Dining Out: Tea room serves best of the tradition

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Why: If you have never had the pleasure of enjoying afternoon tea as it was meant to be served, then you will most certainly want to set aside at least an hour or two and stop by Meadowlark Tea Room. Afternoon tea could be habit-forming, as evidenced by its long standing tradition that reaches back to 1840's England, but this is a wholesome habit everyone can enjoy.

Atmosphere: The tea room is paired with an antiques shop, which helps to impart an aged tradition to the atmosphere. Tables are dressed with floral linens and adorned with fresh, colorful flowers. Relaxing music plays softly enough for intimate conversation. A separate parlor is also available by reservation for private parties.

What I tried: I settled on the Meadowlark Tea with chocolate-orange tea. My dining companion decided on the Linnet Tea with monk's blend tea.

The tea is prepared fresh, so it takes a little longer than expected to get to the table, but it begins the afternoon tea experience with perfection. My dining companion and I agreed that it was some of the best tea we have ever tasted. Both were full bodied without a sugary presence or bitter end. My dining companion commented that, "This is what tea should be."

Both of our selections began with the sorbet of the day, which was a fresh mango sorbet. It was thick and fruity with icy crystals throughout, a refreshing way to cleanse the palate for what followed.

Before the tea sandwiches and other dainty items arrived, we were served soup, which was also included in both of our menu selections. The soup was Chicken Cock-A-Leekie, a traditional Scottish soup. Meadowlark's version is most impressive. The obvious ingredients were chicken, barley, carrots, celery, leeks, bacon and dates in a thin broth topped with three homemade cheese puffs. It was a deliciously satisfying soup with a full range of flavors -- from the garden freshness of the leeks and carrots to the sweetness of the dates and saltiness of the bacon — that complimented the chicken.

The difference between our selections amounted to a savory item, a sandwich, and a petite dessert — with the Linnet Tea being the smaller of the two.

Tea sandwiches included a chicken-salad croissant, a cucumber and cream cheese on white bread, and a harvest sandwich that contained shredded carrot, thin-sliced cucumber and herbs on wheat bread. There was also a pinwheel pastry that contained cheese and bacon.

The sweets consisted of a lime cake, a peanut-butter crunch bar, and a strawberry and whipped cream pastry tart.

Both teas included two fresh baked scones with jam, clotted cream and lemon curd. The scones were pleasantly moist enough so as not to be too crumbly. My favorite add-ons were the clotted cream and lemon curd together. I was a bit wary of the clotted cream at first, because the last time I encountered it at a traditional type of establishment, I found it sour and unpleasant. Conversely, Meadowlark's was sweet and very appetizing.

Every part of our afternoon tea was flavorful and unique, and the experience as a whole was one of a tasty respite from the bustle of the day.

Menu highlights beyond what I tried: I'm looking forward to my next visit. I've already decided to try the Chichester from the lunch menu. This comprises a croissant filled with homemade chicken salad, the soup of the day and a side salad.

I will also find an excuse to pop in sometime soon for the Chaffinch, also known as a Devonshire tea, which includes a couple of scones served with preserves and clotted cream with a pot of tea.

It is fair to say everything on Meadowlark's menu could be justly referred to as a highlight. Great thought and care obviously goes into planning and preparing every element.

Other observations: The waitstaff is professional and friendly, and the atmosphere induces a desire to linger and enjoy.

Meadowlark also offers off-site catering.

Reservations are recommended.

Cost: The Afternoon Tea Menu has six different teas from which to choose. They start at $8.95 for the Chaffinch, which includes two scones, preserves and clotted cream, and a pot of tea. They top out at $45 for the Royal Tea for two, which requires a 24 hour notice and is considered the ultimate tea experience. Three other options — which offer a croissant sandwich, soup, quiche, cornish pasty and salad combined in various ways — cost $11.95 each.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

Telephone: 360-694-9075

Where: 1803 Main St., Vancouver.

Web:http://www.meadowlarkta.com

Health score: Meadow Lark Tea Room received a score of 10 on June 12. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants that score 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.