You’ve read about it, now you can see what all the fuss is about. Thomas Crampton’s blog includes this interview with a Hooters executive on the opening of the restaurant chain’s first spot in Beijing and pushes the journalistic envelope by (briefly) putting the event in the context of traditional Chinese culture (a hat tip to danwei).
The South China Morning Post and Reuters have reported that Beijing police arrested, and in some cases beat, between 20 and 30 blacks in Sanlitun last Friday night in what was an apparent drug crackdown. The Zhongnanhai blog quotes the SCMP report:
Dozens of black tourists and expatriates, including the son of the Grenadian ambassador, were arrested and some badly beaten during an apparently indiscriminate anti-drug operation by Beijing police….
“It was pretty brutal,” Beijing-based magazine editor Alex Reid said.
“I saw a man being beaten by six guys in camouflage. He was covered in blood. The police seemed to be targeting anyone who was black.”
Reuters carried this story, while China Expat included this post. As Zhongnanhai notes, there has been a conspicious lack of drug dealers in Sanlitun – since about May, by my own account. Expect more on this one…
I owed myself a weekend of fun for ages and cashed in Friday, Saturday and Sunday by attending five wine events. Here’s number one:
The task: to blind taste nine Chinese wines. The goal: to pick a favorite red and white. The rules: each taster received two poker chips and voted by placing them in the boxes fronting the wines they liked. Simple enough: here are the results of a tasting, held last Friday night at Sequoia Cafe, and my notes and grades (and as mentioned ad infinitum, I am not a wine expert, merely a humble consumer):
19 votes: Grace Chardonnay 2006
Granny Smith apple tartness on the nose with more apples and green plums in the light pleasant body. Someone described it as “like Chinese Semillon”. This is arguably the best value Chinese wine out there. (B+)
1 vote: Huadong Chardonnay 2002
Mild with some baked apples and honey on the nose; a creamy body. It tasted a bit too weak, too mild, too old. (B-)
1 vote: Catai Chardonnay 2004
Chemically syrupy fruitiness, almost like a cheap homemade wine smell, while the body had hints of sugar water and a slight bitterness. (D)
1 vote: Taillan 2007 (winemaker Alain Leroux brought a sample of a wine he’s only partially fermented)
The nose was medicinal with a woody varnish smell. This wine was so tart I could feel a stomachache coming on. (D)
11 votes:Catai Cabernet Sauvignon (note: one person voted six times on behalf of his table)
This had a warm nose – fresh cherries – though it smelled a bit syrupy. The body has less fruit than I expected. (C)
4 votes: Taillan Malbec 2003
This had a bit of old cut grass / straw barn smell on the nose along with some cherry (a later bottle had more fruit); easy drinking. (B-/B)
3 votes: Huadong Cabernet Sauvignon 2000
Pungent, dark red fruit on the nose and a decent mouth feel. (B-/B)
3 votes: Chateau Bolongbao Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
Dusty on the nose, with a light fruity red cherry taste, and slightly rough tannins. (C)
2 votes: Grace Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Some slightly rank strawberries and other fruit and some dustiness on the nose; the body was nice enough and seemed to have a faint nuttiness. (B-/B)
While I graded the Taillan, Huadong and Grace equally, I voted for the first. Proof these wines were at least drinkable – every bottle was empty by the time the last group of a half-dozen tasters left Sequoia and that included opening two more bottles of the Malbec.
Mingle opened in the basement of Margherita, around the corner from Tongli Studio in the building formerly housing The Bund.
Joop Shen, who’s bouncing about the Beijing bar and club scene faster than a Xiali cab changes lanes – note: he’s held positions at China Doll and The Bank in the last six months – is involved, though this is a cozier fit and it will be a challenge to keep a lounge feel given the temptation to take advantage of the sound equipment no hand — we’ll see if Joop can work his magic with the staff, theme and layout.
Another bar nomad, Gleann Phealan – The Pavillion, Browns, and TRIO (Frank’s Place) – will soon be running his own gig as Irish bar Paddy O’Shea’s is projected to open next month near A-Che and Dine and Wine. Look for an interview here with Glenn later this week.
Sir Campbell T informs that a new bar called White Rabbit opened in Nurenjie on Friday night. Time enough to visit this weekend there was not, so I’ll aim to check this one out in the near future.
For those who complain that Chinese wine is rotgut, here’s a chance to shelve big wineries such as Great Wall, Changyu, et al and give the work of smaller China wineries a shot. This Friday, Sequoia Cafe features a blind tasting of a red and a white from four of the more interesting outfits, including:
Huadong (Shandong), which a few years back received praise from the likes of Jancis Robinson for its Riesling.
