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COOKING : Tea Unfolds in Garden Oasis

April 15, 1993|PAT GERBER | Pat Gerber is a member of The Times Orange County Edition staff.

If you take tea in the garden of the Vintage Rose, the only sympathy you might feel would be for those unable to join you.

This delightful setting of hedge roses, white-washed picket fences, daisies and folk-art whirligigs that decorate the back yard of a converted cottage in Westminster makes you feel as if you're visiting a favorite aunt who is imbued with a heavy dose of whimsy.

The Vintage Rose is run by Cathy Jarrell, who makes most of the needlepoint pillows, dried flower arrangements and tea pot lamps for sale here. Two years ago, she had been looking for a retail outlet to sell her wares and stumbled across the place, which gives new meaning to the term "tucked away." (She urges people to call for directions and newcomers would be wise to heed the invitation.)

She now operates the business with daughter Jeannie Clayton. Most of their customers hear of the place word-of-mouth, apparently a very effective form of advertising considering that on this particular weekday a steady stream of customers kept coming through.

After painting the house, bulldozing the yard and landscaping with container plants, Jarrell decided that teas might be a nice adjunct to the country cottage setting.

"I think it's a great way to escape stress," she says of her teas.

Having tea here isn't like the formal affairs held in the library of the Ritz-Carlton in Dana Point, where the walls seem to stare down like some disapproving rich uncle. The ting of silverware at the Vintage Rose will be drowned out by chattering birds and a fountain splashing water on a stone angel. The nearby strip malls and distant din of freeway traffic seem unrealistic, of another time and place, and not the other way around.

The garden's organized clutter is somewhat eccentric and tends to elevate high tea to a personable, familiar level. It also gives weight to the notion that the surroundings in which you eat--especially food as subtle as tea and savories--can be one of the most important ingredients of a meal.

The teas cost $16.95 a person, are held each Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. and last about 1 1/2 hours. (Reservations are strongly advised.)

Besides the regularly scheduled meals, special teas can be arranged for private parties, such as bridal or baby showers. They are held either in the garden, which can accommodate up to 20 people, or in the tearoom, which seats 14.

Goodies are eaten off antique bone china and antique tablecloths and served off antique tea carts and antique tea racks with antique tea towels. Sound a bit creaky? In a snootier setting it could get mighty precious awfully fast, but here the vintage accouterments lend a genteel air.

The menus, based on a different theme each month, are concocted with some eccentric leavening. Polly's Kitchen of Laguna Beach caters these affairs, and proprietress Polly Ferrell borrows heavily from recipes in a Crabtree & Evelyn cookbook. She also takes special delight in researching food, such as the scones and sponge cake, to stay true to the appointed monthly theme.

The "Anne of Green Gables" tea, for instance, includes a "poetical egg salad sandwich," a morsel inspired by Lucy Maud Montgomery's classic. (There is even a brand of tea imported from Prince Edward Island.) February's was a "Friendship Tea" with heart-shaped food.

Last month's menu was dubbed the "Mad Hatter March Tea" and featured such classic English delights as mint and cucumber sandwiches, potted salmon, Victoria sponge cake and mock Devonshire cream. No harried rabbits, but beware of tripping over the three sleeping cats who inhabit the place.

VINTAGE ROSE

6424 Maple St., Westminster

(714) 373-4547

Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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