Use Your Noodle | Ten-chef Fideua Faceoff this Saturday in Sanlitun

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Fideua is basically noodle paella from Valencia. Replace rice with short thin noodles, add a glass of local white wine, and sit back and enjoy.

I attended a cooking class in Velvet today where a team made a couple of rice dishes–officially known as Arroz a Banda and Caldereta de Bogavante–and a fideua de Gandia, ahead of a big chef contest this Saturday.

For the fideua, the chefs pan-fried prawns and scampi in olive oil, then removed the seafood and used the liquid for caramelizing diced onions. Then in went a steady stream of ingredients such as monkfish, sweet paprika, garlic and pureed tomatoes. With two more key items added–fish stock at a 4.5-to-1 ratio to the noodles–things were really cooking.

Alejandro Sanchez of Spanish restaurant Niajo, a few floors above Velvet, provided commentary for me, including at the critical moment when the rice on the bottom of one of the rice dishes was browning. “Timing is everything”, he said. He also said Niajo gets fresh lobster flown in Mondays and Thursdays. And serves fideua for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.

How did the dishes taste? Rich and salty, though not overly so, with the fideua going down nicely with a chilled glass of Valencia wine. (The chef also noted that salty food helps you drink more.)


Those seeking a fideua fix can check out the ten-chef contest this Saturday. The listed participants are Rob Cunningham from Feast, Alejandro Sanchez from Niajo, Alberto Becerril from Velvet, Jarrod Robert Verbiak from Bistrot B, Fernando Martinez from Migas, Camila Betin from Factory by Salt, Kin Hong from Taco Bar, Daniel Garner from Nobu, Jun Trinh from 4 Corners, and Kevin Yang from SHIN.

Says the press release: “They will be presented with the same ingredients, but must bring their own fish stock, and are welcome to bring a few special seasonings or garnishes. The judges, who have flown in all the way from Gandía just for the occasion, will be put to a blind taste test, and then proceed to voting. Judges will base their votes on the most traditional, authentic and local fideuà that stays true to the Gandía roots. The winning chef will be presented with a plane ticket to Gandía to compete in the 42nd International Fideuà de Gandía Competition 2016, accommodation included.”

It also says fideuà and Valencia wine will be on sale, with master Jaume Fuster cooking a massive container of this noodle-based dish in Nali Patio. The contest is from noon to 3 PM.

Thanks to María Domínguez Rodríguez of Migas for today’s invite.


Fang | Creative Cocktails at Fangjia Hutong’s Newest Joint

fang bar fangjia hutong beside el nido beijing china xiao shuai zak elmasri (2)

I wrote about Fang, the new bar beside Fangjia Hutong veteran El Nido, here about six weeks ago, made it to the place after these drinks at fellow newcomer Bungalow about two weeks ago, and am finally posting about that visit. I blame the delay on my senses, and in turn my notes, being blurred from too many tiki drinks prior to the visit. I’m now highly caffeinated and confident I can decipher several pages of handwriting that clearly betray a satisfied craving for rum-based beverages.

Fang is named after the first syllable in the hutong’s name and involves Xiao Shuai, of El Nido fame, and Zak Elmasri. It has a slight Hidden House feel–sans sliding bookcase door–with walls of bamboo protecting an outdoor area and, further inside, a bar with hutong touches. The well-coifed bartenders and creative drink recipes make it upscale for this street.

Given the liver pummeling at Bungalow, I opted for something that sounded more subtle, the Fei Fei Martini. This includes Botanist gin, Lillet and jasmine tea. It’s a nice tipple, with the tea giving it a pleasant fragrance and smooth texture. There are were also two chrysanthemum flowers on top. I can’t remember if I ate them or not.

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Journey to the West is far more forceful. It includes dates and raisins–bought fresh from a nearby Xinjiang products market–that are sliced and flambeed in over-proof rum for 45 seconds before being used in a recipe that includes apricot brandy and even more rum. I only had a sip and can say it’s not my thing–rich!–but it might well be yours, especially on a cold winter’s night.

Yet another drink includes suan nai–the ubiquitous Beijing yogurt drink–and ingredients like Ameretto, honey and cumin syrup. I saved that one for next time.

I did have a “bamboo shot” with Elmasri. It has Bison grass vodka, infused lemongrass syrup, and lemon and lime juice, and it quickly brought me back to my senses.

