat cheese crostini, deviled eggs, fresh baked currant scones with mascarpone and jam, tender and fragrant banana bread, and an entire tier of bite-sized desserts, including a layered French Feuilletine, moist chocolate cupcake, tangy lemon curd tart, a mousse filled chocolate tulip cup, and a homemade, powder-sugar dusted marshmallow.
But if your “little sipper” is not quite as sophisticated as my wee foodie, fret not, they’ve thought of everything at The Heathman, which is why they also provide a more kid-friendly Peter Rabbit tea service for your littles at half the price. It includes hot cocoa instead of tea, chunks of cheese, pb&j, goldfish crackers, carrot sticks, ranch dip, “ants on a log,” fresh fruit, a snickerdoodle, marshmallows, banana bread and cupcake.
As they say in their description, The Heathman’s Holiday Tea will “elegantly transport you to another place in time.” Holiday Tea seatings run from now until January 5th, 2016 but you’d better hurry, reservations fill up fast for this happy holiday respite.
(*Full disclosure: I was able to arrange to experience the holiday tea gratis, with the promise of an honest review posted here.)
Holiday Tea at The Heathman
November 29 – January 5
Daily Seatings at 11 am, 1 pm, and 3 pm
Monday – Friday: Seatings at 2 pm
Saturday & Sunday: Seatings at 12 pm and 2 pm
R E S E R V A T I O N S A R E R E Q U I R E D
Preferably 48 hours in advance, CALL: (503) 790-7752
Today’s high tea with the focus towards the Russian cuisine was the absolute worst high tea we’ve experienced at the Heathman, and we’ve attended all since the very first one. I was a subcontractor on the hotel renovation and we held our wedding at the Heathman. Our disgruntled (and hungry party left and were fortunate that Shigezo was open one block up on Salmon so our party did not return home without eating. Absolute drivel; even the two other couples daughters (whom we’ve brought since they were two and four, now eight and ten) found the fare “icky” and unacceptable. Two other adjoining tables were commenting negatively about the food and deserts as well, and we in turn shared our observations with them. Quite a lively discussion, which I’m sure left a lasting impression on all. Once home I telephoned to speak with staff and spoke with ‘Jordan’ who was to forward me to the dining room manager. No return telephone call, nothing. My wife works downtown at Tiffany & Co. and when the storm hit, closing employees stayed at the Heathman. Well, five downtown business people and their families can strike off a two decade old tradition off their Xmas list for next year. A shame.
How disappointing for you. It’s a shame that your holiday high tea didn’t work out as well as ours did last year. I know they have recently changed head chefs and menus over at the Heathman (although, I must admit, I am a fan of Vitaly Paley’s work at Paley’s Place, I have not yet had the opportunity to experience their new Russian high tea — though from Ken Norris’ Instagram, it looked lovely. I hope you will try to reach the manager of the restaurant again or the Director of Operations, Mr. Garrett Peck or even Vitaly or Kimberly Paley themselves, both because it would be a pity for your long history with the Heathman to end and also because, if the changes are not going smoothly over there someone should be made aware of it. Vitaly Paley’s standards are usually impeccable (he is a James Beard award-winning chef after all and your experience sounds so out of character for his track record. I’m certain he (and his whole team) would be quite mortified to learn of it. I have reached out to the Heathman’s PR personnel from last year (not sure if she’s still doing PR for them now, to pass on your feedback.) Let me know how it all works out. Best — Vanessa