If you're looking for something festive to do during the holidays, here's a civilized idea: Take a friend to tea. The 'N Enchanted Herb Garden and Tea Room in Owings Mills is just the place, with its small, feminine dining room done in the softest lavenders and greens. Here, you can sip tea from a china cup while listening to the faint sounds of a gurgling fountain. If that sounds like the perfect antidote to the harried, last-minute shopping you've been doing this week, make your reservation now. Tables are limited.
Partners Alice Devaney and Jennifer Cromwell opened the Enchanted Herb Garden in August. They started with high tea and gradually expanded to a full light-fare menu. Opposite the dining room, their herb shop is filled with dried herbs and herbal ++ products, which perfume the air with a grassy, herbaceous smell.
But you don't have to be an herb expert to enjoy high tea here. It's served from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., with a two-person minimum. It's done in the traditional way, down to the cucumber sandwiches and scones.
We were told to pick two teas from the dozens that are available, and chose the Baltimore Clipper tea to start, a blend of black and green Chinese teas that the menu said was a "historic re-creation," and finished with Della Robia, a hazelnut fruit tea that had delicate sweetness.
The loose tea leaves were steeped in a Royal Albert bone china teapot, which our waitress helped us to pour. She then delivered a tiered tray holding crustless finger sandwiches, banger (sausage) rolls, herb cookies and scones. The white-bread sandwiches were filled with the thinnest layers of cucumber, tomato or herbed cream cheese, but they barely tasted like anything at all.
Puff pastry banger rolls stuffed with sausage were more flavorful. Best of all were Scottish cream and apple spice scones, $H slathered with cloudlike clotted cream, a glorious nod to the British Empire.
High tea is more about style than substance. It's fun, but not necessarily filling. If you're looking for a heartier meal, choose from herbed fettuccine Alfredo, Madras-style chicken curry, chili over rice or a selection of savory pastries made by a local $H Scottish baker.
We kept in the British vein and tried the wonderful shepherd's pie, a pastry crust filled with ground beef and carrots and finished with a layer of cheese and mashed potatoes.
But not all the food is Anglican. On the Southwest side, there's Aztec chowder, a creamy white bean and chicken soup jazzed up with melted pepper jack and tortilla chips. Luscious but not too rich, it's a better choice than the low-calorie herb-vegetable soup that's overpowered with cabbage.
We liked the flavor of the chicken, rice and black bean sandwich wrap but thought the wrap would be even better at room temperature, instead of stone cold from the refrigerator.
Most dishes come with a small mesclun salad, served with a too-sweet raspberry vinaigrette or a too-tart herb vinaigrette. Try combining the two as we did.
For dessert, there's a whole line of herbal ice creams and sorbets, in flavors like passion fruit and red rose petals with wine.
On a cold day, though, ice cream and sorbet might not be as appealing as the warm red-currant tart, with a layer of almond paste buried beneath tiny berries.
The cookies served with high tea also can be ordered for dessert: gingersnaps, shortbread, and pale butter cookies flavored with peppermint and holiday-stress-reducing lavender.
The Enchanted Herb Garden and Tea Room
Valley Village Shopping Center, 9131 Reisterstown Road, Owings Mills
Hours: Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and high tea; Friday and Saturday for dinner
Credit cards: Major credit cards
Prices: Appetizers, $2.50-$8.75; entrees, $5.25-$9; high tea, $12.95, two-person minimum
Ratings system: Outstanding: ****; Good ***; Fair or uneven **; Poor *
Pub Date: 12/24/98