A work in progress

A work in progress

Madeline Garden offers a gorgeous setting for high tea

By Erica Wayne 05/07/2014

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Having finally gotten over my funk at Madeleine’s Restaurant and Wine Bistro’s sudden demise, I’ve been meaning to try its replacement, Madeline Garden, for quite a while. However, it’s not so easy. At first, it seemed, only its adjunct Kiss Bakery was open, and I preferred to wait until the formal restaurant was up and running. 

Now that its various components have supposedly been in place for almost a year, I decided the time had come. I was especially intrigued by the description of their elaborate high tea, even more so since the untimely closing of Scarlet’s Tea Room, my former favorite for that most elegant of ladies’ luncheons, so my friend Pam and I high-tailed it over a couple of Tuesdays ago.

Now, if you’ve never been to Madeline Garden, or its predecessors Restaurant Halie and Madeleine’s, you won’t comprehend the complexity of the venue — a lovely vintage building with full rococo decor and a duo of courtyards, several interior dining rooms, plus a maze of hallways and staircases which, without a guide, can be quite daunting to navigate.

We walked through the outer courtyard into the entryway. There a stand with menus was set up but nary a human. We did a cursory search and eventually located workmen doing repairs in the largest dining room. We asked if any of the staff was onsite, but they were clueless.

Eventually we gave up and went to Settebello. The pizza was good, but we’d had our hearts set on the high tea mentioned on Madeline’s Web site. That evening, I called and spoke to a gentleman who told me they’d changed their hours and were now only open from Wednesday through Sunday. FYI, the new hours are up to date on Yelp, but not on the restaurant’s own Web site, which, as of May 2, was still advertising Easter brunch.

Still, Madeline Garden is so damned gorgeous I couldn’t just give up without a second attempt. After all, there were over 30 Yelp reviews, several glowing. So, I dragged my mate over there for lunch a day or two later. When we arrived around noon, no other diners were in evidence, but we were greeted by a gracious maitre d’ who suggested we sit in the lovely front courtyard facing the street. Since it was sunny and warm, we were fine with that, although the wrought iron benches were a bit tough on our fannies.

I decided to splurge on the 18-item tea (a whopping $39 but replete with a number of items one rarely sees on this kind of repast: soup, pasta, salad, bruschette with toppings such as bay scallop, sweet apple, grapes, celery and baked potato. There was also a grilled Portobello lettuce cup, miniature quiches, tiramisu and panna cotta, as well as the traditional cucumber sandwich and berry scone. There was no way to interest my mate in such folderol. He chose a much cheaper marinated grilled chicken breast sandwich, with bacon added at no additional charge, on focaccia with sweet potato fries ($10).

Our beverages and two cups of fresh fruit came almost immediately. After that, there was a protracted delay during which a few more customers arrived and were also seated in the courtyard. Finally, after we hailed the maitre d’ to tell him we had an appointment and really needed to speed up the service, my husband’s platter and my multi-tiered tray arrived, brought by the sole server who seemed oddly unschooled as to her duties.

The chicken sandwich was really wonderful. The bread was fresh, the meat flavorful and the basil aioli tasty. The generous mound of fries (not sweet potato, but no loss since we both prefer plain ol’ Idahos) were thin, crispy and hot, and paired with a side dish of fabulous spicy remoulade.

But, alas, we were not so fortunate with my tea. The tray contained many miniature items dotted around its tiers. One smallish scone (room temperature) was served with jam and cream. Most of the teensy sweets were as advertised: a square of rich cheese cake, one of creamy panna cotta and a third of luscious, melt-in-your mouth flourless chocolate cake, with a cordial glass of tiramisu topped with dark chocolate shavings and chocolate straws.

Many of the savories, however, had been changed. Almost no bruschette were in evidence. A shrimp in bacon was overcooked. A small caprese was bland. There was no deviled egg with caviar, no lettuce cup, and nary a sign of a scallop. Soup? Pasta? Green salad? Nope, nope, nope. And, albeit minor compared with the bait and switch item list on their menu, the lack of decoration on the tea tray (e.g., doilies, flower petals, berries) was disappointing. 

I didn’t do a count to ascertain whether I had been served the requisite 18 items even if not the ones specified, but I don’t think it would have mattered. Aside from the sweets, they were lackluster, and only in rare cases does quantity make up for quality. Suffice it to say, Pam and I are still on our hunt for Scarlet’s replacement.

We took a peek at the tapas, bistro, brunch and dinner menus and the wine and cocktail list. Dishes included truffle risotto with parsley, squash and mushroom ($19); thyme-roasted chicken with cured lemon, potato puree and braised kale ($22); mussels with shallots and thyme-infused cream sauce with fries ($13); cauliflower gratin with bechamel, shallots and gruyere ($10); and roasted beet, arugula and almond-crusted goat cheese salad with orange-ginger vinaigrette ($13) sang their siren songs. But from our brief experience at Madeline Garden, we’re not sure they’re ready to deliver on all they promise. 

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