Or at least enough to overhear someone down the bar say: “When I do an experiment, I collect cells and capture them in chambers, and this time they were fat cells.” That resulted in a long discussion about science in China and then a taxi ride to Paddy O’Shea’s to see Canada play France in rugby and, well, there won’t be any blog posts about what happened in that match.

Fang Bar. Fangjia Hutong. Beside El Nido. Creative cocktails that several of my friends in the trade have recommended with approval. Eat the flowers at your own discretion. 

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Lido | Frank’s Place closes, Upper Duck opens, plus Hockey Bar & more

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At the risk of irking some members of the quarter-century Old-China-Hand been-here-longer-and-know-more-than-you crew, I’m going to refer to Frank’s Place as the first standalone bar of Beijing’s modern era. And say that I was a bit gutted to find this place–which opened 25 years ago just a hop, skip and jump from Workers Stadium before relocating to Lido–gutted. I heard a few weeks ago the place had closed but only managed to get there on Sunday and found the sign gone, the deck empty and the interior littered with rubble. Word is this space might reopen as a reinvigorated Frank’s–it’s a wait-and-see situation.

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Meanwhile, John Harkness, who has run the place in recent years and is well-known to veterans for his Goose ‘n’ Duck projects, has just taken over the spacious second-floor lobby bar in Crowne Plaza Lido and renamed it Upper Duck. Not surprisingly, it has sporty features, including a pool table and three dart boards, as well as a stage. Redecorating is to come, thus the place is in soft-open mode, but things should be all spiffy in a month or so.

Meanwhile, The Hockey Bar, sibling / next door to The Irish Volunteer, is converting it’s back area to a darts room, Eudora Station, which had a good reggae band on the weekend, remains one of those places that doesn’t seem to get mentioned much but draws a steady crowd, and Park Square, well, seeing it reminded me how long it has been since I spent quality time in Lido and that I need to book a date soon.

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Tikipedia II | Bungalow is Back with Tiki Drinks, Lost Classics and Good Times

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Tiny spartan Julian Tavalin-approved tiki bar Bungalow gained a loyal following during its all-too-short life in Dongsijiutaio Hutong earlier this year. Good news, then, that a bigger Bungalow is now open one street off Fangjia Hutong–home of El NidoRamo, Hot Cat Club, Fang (review coming) and the like–and next door to La Bas.

Bungalow drinks are strong. The rye-driven Scofflaw is the cocktail that shot both the sheriff and the deputy. The three-rum Jet Pilot will crash and burn your liver. And the Corn and Oil, which gets its name from the colors of the rums in the recipe, is a concoction that will do crazy corny and oily things to your senses. Blur them, specifically.

The cocktail menu is a thing of beauty in terms of organization (three neat sections), brevity (five pages) and design (watercolor images of each drink). There are two pages of tiki options (like that Jet Pilot, a recipe from the late fifties), two pages of “lost classics” (like that Prohibition-era Paris-invented Scofflaw), and a page of stuff you can get pretty much anywhere (like Mojitos). The tiki and lost classic sections include a short write-up on each drink.

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Bungalow is a sliver of a bar. The front half is split between several tables on one side and a row of stools facing a ledge on the other. The bar is in back includes an inlet that can comfortably seat four drinkers. Toilet breaks require a saunter to the public squatters down the street.

The place offers warmth with its ocher walls, wood features and cozy confines. It has a nice collection of kitsch, including stuffed parrots, novelty mugs, grass fringes and a ceiling festooned with baubles and (dead) puffer fish. And the barmen–friendly all–wear vibrantly patterned Tommy Bahamas shirts, the preferred clothing brand of tiki professionals the world over. I imagine they will have their hands full with the rowdier patrons–did I mention the drinks are strong?–but it’s nothing a firm tap to the back of someone’s head with a (dead or live) puffer fish can’t handle.

Speaking of which, the stars are already showing up, with turntable veteran DJ Blackie “in da house”–as those in his trade say–last night and knocking back Scofflaws and Manhattans. We reminisced about our first meeting, just before the Olympics, one that involved petting trained deer while drinking Dom Perignon at a chateau in Changli. I also discovered that: 1) he has 300 records in his vinyl collection, 2) he’s been a DJ for 11 years here in Beijing and 3) he’s not one of those guys that shouts “1, 2, 3, 4” at a crowd but, when trying to generate excitement, stops at “2” and gives the other half a voice. The People’s DJ!

