Thursday, May 8, 2008

Silver Tips Tea

Silver Tips Tea
3 North Broadway
Tarrytown, NY 10591

Telephone: 914 332 8515

Tarrytown, the past decade, has undergone a downtown revival of sorts. It began with the arrival of a few gourmet stores, like the Korean grocery store in the mid nineties, and now is actually a wonderful place to spend a bit of time. Right around the crossing of North Broadway (Rt. 9) and Main Street are two of my favorite shops—Coffee Labs which belts out some of the best coffee in Westchester, and Silver Tips Tea.

Silver Tips Tea is a teahouse and restaurant that serves light refreshments. However, there is one and only one reason to rhapsodize about Silver Tips: its vast selection of teas that you can buy to take home, or drink cups and cups of, right at the tea house. Of course, there is an assortment of scones, salads, and sandwiches that you can nibble at, amidst settings that can be described as fussy and pretty. But the first thing that you should do when you get there is to take a look at their exhaustive menu of teas on offering.

I come from a family of fastidious tea drinkers, and from a state—Assam—that makes some of the best tea in the world. And after 23 years in this country I have not been able to warm up to the way that this country takes their tea. As you buy some loose leaf tea at Silver Tips, they hand it to you in a small metallized bag with a label that identifies the tea and suggests the amount of steeping time you need. This latter fact is key. For the only way to make good tea is to forgo the tea bag, migrate to leaves, and start the soaking only when the water has started boiling. Or, if you want to make tea the way it is in roadside stalls in India, you can get some “CTC” tea, boil it in milk and water, and add some cinnamon and ginger for bit of exotic flavor.

The selection at Silver Tips contains Assam, Darjeeling and Sri Lankan black teas among others, and an impressive array of green, yellow, and white teas that I am less familiar with. Looking through the Assam selections I find teas from gardens with names that bring me back to long past times. It feels oddly familiar, these comforting names hat resound with my past now peacefully extant in neat metal tins in a smart Tarrytown teashop. It is tempting to reflect upon these connections, of a tea house in Tarrytown displaying the names of gardens in far flung Assam, the smart font bearing the name but not the fullness that I know is associated with it, the tea garden laborers from Bihar, the songs written after them, the life of the tea garden manager with his golf sticks and bottles of whiskey, and his bearer, immersed in a loneliness within the green wildness of Assam.

Silver Tips is where we get most of our tea from. Try the black teas out, the Darjeelings that give a lighter brew (in Kolkata they were known as having less “liquor”) to the Assam teas that are best had with a bit of milk. Feel free to experiment—put in a piece of cinnamon, or cardamom, or ginger as it steeps.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Saravanaas Restaurant
81 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY, 10016.
(Corner of 26th street and Lexington)
Tel: 212-679-0204, 212-684-7755
A few years ago I ate at the Saravanaas Bhavan in Connaught Place, New Delhi and one of my hosts—a transplanted Tamilian in Delhi—explained to me the significance of this restaurant, that it was the Dehi outpost of a famed restaurant in Chennai called the Hotel Saravanaas Bhavan. I enjoyed the food there, topped it out with some South Indian filter coffee, and after a few days of conferencing headed back to New York. Then a few months later I became aware of the opening of the New York branch of Saravanaas Bhavan—right at the intersection of 26th. and Lex, in the middle of the Indian strip of stores. I have been going there a few times a year since. I had been looking for a South Indian restaurant in NYC that could match the quality of casual SI food that I could get in India, or in San Jose on my trips out west and initially, at least, Saravanaas did not disappoint. The dosas were not oily, the potato stuffing inside tasted lively and not dulled by excessive spices. The thalis were fresh tasting, and the South Indian filter coffee, or Kaapi, served in the traditional tumbler-davarra was great.

Never leave a south Indian restaurant without tasting its coffee. While tea is king in most parts of India, and people from Eastern India can be obsessive about the flavor and “liquor” of their leaves, the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in South India are primarily coffee drinking. South Indian coffee is a bit different. The writer R.K. Narayan when asked in the US whether he wanted his coffee black or white, commented that he wanted it, “neither black nor white, but brown, as any good coffee should be.” The dark roasted coffee beans have a bit of chicory mixed in, and the concoction is filtered through the coffee powder for an extended time. It is served in a cup that is placed in an empty tumbler, and the idea is to swish the liquid, pouring it back and forth from ever extending heights between the two utensils until the aeration leaves a thin, frothy head on the liquid.

Saravanaas has an extensive South Indian menu, and having grown up primarily in Pune and Kolkata, on the idli-dosa-vadaa-sambar-thali school of SI cafes, I claim no expertise in the extended offerings of vegetarian south Indian cuisine. However, I was disappointed in my last trip to this place. The place was crowded, the service was uncoordinated, and the food tasted like the south Indian food you would expect when the cook is a Bengali. This was stuff that I could have had at my local Indian restaurant in Westchester. This is a pity and I sincerely hope an anomaly, since on more than one occasion I have seen the demise of a good Indian restaurant due to sliding quality control over the years.
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