Taillan (Hebei), a French joint venture outside Beijing run by winemaker / Sequoia Cafe regular Alain Leroux.
Grace (Shanxi), considered by many to make China’s best quality and value wines – this is served at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and has performed well in my own blind tastings.
Catai (Shandong), an Italian joint venture, which has wine ranging in taste (IMHO) from tasty to terrible.
The wines will tend to be the wineries’ entry-level offerings, thus buying a few bottles – if you like them – won’t bust your bank account.
The event is 100 kuai per person and includes the wines, the usual appetizers, and good company. If interested in attending, contact Frank Siegel at email@example.com / 13701-178-073. Tell him you read about it on Beijing Boyce.
Saturday marks the first-year anniversary of Houhai area bar la Baie des Anges. Get into the birthday spirit with some cake, a quiz and quality music, plus specials on wine all night. Check out the bar’s website or call 6657-1605. Thinking it’s too hard to find? Well, there’s a handy map below
While you’re in the area you might drop into Buffalo, a bar best known for its billboards that proclaim wisdomatic tidbits such as “Shangri-La is in your mind, but your buffalo is not” (see this China Daily review).
The map to la Baie des Anges…
Last Friday, Eddie O explained to me that an issue of my newsletter without a reference to him is pretty much an injustice against humanity. Sort of like a doughnut without a hole. To atone for omitting him last time, and in the interest of world peace, here are five items about that camel-loving (see below) Eddie O:
1. Eddie O, co-founder of the Bourbon, Rye and Whisky League (BRAWL) and featured on CCTV for teaching free English classes on weekends in his neighborhood, will leave China in October. His goal upon retiring to Iowa? To buy a camel. “I have always liked to raise large domestic animals,” says he. “I would also love the attention. Imagine people asking my kids, ‘Is your dad the guy with the camel?’”
2. A conversation with Eddie last Friday after he spotted several older foreign gentleman with younger Chinese women.
- “China is the last refuge for guys like me who can barely get it up once a month. Show some of these girls a bankroll and they think you look like Dermott Mc… Glooey Mc… McGlooey Dermott… you know, that guy from James Bond.”
- “Pierce Brosnan?”
- “That’s it.”
3. A conversation in a taxi from Cheers to Capone’s about his ayi, who he states has “been like a mother” to him.
- “Has your ayi ever seen you naked?”
- “Have you ever seen her naked?”
- “Would you like to?”
- “No! Definitely not!”
- “Have you ever dreamed of her being naked…”
- “No, absolutely and definitively not.”
- “…while you and her were riding a Shetland pony?”
- “No, though I do have a soft spot for camels.”
4. At Capone’s, we reminisced about the “he brought a bun, he got a burger” story. In this episode, Eddie O is in Capone’s on a Friday night. He wants a burger. They don’t have it on the menu. He says that the next Friday he will give a bottle of Knob Creek Bourbon to the place and expects a burger in return. He says he will bring his own bun.
Eddie O arrives on Friday and the Italian chef Marco is convinced to cook steak tartar into a burger. Eddie O gives it a thumb-up, hands over the Bourbon, and asks the price of the meal. Free, they say. Shouldn’t I pay a little something for the burger, he asks. Okay, 150 kuai, they say.
Yes, the price went from zero to 150 kuai… and a bottle of Bourbon… for a burger. Talk about a humorless staff. And I can’t think of a better scene to illustrate how Capone’s does not “get it”. If only resident singer Bobby Taylor had broken in at that point and started singing, “put a for-for-fork in this pla-pla-place; put a for-ee-or-ee-ork in this pla-ee-aye-ee-ace.”
Anyway, there we were again Friday night, the only two people in the place. And still no bur-ee-ur-ee-urger on the menu.
5. Last Saturday, Eddie O bought me dinner at Chef Too, an excellent and cozy spot that Eddie repeatedly tagged as having “St. Regis quality at one-third the price”, even before he ate anything. The highlight: a medium-rare 10-ounce Australian steak with Merlot sauce and sides of steamed vegetables (carrots with tops, making them finger foods) and mashed potatoes (with sour cream and onions already mixed in, providing a nice texture).
Eddie O shared lots of beef and business talk with owner / head chef Billy – I learned that the former once butchered a steer and that the latter desperately wants to bring a Good Humor truck to Beijing. They are brothers in spirit and should not be separated so soon after meeting. Stay, Eddie O, stay!