I also saw Johannes Braun show up with two liters of infused gin from The Distillery. Will be fun to see what the guys at Bungalow do with that!

I’ll return to Bungalow soon and have a more detailed look at the drinks–last night was my first fun one out in ages and I just wanted to relax. Suffice it to say, from the cozy vibe to the quality spirits to the attention to detail with the menu and pretty much everything else, it’s looking like it will be one of those rare places that inspire me to venture from my home base at Workers Stadium and into the hutongs.

To get to Bungalow, see the map below. Drinks are rmb40 and up. Happy hour is from 6 PM to 8 PM, with a two-for-one deal on select drinks

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Sips & bites: Fang, Ramo, Kenny’s Burgers, Pop-Up Beijing, Jing-A, Australian Natural & Migas

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Cocktail bar Fang is a work in progress. Slated to open in two weeks.

FANG: Look for Xiao Shuai of El Nido fame to open a cocktail bar a few doors down from his beer-centric joint on Fangjia Hutong. He says the place is called ‘Fang’, after the hutong, should open in about two weeks, and will have more than 20 cocktails and a lot of good whisky options.

RAMO: Speaking of Fangjia, I finally got over there for the first time in a year and realized I need to eat more pizza at Ramo, where the pies are tasty and excellent value at rmb58. Even better, Ramo just started a buy one, get one pizza deal on Wednesdays from 6 PM to 10 PM. Friends tell me the burgers are also tasty.

POP-UP BEIJING: This slender venue between The Local and Jing-A Taproom is offering all-day happy hour prices on by-the-glass options through August 30. Get a generous 175 ml pour for rmb35 from noon to 10 PM daily. The lineup includes Gamay Rose, Viognier-Sauvignon, and Carignan-Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre, all French, plus Spanish bubbly–Pares Balta Cava–for rmb180 per bottle. (Pop-Up also has a ‘back-to-school sale,’ with 15 percent off everything, except artwork and prints.)

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KENNY’S BURGERS: I like mustard. I like ketchup. But I don’t like them mixed in a tiny saucer and presented as the sole condiment for my burger and fries, which is what I got at Kenny’s Burgers, in the former Let’s Seafood space in Nali Patio, when I finally visited for lunch last week.

If this were a house-made mustard and ketchup pairing, I could understand, but it seemed to be French’s and Heinz. Given the talents of the owner, why not a smoked ketchup, a spicier mustard, a wasabi mayo, or similar, in bigger portions? The sauce bar at the former Let’s Burger branch nearby was a big draw. A riff on that idea might work here.

Also, I can’t think of one occasion in 2015 where I added salt to my food. But I wanted more seasoning for both the fries and burger. Liven things up a bit, please!

Given these things are easy to adjust, I plan to return. The window seats are clever and the courtyard view is a nice break from the bustle of Beijing. And the basic burger, at rmb58 with fries, is reasonably good value for this part of town. Plus I want to try some other items on the menu!

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JING-A TAPROOM: This is a nice place to chill on a Sunday given the rmb10 discount on beers. I went yesterday to retry the “qu brew“, the beer Jing-A made using qu, the fermentation agent for baijiu. This 12-percent tipple was much easier to enjoy on a relaxing Sunday night than on the crazy Saturday when I first tried it. I also found it much better with two weeks of maturity, with a superior smell, taste and balance. Try it while it lasts! By the way, the grilled-cheese sandwich with tomato soup–and Traitor Zhou’s bacon option–remains awesome.

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AUSTRALIAN NATURAL: I recently talked to Ross Tan and Nick van Leeuwen, owners of this organic and biodynamic wine operation, about their portfolio, about selling in China, and about why “everybody loves the pig“. See this post on sibling blog Grape Wall of China.

If you’re seeking Australian Natural’s products via retail, try TRB Wine, Mali’s Wine Cellar and La Cava de Laoma, while Temple, Capital M, Jing-A and Pop-Up are among the restaurants and bars carrying the wines.

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MIGAS: Finally, Nali Patio veteran Migas celebrated its fifth birthday last weekend. I’m not into the raucous rooftop parties–I tend toward more sedate surroundings–but I have long been a fan of the food at this place. Migas has maintained a high degree of excellence year in and year out, whether we are talking about lunch or dinner, or the more recently added brunches. When it comes to creativity, quality and cohones, I can’t think of a better place in our fair city. I’ll sign off with this collage of the first Saturday brunch at Migas in 2015.

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