30 January 2012

Chinese New Year "Tea of Togetherness" - Mandarin Oriental Lobby Lounge


Happy New Year!!!  No, I am not a little late, because January 23rd marked the start of the Chinese Lunar New Year—the Year of the Dragon!  The Chinese New Year is your opportunity to truly close the door on last year—think of it as a redo since you probably didn’t stick with your resolutions thus far.  It is Chinese custom to start the New Year fresh by cleaning the house and buying new clothes—I especially like the latter part of that custom!  I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the Chinese New Year then to go visit the Mandarin Oriental Hotel right in the heart of New York City!   Imagine my excitement when I found out the Lobby Lounge—aka LOLO—was celebrating the Year of the Dragon with their “Tea of Togetherness” Chinese New Year Afternoon Tea.  Since I loved the Nutcracker Tea so much I knew it had to be something special.

LOLO's Chinese New Year "Tea of Togetherness"

This was the perfect opportunity for me learn about some Chinese customs and to hopefully FINALLY learn how to use chopsticks!   It was also a great way for me to unwind after my exciting day at the Chinese New Year parade in Chinatown.  This fourteen day celebration is from January 23rd thru February 5th and it just so happens that the LOLO’s tea runs alongside this season of good fortune.  The “Tea of Togetherness” has a selection of Dim Sum, Chinese Tea Cakes and a selection of teas which all symbolize—the Year of the Dragon.

Scones, Music & Tea


Tea originated in ancient China and has been part of her history for centuries.  The Mandarin Oriental has one of the BEST tealeaves selection of teas.  I decided to go with an Oolong tea since it means “Black Dragon”.  There are many legends about how the black dragon--Oolong--got its name but the scholars agree that it originated during 16th century Ming dynasty.  I thought it would be perfect for me to toast the Chinese New Year with the "Black Dragon" tea.  It didn't hurt that I got to eat the famous Mandarin ginger scones with devonshire cream and marmalade.  Simply perfect!  With the gorgeous views of Manhattan and Central Park and the lovely music of the three-man Chinese orchestra, this was an end to a perfect day.  In case you are wondering, the gentleman is playing the Yangqin also known as a santur.  It sounds beautiful, especially when he played one of my favorite Beethoven sonatas.  He also shocked me a bit when he played the score from The Godfather!  


The Jade Emperor is the ruler of Heaven.  Legend has it that there was a monster named Nian who was terrorizing the people of China centuries ago.  Some believe that the Jade Emperor stepped in and kept the Nian away from the villagers all year except for the 1st and 15th of the New Year.  This arrangement between the Jade Emperor and Nian brought peace to the ancient people of China.

Jade Vegetable Dumpling
The Jade Vegetable Dumpling symbolizes happiness, good fortune, liveliness and good luck.   All of these things represent what those ancient people felt after the Jade Emperor solved the problem of the Nian.  Sitting in a lemongrass broth and containing pickled cabbage, these dumplings are simply delicious.  You must be careful because they are also very slippery.  These were NOT the ideal choice for me to attempt chopstick usage for the first time.  I gave up after the first try and decided that I could still honor Chinese traditions with my fork!


When the Jade Emperor created time, he called all the animals to him and set up a race in a river.  He promised the first twelve animals that could cross the river a place in the zodiac.  How and when the animals crossed the river determined some of the characteristics of the zodiac.  In China, the zodiac is referred to as Shēngxiào. The first twelve animals to cross the river are:
  1. Rat 
  2. Ox
  3. Tiger
  4. Rabbit
  5. Dragon
  6. Snake
  7. Horse
  8. Goat
  9. Monkey
  10. Rooster
  11. Dog
  12. Pig
The Pig was last but definitely not least when it comes to the "Tea of Togetherness"!  The Emperor Pork and Watercress Wontons will help bring you strength, wealth and close family ties.  Three crispy pork filled wontons sit in a scallion-soy dipping sauce and you might want to go with family and friends so you can “help” them eat some of their wontons.

The legend doesn't really tell you what happened to the shrimp but the chefs got it right when they made the Mandarin Shrimp and Mango Roll which symbolizes a positive start this New Year and promotes togetherness.  This was my personal favorite.  A HUGE shrimp wrapped with papaya and sprouts and is covered with a mouthwatering ginger-coconut reduction.  I certainly felt like I had a positive start for the new year after I ate mine!

Emperor Pork and Watercress Wonton & Mandarin Shrimp and Mango Roll


2012 is the year of the “Water Dragon”.  The dragon is the mightiest of all the zodiac signs.  They symbolize dominance and ambition and are very driven and unafraid of challenges.  At times this fire is difficult to contain but the water dragon brings a good balance to all of its fire--it is the yin to the dragon's yang!

The Year of the Dragon Duck Wrap represents cleverness, prosperity and joy.  For me the duck wrap brought me sheer joy.   I LOVE duck and this chilled duck in a Hoisin-Tamarind glaze with toasted sesame made me feel very prosperous for having it all for myself--I would share it if I had to but thankfully that wasn't the case!

The Year of the Dragon Duck Wrap


The Lion Dance is commonly mistaken as the Dragon Dance.  Chinese New Year celebrations always includes both of these dances.  Both the lion and dragon are considered good luck in Chinese culture.  At the end of every Chinese New Year people anxiously await the parade where the Lion and Dragon dances are performed.  I was greatly anticipating the dessert part of the tea just as much as I wanted to see the dances at the end of the  parade.  Both were well worth the wait.  The dessert selections include:
  • Green Tea Cookies
  • Almond Cookies
  • Coconut Tarts
  • Mandarin Orange Sponge Cake

The Lion & Dragon Dance with Dessert


My Chinese New Year “Tea of Togetherness” was more than I had imagined.  It was the perfect conclusion to my Dragon Day.  There is still time to participate in this good fortune tea because it does not end until February 5, 2012.  I promise you do not want to miss this one—it’s not going to come around for another 12 years!

Epicurean Girl’s Conclusion: 5 VIPs

Mandarin Oriental’s “Tea of Togetherness” gets our highest rating of 5 VIPs.

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