Sips & Bites: National Beer Day at Corner Melt, plus Tavalin, La Cava, Grand Hyatt

National Beer Day in the United States is April 7 and you can mark it here in China at The Corner Melt. The first 50 customers who wish the staff “Happy National Beer Day” get a free Pabst Blue Ribbon. The cans will be labeled with the shape of one of the fifty states. Guess the state and win a prize! Another PRB? You’ll have to see for yourself. (By the way, these beers are just the chasers for World Baijiu Day!)

La Cava de Laoma wine shop in Sanlitun Soho can be so much fun. On Sunday, the staff hid corks around Soho, Easter-egg style, and those who found them were rewarded with wine. On top of this, we held a dual organic Australian wine / baijiu-based liqueurs tasting while 30 other customers popped open bottles. I often describe La Cava as the United Nations and it felt like it Sunday as I drank with people from Australia, New Zealand, The United States, Uganda, Germany, China and Chile. It’s not always this busy on weekends but this place is fun when it draws a crowd. Plus bottles of wine start from rmb50.

The new Tavalin is now open and the bagels are as tasty as ever. Even better, the place still had “everything” bagels in stock when I visited last Friday. They are still rmb12 each, with or without butter, and the small patio out front is a nice place on which to relax and enjoy your baked goods. You can find the new shop just around the corner from the old one, in that alley beside Revolution Bar.

Former owner Julian Tavalin sent a message to approximately 700 of his closest friends — kindly copying all of their email address into the CC field rather than the BCC one — to say he is no longer involved but happy that former staff members Hanbing and Xiaochao have taken over, with baker Xiaozhuan handling the kitchen duties. He says the website will soon be back online and that delivery is now available. Did I mention he put copied 7 million email addresses in the CC field?

Finally, and also in wine news, the Grand Hyatt will host a dinner on April 7 with wines from Ningxia operation Helan Qing Xue. This winery gained worldwide attention in 2011 when it became the first from China to win an “international trophy” at the World Wine Awards. Try that winning wine and four others with winemakers Zhang Jing for rmb675. More details in the flier below.

JBL Wine Dinner @ Grand Hyatt BJ_588-01 (1)

The summer of Sanlitun South…

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The foreign food and drink scene has blossomed in Sanlitun South over the past year or two with the addition of places liks The Rug, Jing-A, Okra, Taco Bar and Home Plate Bar-B-Q. Add in older venues like Q-Mex, D Lounge, The Local, Kro’s Nest and Janes & Hooch, veterans like Nanjie and The Bookworm, and soon-to-open spots like Pop-Up Bar and a lounge with drinks by Paul Hsu, and the city’s eaters and drinkers have an excellent mix of places to enjoy.

It’s not exactly news this place is busy. Take last Wednesday, an overcast and ultimately rainy night: I found Jing-A full — I got the last seat at the bar — and then met wine trade friends at D Lounge and found that place packed. It looked like Q-Mex, just across the street, had a big crowd as well.

As better weather approaches, it would be ideal to see traffic limited on one or two of the area’s narrow streets, more outdoor seating added, and either the grounds of 1949: The Hidden City or the parking lot surrounded by Janes and Hooch, The Local and Jing-A — or both — home to events like craft beer festivals or food fairs featuring the city’s niche vendors.

Even if none of that happens, there are all still those excellent eats and drinks as well as outdoor seating options at Q Mex, The Local, Home Plate and elsewhere, plus word that Jing-A will add three or four dozen seats out front this summer. And there remains the underrated bar Nanjie, where you can grab a big bottle of Samuel Smith and a seat on that second-floor deck and watch the world go by.

Anyway, there are nearby areas that are also nice, such as Xingfucun Middle Road and its alley with Frost, The Big Smoke, The Corner Melt and BBC, or that have potential, such as Sanlitun SOHO, which would do well to cater to the younger crowd that is already frequenting it’s thirty-plus hair salons, but Sanlitun South is hard to resist right now with its superb mix of bars and restaurants.

Food fair: A few notes on the ‘Woodstock of Eating’

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A two-day weekend event called “Woodstock of Eating” was recently held indoors on the B1 level of Sanlitun Soho and included several dozen food, drink and other vendors. During the first day, I read numerous complaints on Weixin about the rmb30 entry fee and long lineups. I decided to go on the second day anyway because 1) it is a five-minute walk from my home, 2) I knew Palms LA would be there and I craved their chicken tacos, and 3) I wanted to try Soloist coffee.

