This weather. These temperatures! The sun is out and the mercury’s climbing past the 80’s — nearly unheard of in our foggy city! Recall, if you will, the (typically true)words of Mark Twain: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” I can testify that, last year, half my friends were thrust into bouts of SADness (seasonal affective disorder) on account of the constant gloom. This summer, though, things are different. Let’s ignore the fact that this heat wave is probably tied to a severe statewide drought for a minute. The warmth just feels too, too good.
Unsurprisingly, however, I’ve been holed up indoors, busy beyond belief behind my computer screen. As soon as I realized how badly I needed a bit of self-care and Vitamin D, I stepped out of the office and into the sunshine. A dear acquaintance and I made plans to meet at Yerba Buena Gardens. The sun, the serenity, and the Samovar Tea Lounge was the perfect salve for my burned-out brain.
Smack-dab in the middle of downtown San Francisco, nestled among high-rises and surrounded by congested roadways, lies Yerba Buena Gardens. This lovely patch of greenery offers a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the city, where pedestrians can walk about and picnickers can sprawl out. During the summer, the public park hosts all sorts of outdoor programming, including an annual festival. It’s also located conveniently next to major commercial and cultural hubs, including the colossal Metreon Mall and Theaters and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (sadly closed until 2016 for renovations).
Despite the many nearby attractions, I’d recommend strolling within the gardens themselves — past the water fountain to a special, tucked-away space. The Samovar Tea Lounges are a series of tea parlors in San Francisco, each offering a carefully curated assortment of beverages, snacks, and meals. Its outpost in Yerba Buena Gardens is especially peaceful, with soaring windows and vaulted ceilings indoors and covered seating outdoors. It’s the perfect space to spend a leisurely afternoon, sipping tea and catching up.
I had one of the many tea services, the (on-trend) Paleolithic menu. The entree, a sauteed kale salad featuring roasted squash, steamed beets, and miso vinaigrette, came with a choice of protein — but the decision made itself when our server described the smoked duck as “bacon-like.” The accompanying, toasty Houjicha green tea played wonderfully with the punchy flavors of the salad. My friend ordered the curry egg salad and Fuji apple sandwich a la carte, which came with an equally fantastic side of mixed greens. From their extensive, unique library of teas, she chose the intense, bitter blood orange pu-erh, with notes of redwood forest, blood orange rind and ginger root. Our meal left us feeling light, wholesome and satisfied, though I was certainly tempted by the adorable tiered trays of pastries at neighboring tables.
All around us, groups of girlfriends, couples on dates, and families out for brunch congregated over fantastic tea and treats. The service was clearly attuned to the atmosphere, allowing everyone the space to enjoy each others’ company. It should be no surprise that Samovar Tea Lounge is a bit on the spendier side, but its premium is not on the food alone. It’s a place where time slows down — and that, to me, is worth the price of admission.
Samovar Tea Lounge (multiple locations)
730 Howard St
San Francisco, CA