When I found out about a posh café where you can spend the afternoon eating nothing but chocolate and staring out at palm trees, two words came to mind: chocolate daycation. I had to go check it out immediately — even though I live almost 500 miles away from the Southern California hotel that's offering the chocolate extravaganza. I'd heard that the Sunday afternoon service there is set up like an elegant tea, with an endless flow of Champagne and chocolate desserts as far as the eye can see, and you can enjoy it all on a sunny, serene terrace overlooking lush greenery.
I flew to L.A. and braved 30 miles of traffic to arrive at my table at the Afternoon Chocolate Tea with Wedgwood, which takes place inside The Langham Huntington in Pasadena. As I dropped the car off in the circular driveway, I already felt like I was in a scene out of Dynasty, a place where old money comes to discreetly play. The sensation continued as I walked into the Lobby Lounge for tea, and instantly felt transported from the smog of the city into this totally other SoCal lifestyle. The first thing I saw were these giant windows with one of the most idyllic and transportive views, a postcard of palm trees and mountains that form a shield away from Hollywood and its grimy vices.
And then I saw the most towering chocolate fountain ever, one that would put every other party trickle to shame, surrounded by a buffet of little tarts and cakes and cookies and candies. Suddenly Jay-Z was in my head: “It’s. About. To. Go. Down!”
I sat at my table, and a server explained that I would first receive a tower of savory tea sandwiches and chocolate scones, but that I could go to the dessert table whenever and as often as I liked. If the table had been bigger I might have flooded it with sweets immediately, but it was a quiet room and I thought I should at least pretend that I was a lady who was there to sip from fine china and not there to snarfle down insane amounts of chocolate.
The tea sandwiches helped me set a sensible foundation for later. My favorites were the ham and egg with prosciutto and red pepper on potato peppercorn bread, the pesto-marinated Caribbean shrimp with dill cream on herb garlic bread, and the smoked salmon with caramelized shallot caper cream and caviar. But I was there for the chocolate, and there was no way I could go on pretending to be patient and restrained. The chocolate marble and chocolate chip scones on the top level of the tower whispered hints of what was to come, the scones rich and creamy and in no need of any jam or lemon curd to enhance the decadence.
I attacked the dessert table by first ceremonially cracking into a mini chocolate crème brûlée, a tiny one-bite wonder that bore repeating a couple of times, just to make sure it was awesome. Then, it was on to licking little cones filled with milk chocolate cardamom panna cotta and topped with crunchy chocolate pearls. If I wasn’t so darned sensitive to caffeine, I would have loaded up on more than one of the Earl Grey chocolate gateaux and rectangular coffee tarts with candied nuts and a rich, subtle chocolate crust. I savored the tiny bites for all the buzz they’re worth.
The biggest surprises came in the offerings that don't normally fare so well in a buffet situation. The delicate shells and creamy dark ganache fillings of truffles, not often the strong suit of hotel restaurant pastry teams, could compete with premium American candy makers. Dark chocolate bark might be unremarkable in other hands, but here, studded with pistachios and feuilletine wafers, they were wonderfully unusual and I should have put some in my pockets to go, as uncouth as that might have seemed.
Chocolate fountains have always struck me as fair game for mockery: They're just too basic and predictable a party trick. But then I saw one that was almost taller than me, flowing forth with world-class melted chocolate. I dipped into it using fresh berries, chocolate Madeleines, cake pieces and giant square lemon and peppermint marshmallows. It was spectacular, actually, and I miss it like an old friend now. But what I really wanted to do was to fill shot glasses and throw ‘em back one after the other until the management cut me off. Maybe next time.
The one dessert that didn’t work for me was a beautiful chocolate praline mousse flower cup with petals made from dark and white chocolate. White chocolate isn’t really chocolate, since there’s no actual cacao content other than cocoa butter in it, and its presence in those flower petals felt like a cheat. Because of my bias, those petals briefly interrupted my building high, but perhaps that ultimately saved me from overdosing. Pretty much everything else I would've gladly eaten more of if I had the room.
Up until recently, the savory sandwiches actually carried out the chocolate theme: They included a dark chocolate mascarpone mousse sandwich with melon and a prosciutto chip; a sandwich of dark chocolate mousse paired with vanilla-marinated shrimp; and a smoked salmon sandwich with roasted shallot mousse and chocolate mint. But as it turns out, meat and seafood with chocolate weren’t resoundingly popular combinations, and some guests actually protested: “too much chocolate!” Although I don’t know how well those combos would all work, I was a little sad that I didn’t get a chance to try them.
Tea selections include an exclusive Wedgwood blend of black tea with heavy notes of malt and caramelized sugar; a white tea named after London’s Palm Court that cleanses the palate between chocolate bombs with a floral trilogy of rose petals, rosehip and hibiscus; and a Chinese gunpowder green tea with mint. You can also drink bottomless Champagne, and the whole tea comes at a price that's lower than comparable high-end tea services in metro areas across the world: a triple-digit luxury experience for a double-digit price point that I’d love to experience again some time.
The sugar and the bubbles put me on a pleasant high, but it was one that I knew wouldn’t last. Inevitably, all that chocolate could only mean one thing: a sugar crash. So I extended the daycation by moseying over to the picturesque pool area to put my feet up and lounge on a comfy chaise for, oh, about three hours. At that point, I could have kept the alcohol flowing with cocktails, but I wasn’t smart enough to book a room to stay, and I know my personal limits (most of the time).
Want to test yours? The tea runs every Sunday for $60 per person, and you'll definitely want to book ahead—not to mention fast all morning so you can stuff yourself with as much chocolate and Champagne as humanly possible.
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