It was our friend Vienna's time to pick out a restaurant for tea (October 2007), and she decided on the Rotunda at Neiman Marcus. I had never been to Neiman Marcus - their fare is several times over my price range - and I had no idea they served tea there. Unfortunately they don't do it seriously, so I might have been better off remaining ignorant.
The Rotunda is, in itself, a beautiful place - a large doughnut-shaped room looking down at the store below and at the city outside. The views are beautiful, but they are reserved for small tables. Our party of 5 was seated on a booth in the back, with no views other than ourselves (which is not a bad thing). Still, views of the city might have made our experience more pleasant.
And it's not that the experience wasn't pleasant. Service was quite professional and good, and we were able to hang out there for a couple of hours without pressure. The problem was with the tea service, and in particular, the tea itself. Even though we all had different types of teas (English Breakfast, Darjeeling, Oolong and something else), we all agreed that they had served us the weakest cups of teas in the history of humankind (Ok, Ok, that we'd ever drank at least). The tea was organic, and one teabag was placed inside each pot (which was supposed to have several cups worth of tea) - and that clearly wasn't enough. The tea was so weak that I'd be surprised if the tea bag would have been enough for one cup - and we are talking tea cups here. In any case, if I haven't made my point strongly enough, it was like drinking water with milk and sugar. And that sugar came out of packets! I think it's our first time having tea when a sugar pot wasn't presented. There were packets of refined white sugar, nutra-sweet and saccharin, but not of raw sugar - which we lamented.
The food service - a fixed menu - fortunately was better. A warmed raisin scone was pretty good, though terribly crumbly. It was served with good strawberry jam, whipped Devon cream (I think that's what it was) and an amazingly tasty lemon curd - probably the favorite of the evening. The mini quiche also received raves, and nobody complained about the smoked salmon bite. There was an open cucumber mini-sandwich that wasn't very popular and a take on a ham sandwich we didn't think wasn't very noteworthy. The sweets were also fine, though not mind blowing. A mini pecan pie tasted just like that, a little layered chocolate cream cake was nice but a bit too sweet, and the same could be said about a petit four. I still enjoyed them. There might have been a bite of something else, but I can't recall. In any case, nothing was bad, nothing was incredible - for incredibly good food you need to go to the Garden Room at the Palace Hotel.
Tea was $25 per person - in line with what other places charge. Still, I would most definitely not go back.
150 Stockton Street
San Francisco, CA