Bonus item: I had a wild dream on Saturday night in which Eddie O suddenly appeared on a two-humped camel, riding closer and closer, kicking up more and more sand. His grin stretched ear to ear, and why not? As he pulled up the camel, he pushed a button on its side and the front hump popped open to reveal a mini bar. Bourbon, glasses, ice bucket – everything you need to quench a thirst in the scorching Iowan desert.
After a lull in The Land Down Under, wine guru Sir Campbell Thompson is back in Beijing for good. I met him on Saturday night for a lengthy tour of the local sights. Some random observations:
Block 8: The third-floor bar – I-Ultra Lounge – reminds me of a super-sized Centro. We headed to the rooftop bar, The Beach, where lounge areas surrounded by sand sit amid a network of elevated walkways. You’ll fork out 2000 kuai for one such spot and up to 5000 kuai for premium spaces. The only free seating – or free standing, given there were no chairs – was at a large round bar in the far corner. The place seemed somewhat soulless – maybe it was the too-slick design, lack of greenery, the nasty night pollution or the fact we were the only patrons – so to be fair another visit is in order, especially since several readers have praised this place, although usually in relation to the eye candy they say patronizes it.
In any case, given the beach theme, you might expect Margaritas and Pina Coladas on the menu. They aren’t. 42 Below vodka and Tanqueray gin are, but were out of stock, so we settled for Bombay Sapphire GTs at 55 kuai. I suppose the price was worth it given the spectacle of a bartender twisting the base of a tonic can into his hand, thus forming a vacuum and allowing him to pour the mixer without using his fingers (try it at home, it’s surprisingly easy). By the way, best to book a table at The Beach – as we left the staff told us that every spot had been reserved for the night.
Suzie Wong: The third-floor area has been redecorated since my last visit and reaching the deck now requires a trip through the back end of the dance floor, but other than that, it was the same old Suzie. We parked on the deck and enjoyed bottled Stella as the place steadily filled with a most diverse crowd - a woman anxiously sitting alone (let’s hope the guy showed up), several groups of local friends, a man out cold on a bench, the usual gaggle of older expat male-younger Chinese female couples, and so on. I’ve never been a big fan of Suzie Wong in general, but I’ve always liked the deck – earthy, nicely lit and seeming as though it’s cut off from the city.
Q Bar: This night saw a light crowd, and while the music is too loud inside, the place does have its compensations – the Q Bar team is well-trained and the drinks are good. Sir C had a Lychee Margarita and engaged co-owner Echo in a discussion as to whether there should be salt (as he likes) or sugar (as many customers prefer) on the rim. I had a Horse Neck, a pleasant drink with Bourbon, ginger ale, and a long curl of lemon peel. Just before we left, a guy walked up and ordered ten Jagermeister shots. Sir C sternly described this as a blasphemous request in such a cocktail heaven and nearly beat him to death with a mint masher (just kidding). By the way, Q Bar’s collection of single malts continues to grow.
The Rickshaw: A rugby had just ended and the place was packed with Aussies and Kiwis – Sir C, being a member of the former tribe, knew half the people there. It was Stella yet again.
China Doll: The second floor seethed with dancers. We struggled to the bar and decided on hydration – the fruity Ai Wan Jamaica. The patrons to our left were most happy and eclectic – one wore a suit, thick dark-rimmed glasses and a foamy farmer’s hat, another had a sleeveless T-shirt and Scott Baio aura, and so on. Celebration was in the air and we speculated about a newly signed joint venture, hopefully one that will produce some kind of vacuum to suck coal particles from the air in summer andGobi sand in the winter – the latter can be used to replenish The Beach. People-watching at its finest…
Cheers: This place was also hopping, to live music. Even better, Sir C – who used to play in a band – knew one of the musicians, a guy from Madagascar. I’m not sure what they talked about it, but perhaps it concerned their two countries containing at least half of the world’s weirdest creatures.
Maggies: This place was even more packed than China Doll, with men far outnumbering the women – the horror! My advice to these guys: why not just go to China Doll to meet the opposite sex? We parked outside and watched people pass while Sir C enjoyed one of Maggies most excellent hotdogs. By the way, you know a guy is drunk beyond redemption if he squints at me to see if I might be a potential “short-term” female companion. Realizing that being packed like sardines in a can with hundreds of other guys wasn’t our thing, we decided against going inside and instead bid farewell and called a close to a busy but fun night…