A few observations:

  • There were a handful of notable non-sweets vendors, like Palms LA, The Bar-B-Q, Woody Salad and Andy’s Sausage as well as numerous dessert options and stands by restaurants on the same floor, including Don’s and Fly Pizza. This event could have used a few more creative vendors like Traitor Zhou’s.
  • Usual keg-carrying suspects like Great Leap and Jing-A were nowhere to be found. There were imported beers, but local stuff was limited to Baby IPA and N Brew Pub, which has a bar on the same floor. Other drinks were a throwback to the Beijing of a decade or more ago — think screwdrivers or whisky cokes — and this event and others would do well with better wine options.
  • There were lineups of 20 minutes or longer at some stands. The mini-pancakes — poffertjes — by Sue Zhou proved particularly popular.
  • There was, indeed, a rmb30 entry fee. If the purpose was to ensure a decent profit while limiting lineups and providing interesting food and drink options for those paying, some work needs to be done.
  • Calling this event the “Woodstock of Eating” is a bit much. Really, Woodstock?

Here are a few of the highlights:

  • I finally tried Soloist coffee. The cold brewed coffee (rmb25) was delicious and the kind of brew you could slowly sip and take a half-hour to finish. I also bought a Soloist Pale Ale (rmb50), although it turned out to be flat as a steamrolled pancake when I opened it later.
  • The chicken tacos (two for rmb25) at Palms LA were as tasty as ever.
  • I bought some bagel and cream cheese (rmb15 each) from Daily Bagel. I found the bread a bit doughier than I like but this operation does mean another bagel vendor for our fair city, one with lots of potential.
  • I enjoyed the wines from the 815 group in Hebei province, including a Chardonnay made using local grapes and a Cabernet made with fruit trucked in from Ningxia.
  • Finally, the ukulele performances by Hot Cat Club added some much-needed energy .

Given the size of the crowd, I imagine we will see more such events and I hope organizers work on attracting even more quality vendors. And if this space is used again, it would be nice to see the fair extend to the large common area outside, which has been used for everything rock concerts to product launches. I think this kind of fair is a good fit for Sanlitun Soho, which already draws a youthful crowd due its dozens of hair salons. And I think the kinds of food and drink vendors it attracted are a nice counterpoint to the restaurant chains — Element Fresh, Blue Frog, Wagas et al — across the street in Sanlitun Village.

Pinteresting: Beijing comfort foods and drinks

beijing boyce comfort food and drink pinterest page

My incredible physique is no accident. It’s due in great part to all of the delicious foods and drinks that make up my healthy diet. Thus, while going through the thousands of photos I have taken over the past three months in Beijing, I uploaded fifty-plus food and drink pics to this Pinterest page in the belief they might be useful for other health-conscious types. Except for the pic of The Den Combo. That dish of deep-fried delights is not exactly healthy. But you gotta let loose once in a while. See all the photos, see Beijing Comfort Food and Drinks.


Hutong haunts: Rager Pie and Gospel Coffee

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The Big Stipper and I had lunch at the new Great Leap a few weeks ago. He is a big fan of Victory beer from Pennsylvania, the guest brew at that time, and looked like a kid opening his New Year hongbao. We opted for the pizza special: the pair of slices we tried were delicious, especially the cheese, though one of the two beers that were part of the deal was out of stock.

Since The Stipper had his car and a few hours to spare, we decided to venture to Rager Pie in Andingmen for coffee and dessert. Driving in the hutongs sucks, especially if you make a wrong turn, and the patience of Stipp in negotiating narrow alleyways while ignoring hostile stares from bicyclists and pedestrians — the kind I give to motorists — impressed me.

We eventually parked the car and walked to Rager. When I tried these pies at the recent Jue Market, two things struck me. One, the ingredients inside the crust tasted good. Two, the organic whole wheat crust itself doesn’t work for me.

It’s like giving someone a 10-ounce Red Star erguotou martini and making sure the lemon peel garnish is organic. Okay, it’s not really like that, but if I’m eating something called burrito pie, I’m not interested in the health benefits of that crust. The same goes with the pecan pie we tried: in our humble opinions, the delicious inside didn’t work with the flavor, texture and dryness of the outside. That’s not to say Rager doesn’t have a loyal following of those who enjoy organic whole wheat crusts, just that The Stipper and I aren’t all that health-conscious.

We also ordered double espressos, which uses beans come from Gospel Coffee Roasters. Our espressos came with an enduring layer of foam and an appealing richness and bitterness. Excellent value at rmb22. TBS even bought a bag of beans, which came, if memory serves, to rmb70 for 500 grams.

Finally, I tried a shot of the house vodka infusion, which includes garlic and chili peppers. I’ll say it snapped me out of my post-pizza lunch slump even more than the coffee.

Rager pie is at 10 Fensiting Hutong and is open Tuesday to Sunday, 7 AM to 9 PM.