It's not where you think.
As promised with yesterday's blueberry coffeecake muffins recipe, here's where to go and linger over a perfect pot and pastries that you will swear have come from the gods: Locanda Verde (377 Greenwich St.).
I think I have found my spirit baker, and it is pastry chef Karen DeMasco. It's almost embarrassing to admit I've tasted- OK, inhaled- practically everything offered here, but it is all absolutely irresistible: lemon-rosemary scones, olive oil coffeecake, pistachio-huckleberry tart, apple cider donuts, pumpkin spice bread, even a straight-up buttermilk biscuit slathered with quince butter.
And hold on to your hot water, because Locanda Verde also has well-prepared, high-quality loose-leaf tea. That may not seem terribly exciting, but in all the tea drinking I've done here in New York City, it's shocking but true: most restaurants- the fanciest, high-end afternoon tea spots included- cannot brew a decent cup. Either they use dusty old teabags or pay no attention to water temperature and brewing time, resulting in a bitter, overpriced drink.
But you don't have to take it anymore. A selection of three pastries ($11) and a pot of loose-leaf tea ($4) here is about half of what you'd pay for a hotel high tea, and it is all prepared with outstanding care. The tea is from In Pursuit of Tea, one of the better large loose-leaf merchants (try the intriguingly lilac-scented nantou oolong, or the springy, vibrant lemon verbena), and the staff is trained to treat it right: the leaves are steeped for the correct amount of time, then removed before the pot is brought to your table.
And keep in mind, this is from a restaurant, not someplace promoting itself as a tea shop. Could this be an indication that chefs and owners realize tea is as precious and venerable an ingredient as organic, locally-sourced produce or sustainably-caught seafood? Let's hope so.
If you live so far from New York that tears are now mixing with your drool, be heartened: DeMasco's new cookbook The Craft of Baking has many of the treats served at Locanda Verde, and they're truly simple and satisfying to make.
All you have to do is bake some cookies or quick breads, plate them on cutting board, and brush up on how to brew a perfect cup. It will be almost as good.