Day in the life | A city changes from Friday to Saturday night

What a roller coaster of a year. On Friday, I had my first ‘normal’ night out with friends since January. Caught three bands that spanned everything from folk to MoTown to prog rock. Hit a trio of busy bars – Pi, Lenore’s and Martini. And passed five street food vendors on the way home, the most I’ve seen this year, and inspiration to get some fried noodles. After almost two months of cautious optimism in this city, Friday felt like a new level of normalcy.

By Saturday night, Friday felt it would be remembered as the last, not the first, normal night out, at least for now, as the seriousness of a new coronavirus outbreak in the capital took hold. The streets of Sanlitun Courtyard were quiet at midnight as I walked home from a business dinner; several bar owners said they believed restrictions, like caps on patrons per venue and per table, were a matter of when, not if. That’s already happening, one bar owner even telling me that, for some unexplained reason, he’s no longer allowed to play background music.

You can’t take anything for granted in 2020.

Postponed: The Beijinger Hot & Spicy Festival, which draws thousands of fiery food lovers and, was slated for June 25 to 27 but has been pushed back to late July, at the earliest, after being pushed back from April. That’s bad news for other major events — from beer festivals to food fairs — that help give Beijing its flavor. Here are some photos from last year’s event

The on-again off-again comedy nights and quiz nights at Paddy O’Shea’s are off again due to new virus cases. That’s bad news for other quiz nights, open mic nights and live music acts for the near future–we’ve already seen other postponements. I should note that Paddy’s remains open if you want to grab drinks –and has some good food deals during the week.

I wrote that three bars I like closed–Q Bar, Nao and Mokihi–and I have seen many more empty spaces since. I think some people saw that restaurants and bars were busy again, even solidly booked, these past six weeks, and that everything was okay. But many of these same places were closed or facing restrictions that limited revenue for months — months they would normally be accumulating cash for their next rent installment or to pay staff and suppliers. It’s when those bills come due–especially that three months or six months of rent–that we’ll know better the damage done by this crisis.

I haven’t been in touch with the Shunyi-based Pinotage guys much since their Sanlitun heyday–remember that excellent South African restaurant in SOHO?–but they also sell meats and I’ve been working through a pack that includes boerewors (farmer sausage), ribeye and three dried meats–biltong, droewors and cabanossi. So far, so good! I simmered the sausage for a good while until the water became a gooey bubbling mess, then cooked some veggies in that. Easy and delicious. See the menus above if you’re interested.

Yangmei, plum, osmanthus and sticky rice–fun and boozy stuff from our friends in Sichuan, the Chengdu Food Tours guys, from whom I’ve ordered their Sichuan “charcuterie” pack twice to share with friends.

You get four baijiu infusions — 285 ml each — for rmb108 for Chengdu and area, rmb148 for beyond. (The charcuterie set was rmb120 last time I bought it.) I’ve tried the bayberry and it’s fruity, clean and refreshing; sweet but not cloying; at about 25% alcohol, thus lighter than baijiu but still packing a delicious fruit-powered punch. Check ’em out.

Had dinner at Ling Long, a place where the tables are at least two meters apart, whether or not social distancing is in effect. An airy artsy venue focused on Chinese cuisine and China-sourced ingredients. Think Shandong wagyu, Sichuan caviar, Dalian jellyfish, Yantai scallops.

The menu is creative and precise in technique; intricate and concentrated in flavor. Think beef tongue “soaked and simmered” for 21 hours in a “herbal consomme.” Fujian croaker, with flavor locked in via “a Japanese-style overnight air-dry technique” and lifted with Gansu green apples and osmanthus wine. Abalone slow-cooked in chicken broth to give it a “soft poetic edge.” I’ll post a full review soon–I also wrote about this meal in my latest Grape Wall newsletter.

There are still lots of good deals out there for the budget conscious. Take Tuesdays. XL has half-price burgers and fries (from 元34 after discount). Burger Box has buy one get one free burgers and burger sets. Turkish Feast has half-price pide (flat bread with toppings — think pizza). Luga’s Brewery & Bistro has half-price ribs (元64 after discount). Paddy O’shea’s has buy one poutine, get a free Guinness or Magners. Prodigy has buy one get one free craft beer all night. And that’s just for starters. See my drinks deals list and food deals list for more–I’ll be updating those this week.

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