Best Restaurants 2017: Commune with Mother Russia

In Fantasy Version of Old Russia, Fancy Tea Serves You

Headwaters at the Heathman Hotel recreates imperial glamour every weekend.

By Benjamin Tepler October 12, 2017 Published in the November 2017 issue of Portland Monthly

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A tower of buterbrodi, medovik, and blini

The first thing you notice at HeadwatersRussian Tea Experience? Near silence. On at least one visit, no music; just clinking china and hushed banter. Here lies the beauty of this escape, one of few places in Portland—a city of loud, fast-casual dining—to spend two and a half lazy hours quietly sipping from bottomless, pewter-handled mugs of tea and nibbling away at a set menu of Russian finger food.

The dark wood-paneled room, staircase clogged with teapots, and cushy circular banquettes topped with ornate silver tea urns land somewhere between Manhattan’s bygone Oak Room and the dancing silverware from Beauty and the Beast. This place was practically engineered for Mother’s Day by Kiev-born Vitaly Paley, the chef-owner who also redesigned Headwaters, the Heathman Hotel’s main dining room, while maintaining a veritable czardom of other restaurants. (See Crown, Paley’s pizza joint.)

Pick a Portland-proud Steven Smith tea—Bai Mu Dan white peony to traditional Georgian Caravan—often sweetened with preserves, and get going on that tower. Our favorites? Little buterbrodi sandwiches topped (for instance) with mustardy mortadella, havarti, or smoked salmon; four types of caviar; and a seven-layered medovik honey cake with graham cracker dust that tastes like a Russian dulce de leche.

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