Beijinger 2011 Restaurant Awards: Flesh, flash and funk

 

Preparing for the big event

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One week Two weeks Three weeks Four weeks ago, I finished off a heavy weekend – cocktails at Flamme and all you can eat/drink at Korean restaurant Ssam on Friday, dinner at Argentine steakhouse Obelisco on Saturday, and brunch at Capital M, a menu tasting at Mao Mao Chong, and the Beijing Foodies dinner (a second stop at Ssam) on Sunday – by going to the Beijinger Restaurant Awards party at the Renaissance Shuangjing the following Monday. I thought I had already posted my notes from the event but it appears I did not so here they are. And if they have a hint of delirium, blame it on that 72 hours of food and drink…

- The Beijinger did not reveal the cheaters. Next time I’ll bring big character posters to put the pressure on them.

- A rep from Vandergeeten — which supplies our fair city with Stella, Hoegaarden and other brews — convinced me to try a cocktail of Kriek’s cherry beer and KISS raspberry vodka. Smells like Kool-aid. Drink too much and you will need first aid. Be careful with this one.

- The results (see here) seem reasonable but as usual the event featured no shortage of outrage over certain categories and I heard several groups griping that The Tree again won for best pizza. They in turn had different opinions about who should have won. You mean different people like different kinds of pizza? What a revelation. I didn’t vote for The Tree (I like the pizza but do not consider it the best) or the two runners up, Kro’s Nest (it might make my top five but not number one) and Gung Ho (I find the crust brittle so I usually only order it when in the mood for the Greek salad) but went rogue with a write-in for Nasca Café (I like the combination of crust, sauce, and ingredients). My second pick probably would have been La Pizza, which also didn’t win. Does that mean everyone who voted for The Tree, Kro’s Nest, and Gung Ho is an idiot and the world is going to the hot place in a hand basket? No. It just means more voters in this particular magazine’s contest chose those places.

Such things happen in lots of categories. Hatsune wins every year for best Japanese and my foodie friends then complain that it is an American take on Japanese food. So what? The awards are a gauge of what the readers like. Again, Element Fresh won as best American food which also riled some foodie friends who wonder how it can possibly beat places like by Blue Frog, Chef Too. I voted for Union Bar & Grille. At such times, I find it best to forgo the outrage and have another cherry beer / raspberry vodka.

- I don’t imagine it is easy to perform at 5 PM on a Monday in front an already tipsy crowd but The Jackson Twinz and Zero did a good job. They also seemed open to my idea that I buy a matching suit and join them to create the Jackson Threez — or maybe Jackson Tripletz is better. We upped the ante to possibly include former Beijinger dining editor Tom O’Malley and now I’m thinking we need one more person — I’ve seen Andy Bright from Union bang his head off the bar top in frustration / perfect rhythm a few times, thus suggesting some musical talent — to create the Jackson Fivez.

- Scott Taylor, marketing head of The Beijinger, deserves some recognition for having the biggest tie knot to shirt collar ratio of the night (see photo below).

Anyway, I like The Beijinger parties given the chance to meet people in the bar and restaurant business and enjoy a drink or two. The ballroom looked good, especially that portable bar in the middle, and we had plenty of room to mingle. The Beijinger did a good job on the signage, including the backdrop and the 50 or so banners that each listed a category and its winners. And we had our choice of Belgian beer, ice cream and waffles, Kiss vodka, iF Juice, Grand Marnier drinks, Capitano coffee, and more. Including a big tuna near the entrance for those who wanted a whack of meat or to catch a whiff of something pungent.

Again, good stuff, and I don’t want to be one of those people who bitch and complain about an event even as I enjoy all the freebies and walk off with a gift bag. And I usually have more fun at these awards than at those run by City Weekend and Time Out, so I hope the following comments are taken as constructive.

I know there was an effort to keep this year’s ceremony tighter by only announcing winners in four categories and having the rest listed on banners around the ballroom. And I know there was an effort to impart knowledge by getting Jennifer 8 Lee as a speaker. But the reality is that people get engrossed in catching up on industry news and grabbing free drinks, the award sections were too short to get any momentum and it was hard to hear at times, and this all meant few paid attention to what was happening on stage. I think this show could have used more flash, flesh, and funk. Here are my admittedly amateur suggestions for a schedule:

2:30 PM: The doors open, the drinks and snacks are available, people trickle into the ballroom.

3 PM: When you have the Jackson Twinz and Zero, why wait until the end to get the party started? Throw them up front to get people into a funky mode from the get go. These guys do a great upbeat version of eighties tune Purple Rain. Maybe they could do one of Hungry Like the Wolf or Baby Got Back (Ribs) or some other “classic” tune that suggests a food angle. (I realize an introductory speech is needed to explain the awards and how the results are reached but some of that material could also be beamed on the screens placed around the ballroom.)

3:15 PM: Announce the winners of a handful of arcane / joke categories not included on the ballot. Maybe announce what place received the most write-in votes even though it is closed. Or an award to the chef involved in the most restaurants picking up awards — I’m guessing Jeff Powell who has done work with The Orchard, Kro’s Nest, Element Fresh, Gung Ho, and Flamme. It would be a chance to inject some humor into the event and give some recognition to people in the food and beverage community. At the end of this section, have about half of those 50 banners — the ones that list the winners of each restaurant category — either marched out or unfurled while those results are simultaneously beamed on the screens.

