Tea And Tiblee's
A cafe is all about ambience and location, location, location.
Thursday, May 15, 2003
Photo by Randy Tunnell: Muff''n Stuff: Pick your own pastries at Tiblee''s.
When it comes to a new restaurant, first impressions are crucial. An indefinable but nevertheless crystal clear nuance of success or failure, hip or hopeless, wafts over a person from the minute he or she steps through the front door. You just know.
Care has gone into Tiblee''s Courtyard Cafe, a new coffee and tea shop on 17th Street in downtown Pacific Grove. Owner Tibor Rudas, who made his reputation in the world of opera and classical music promotion, took an unused space on the second floor of an office building and remade it into a European-style coffee house. He had the walls painted in the vivid blues, rusts and mustards of Provence or Tuscany, to charming effect. Someone purchased lovely and tasteful Westwood china for the afternoon "high tea," the restaurant''s main drawing point. The atrium effect of the high, windowed ceiling, which allows sunlight to pour into the space--on one of the sun''s rare visits to PG, that is--creates an open, airy atmosphere. And the live music performed by local musicians adds a classy touch.
But it doesn''t quite work. Maybe the place is still too new, but I fear Tiblee''s will be fatally hindered by its second-floor, completely interior location. There''s something not at all welcoming about walking in the front door of an office building, climbing the carpeted stairs, and taking tea in a space with no exterior windows. There are windows, but they afford views of closed office doors across the hall rather than the world of downtown PG.
A coffee shop should beckon weary shoppers from the sidewalk, offering a place to while away the hours while gazing out at passersby and the life of the city. The only thing that could drag a diner up to an interior, second-floor location is excellent, world-class cuisine. Fresh Cream can do it. Most restaurants cannot.
Tiblee''s menu is typical coffeehouse fare--teas and coffees, with pastries, scones, tarts, muffins, cookies, and cakes--along with a few hot items, such as quiches and English meat and chicken pies. But it''s the high tea they tout, offered 1-4pm Monday through Saturday along with live music, so that''s what I was after when I strolled in with Ma Kettle one recent weekday afternoon.
We ordered one high tea, at $12.50 per person, and took the waitress''s suggestion of adding another portion of tea for $2 so we could share. I also ordered a meat pie ($4.50). The tea itself was delicious--organic Earl Grey, prepared with loose tea leaves and poured out by the waitress through a strainer. The meat pie was also very tasty, filled with well-seasoned chopped beef, English peas and onions--good value for the money.
But the high tea itself was over-priced. A three-tiered serving piece contained two small scones on the top rung, four petits-four pastries in the middle, and four tiny "finger sandwiches" on the bottom. The pastries, from Bechler''s, were excellent: a pecan tartlet, lemon tartlet, kiwi and strawberry tartlet and chocolate mousse layered cakelet. The scones were acceptable, but somewhat dried out. The sandwiches were embarrassingly small, and not freshly made, so most of the bread slices were dry. It''s so easy to make up a cucumber or smoked salmon sandwich fresh in the kitchen--why farm out the job to an outside chef, who has to deliver them already cut-up hours earlier? Also, the pastry display was sadly thin, and several items on the menu were not available.
The afternoon we were there, pianist Jon Close entertained with beautiful classical piano. Close, who won an Emmy in 1996 for the surfing movie Liquid Stage, alternates with local favorite Robert McNamara.
If you''re going to open a new coffee shop in a town already filled with great ones, you''d better go into it knowing the bar has been set high.