By SUSAN ERICSON
The phrase “tea room” conjures images of prissy old ladies ordering pots of chamomille and delicate, crust-removed cucumber sandwiches served on fine floral patterned porcelain dishes. The Raven Tea Room in the Fair Haven Commons building is nothing like that.
Sophisticated styling in both the decor and menu have made this lunch-only restaurant – which shares a website and ownership with the Raven and the Peach but has its own space in the Fair Haven Commons – a staple in the community for years. The dark wood tables and comfortable cushioned armchairs surrounded by suede gray painted walls give the place a masculine, club-like feel. Windows looking out on River Road lend an open feeling to the room. But should you wind up with a view of the parking lot, well, just turn your chair toward the open kitchen and watch the chef working his magic.
Perusing the menu, my date – a food writer and chef in her own right – and I were indecisive. The always helpful Siobhan Cornette, hostess and waitress for the day, suggested the filet mignon BLT special ($13.95), but said she also likes the popular shrimp salad sandwich ($12.95). So we ordered one of each and shared. (Prices are a bit higher than those shown on the online menu.)
Biting into the meaty tenderloin, served on a rosemary focaccia roll, elicited an immediate “mmmm” from each of us. Ordered medium rare, the sandwich arrived with not-overly-crisped bacon, fresh lettuce and tomato. It was juicy and melt-in-your-mouth satisfying.
The overstuffed shrimp salad sandwich was served on a nice brioche roll, and tasty, too, but overshadowed by the beef, which left us swooning.
A side of macaroni salad accompanying each sandwich turned out to be a topic of conversation at our table that led PieHole into the open kitchen for a quick chat with the tea room’s longtime chef, Hernan Garces.
Slightly spicy with a surprise crunch, the macaroni salad had nice big chunks of tart apple mixed in. The second forkful established a noticeable hint of heat that needed to be named. Garces confirmed that he adds hot sauce to the mayonnaise in the salad.
There is nothing run-of-the-mill about the food this chef prepares, making the meals here a complete delight. Now that we know the secret to the macaroni salad, we’ll be trying the recipe at home, though we’ll be happy to return for another bite of tenderloin sandwich.