So my friend Gia invited me to join a meetup group for High Tea at the Parker Hyatt this past Sunday. I love High Tea but haven't had it here in Chicago, and looked forward to a fancy girly time.
The hotel is at the mouth of the Magnificent Mile, right by Water Tower Place and across from American Girl.
When she found out I'd never been to American Girl, my neighbor Becky told me I had to go. "Your head will explode, and it won't be my fault, but you have to see this place. The kids don't know any better; it's the mothers that scare the hell out of me."
I suggested that maybe there might be something fun for a little girl...
"Joy, they have a hair salon for dolls. They have outfits that allow you to dress like your doll."
Whoa. Exploding head coming up.
So I met Gia and four other women at the swank High Tea room - turns out I knew one of the women from another group - and we were seated and given menus. It was nice and posh, and a gorgeous day could be seen through the floor-to-ceiling windows.
I perused the tea menu, having been instructed that tea service covered the teas under $10.00.
"Ummm...I'm looking at a pot of tea for $60.00."
"That's nothing; look at the one for $700.00."
For real, there was a pot of tea for that amount. To seal the Emperor's New Oolong-ness of it all, it was also the only tea with a French name.
"Because we all know how renowned the French are for their tea," one of the women laughed.
"And yet," I said, "perversely, I want to try that tea."
I settled instead on a Flowery Earl Grey. One of the other women had ordered tea service, and the waiter brought over a white ceramic platter.
"These are madeleines," pointing to two small cookies.
A blob of green in a thimble was a 'pistachio cream'; a blob of red was some kind of jam, and thumbnail-sized pieces of toast held: ricotta and lox; asparagus and quail egg; and prosciutto.
Since this didn't really suit my taste, I was provided with the a la carte menu.
"We do a sort of modern twist on the High Tea," our adorable waiter told me. I looked at the menu, searching for the scones, the clotted cream, the crustless little sandwiches of cress and cucumber.
Now, I'm not inflexible and I'm not unadventurous, but High Tea is just no place for sushi.
"Where's the pastry?" the British woman next to me said.
"Um.." I looked at the pages. "It looks like High Tea meets Tapas."
Here's the thing: I go to hip new restaurants for creativity and a twist on the old. Women don't go to High Tea for new; they go for hardcore doilies-and-lace tradition. They go to pretend for an hour that they are women of gentility. Truly, High Tea is..a tea party for grown-up women. We may be wearing simple casual dresses, but in our minds we sport huge, broad-brimmed hats, pearls and white gloves.
So while my marinated Spanish cheese and olives was tasty, it was not High Tea fare, dammit.
I heard the woman next to me talking to another about their shared Filipino background. Gia offered that she was part Filipino. A couple of the women talked about their Asian families asking when they'd get married; some had lived in Hong Kong...
"What a small world," I thought. "How cool."
The other woman talked about being Indian-American, and the woman to my left, who was British of Chinese descent, talked of the oppressive racism she'd experienced in her hometown of Birmingham.
"My sisters and I couldn't wait to get out of there. Trust me; America is a lot more tolerant."
She does PR for a prominent statesman. I really liked her. I liked all of them, and that's saying something.
"Hey Joy, you should join the group!" Gia said.
"Yes!" they said.
"The organizer isn't here but she won't mind, I'm sure," Gia said.
"Is this the tea group?" I asked.
"No," Gia explained, "it's the Women of Asian Descent group."
AH. Right. It was all suddenly clear.
"I'm the token!!!!" I laughed.
I explained that I'd love to join (I really would) but didn't want to hijack the group's focus from the organizer's intent, and I wasn't sure she'd buy a story about an itinerant Chinese monk who found himself in Abruzzi a couple centuries back...
But the meetup site says it's also open to other women, so maybe I'll do my share for diversity. This was a very cool group of women.
Afterward Gia, the British gal and I went on an errand (passing by a tea house that listed a real high tea; mental notes), so American Girl will have to wait.
My head can explode next week.