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Teatime in the Valley : A new Woodland Hills tearoom--just one of several in the region--holds its own among the many coffeehouses.

June 11, 1993|SUE REILLY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Sue Reilly writes regularly for The Times

The Cambridge Cupboard is a cozy Woodland Hills tearoom, swimming in a sea of trendy San Fernando Valley coffeehouses and gourmet grind shops.

Its cheery decor offers a place for expatriated Brits to chat over a cuppa while mixing with native-born Anglophiles (who probably tape "Masterpiece Theater" and know all the words to the Monty Python dead parrot routine).

Its proprietress, Anne Buck, who came to the Valley from Oxford, England, is a missionary for this revered British beverage, and is not daunted in the slightest by the American lust for the java bean.

"Tea has been drunk for 4,000 years by people well aware of its curative properties, and anyone who doesn't know about teatime is missing one of life's great pleasures," says Buck, a former nanny.

As a matter of fact, tea is as American as sushi and apple pie.

Tea is an import that not only played a part in our history, it was the beverage of choice for people with names like Washington, Lincoln, Eisenhower and Kennedy.

The British and Dutch brought tea to the New World and, 10 years before the Revolution, a population of barely 1.5 million was drinking more than 7.8 million gallons of the brew a year.

That changed when King George III caused that fracas with taxes, culminating in a party at Boston Harbor that emptied the teapot for a while.

Still, Americans continued to brew tea leaves; in fact, an American gent named Lipton is credited with inventing the tea bag.

In the 20th Century, tea drinking is once again gathering momentum in the United States, according to Angela Hynes, author of "The Pleasures of Afternoon Tea" (HPB Books, 1987), who says that tea consumption doubled in the '80s and that Americans now drink about 46 billion cups a year.

Which brings us back to Buck, who says she opened her tearoom several months ago to offer Valleyites a chance to experience the delights of tea, both the beverage and meal.

Her tearoom has a little market where tea and other typically English treats are for sale so that tea people may enjoy the treat in or out.

Tea is also served at a few other Valley places, including I. Magnin in Woodland Hills, but the pleasant waitresses don't always seem to understand the concept.

Pieces of freshly baked scones (biscuits) slathered with tart strawberry jam and (double thick, double rich) Devonshire cream are a tea tradition and one of life's greatest taste treats, but at the I. Magnin lunchroom, you may have to ask a couple of times to get the divine dairy delight.

The Robin Hood Pub and Restaurant in Van Nuys serves afternoon tea, although the setting is more robust and pubby. Val's in Toluca Lake serves tea one day a month.

There are several places serving tea within easy driving distance from the Valley, including the Huntington Hartford Library in San Marino, the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, the Tudor House in Santa Monica, the Rosetree Cottage in Pasadena and Paddington's in Los Angeles.

The closing of Trump's restaurant last year on Melrose Avenue is mourned by many. For almost two decades, it served what was considered one of the best tea times in town.

For those interested in seeking the ultimate tea party experience, a drive to the Four Seasons Biltmore in Santa Barbara can be fortuitous.

Tea is served there between 2 and 5 p.m. daily in La Salla Lounge overlooking the ocean, and includes a teapot, sandwiches and trays of delicious sweets. (For information, call (805) 969-2261.)

Tea, the drink, is a restorative, according to Sally Spencer of Studio City, late of Highgate outside of London. Tea, the meal, is the most fun you can have sitting down, she adds with a laugh.

Spencer, sipping Darjeeling at the afternoon tea offered by I. Magnin in the Woodland Hills Promenade, says she couldn't have brought up her children properly without the midday ritual.

"When they came home from school, I would sit them down for tea, giving them cups of half Earl Grey, half milk along with cookies, pieces of brownies and little cookie-cutter sandwiches shaped like flowers and animals," Spencer said.

"The deal was, they could eat as many sweets as they wanted. In return, I could ask as many questions as I wanted," she said.

Some people think that teatime is an English upper-class, midday perversion, but the contrary is true: It is not only fun and rejuvenating, it's therapeutic, perfect for keeping the afternoon dogs of hypoglycemia at bay.

From 3 to 5 p.m., blood sugar takes its daily nose dive, which is why watercress sandwiches, scones, crumpets, Victoria sponge cake, strawberry shortcake, Chelsea buns, lemon curd tarts, hazelnut meringues and petits fours were born.

Actually, high tea in England is a workman's meal, with meat and potatoes, served between 5 and 6 p.m. when dad gets home.

Hynes also says tea is becoming a power meal among movie people who have worked in Great Britain. She says movie executives indulge daily as a break before their late afternoon and early evening meetings.

WHERE AND WHEN

* What: Afternoon tea at Cambridge Cupboard, 22456 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills.

* Hours: 2 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 1 to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

* Price: $2.40 to $13.89.

* Call: (818) 225-7316.

* What: I. Magnin, Promenade Mall, Woodland Hills.

* Hours: 3 to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

* Price: $5.50 to $13.50.

* Call: (818) 887-5151.

* What: Robin Hood Pub and Restaurant, 13640 Burbank Blvd., Van Nuys.

* Hours: 3 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

* Price: $6.95.

* Call: (818) 994-6045.

* What: Val's, 10130 Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake.

* Hours: 3 to 5 p.m. the last Saturday of the month.

* Price: $14.50.

* Call: (818) 508-6644.

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