3:30 PM: Have a “quiet” time with music in the background so people, many of whom are just arriving or have only been there for 30 minutes at best, can grab a drink / find their friends / check those banners. Then have a performance that gives into two of our deepest cravings – food and scantily clad people cavorting in horribly cheesy outfits. I’m thinking a combination of cavemen / cavewomen clad in leopard skin loin cloths / bikinis and dancing with giant drumsticks of the animal rather than the musical kind. I admit the concept is still hazy but I have no doubt people would watch something like this, even if it were in horror.

3:45 PM: Announce the winners in three or four popular and contentious categories like Best Burger and Best Pizza. People love to bitch about the winners of these categories so give them their money’s worth even if entry to the restaurant awards is free.

4 PM: Have the DJ or the Jackson Twinz do another set in the lead up to the big prizes like the best new restaurants and the best restaurants overall.

4:15 PM: Announce the four big prizes. I don’t know if this is possible but if The Beijinger could first announce the three finalists in each category and get the reps on stage, and then announce who is the winner and who is “outstanding”, I think that would be more interesting. (Note: Given some of the rivalries, you might have to frisk people for steak knives and the like.)

4:30 PM: The Jackson Twinz and Zero come out one last time and do some upbeat songs. Bonus points if the cavemen / cavewomen with their giant drumsticks perform at the same time.

4:45 PM -Midnight: Cherry beer and raspberry vodka.

Then at Midnight, every goes to The Tree for a pizza party….

Must Try Series: Robin Howlett and Steve Williamson of Bang! Bang! Pizza

Welcome to part twenty-four of the Must Tries Series, where I ask the people who own or work in restaurants and bars what they like best. Up this time: Robin Howlett and Steve Williamson of Bang! Bang! Pizza and Bar. I don’t have a photo of the pair so I picked something from the web (it narrowly beat out this option).

Time for Cugat (amiright.com)

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What is the ‘must try’ pizza at Bang! Bang!?

The Breakfast Pizza: Mozzarella, ham, sausage, bacon, mushroom and a cracked egg on our homemade pizza base with special Bang! Bang! sauce.

Tastes great any time of the day.

What is the ‘must try’ non-pizza item?

Lasagna: Very cheesy, very meaty. Comes with garlic bread. What’s not to like!?

How about the ‘must try’ drink?

Bang! Bang does a great line in martinis. Our Lychee Martini and our Chocolate Martini are particularly popular but the Pomegranate Martini is Steve’s personal favourite. And at RMB35 great value. However, if you want your day to start with a Bang! or end it explosively then a must try is the Bang! Bang! Zombie — dark and light rums, cherry brandy and triple sec, lime and pineapple shaken to distraction.. not for the faint hearted… at RMB60 a banging bargain.

What are ‘must try’ items from other places?

Iki Korean BBQ has opened next door and is our new favourite restaurant in Beijing. The LA style ribs are particularly good and if you are a kimchi fan it is definitely to die for. Very tasty and very kind on the wallet.

Vinolia wine shop to open in Yintai Center next month

On the fly today so just a quick post that a wine shop will open in the B1 level of the Yintai Center next month. Called Vinolia, word is that it has backing from investors from Taiwan and will focus — not surprisingly — on French wines though also include some top drop from other countries. More on this place soon. (Hat tip: The French Connection)

Head case: Grinders to start Saturday night quiz (get the answers here)

What do you mean by 'comb'? (cousinavi.wordpress.com)

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Grinders is not only the latest place to start a pub quiz but also the first in recent memory to book it on a Saturday night (8 PM), that time of the week when the only questions I want to hear are “Gin or vodka?” and “Olive or lemon twist?” Anyway, this means Shuangjing now has a pair of weekly brain-teasers given that The Brick holds a quiz each Wednesday (9 PM).

I find quizzes as much fun as shaving with a rusty vegetable peeler or debating salesmanship tactics with a persistent ‘lady bar’ tout but some readers value the chance to spend all night arguing with teammates over what answer to list in the hope of winning a six-pack of beer and bragging rights that they know more about TV commercials, bad 80s music and cricket history than anyone else in the room

Attitude aside – and I blame it on the five cups of coffee I have had today – I try to help readers of this blog and thus am listing this Saturday’s first round questions and answers, all of which have a Canadian angle since I figure that will guarantee they get included by quiz master / China Radio International celebrity / fellow Canuck Paul James. Here they are…

Answers

  1. Beating the back bacon
  2. Celine Dion (if we all sign the petition)
  3. The 41-Year-Old Virgins
  4. Never
  5. True. No, wait: false
  6. Yes, Wonder Bread was invented in 1920 and the Eskimo Pie in 1921.
  7. Could we please go the next question?
  8. John ‘Eh’ Macdonald
  9. You be the beach and I’ll comb you.
  10. One
  11. Lee Aaron, no, no
  12. They’re both fucking close to water.
  13. Screech farts
  14. No, I’m pretty sure it’s screech farts.
  15. Canadian Club
  • Bonus: True

Questions

  1. What is an alternative way of saying ‘manhandling the moose’?
  2. Which one of these singers is not Canadian: Bryan Adams, Leonard Cohen, Celine Dion, Nelly Furtado, Avril Lavigne, Sarah McLaughlin or Alanis Morissette?
  3. What is the nickname of the Vancouver Canucks hockey team, which was founded in 1970 and has never won the Stanley Cup?
  4. When will they win the Stanley Cup?
  5. The fabled gables were green in the 1908 Canadian novel Anne of Green Gables. But in reality, the Anne who inspired the story contracted an illness due a diet that almost solely consisted of two new-fangled inventions — Wonder Bread and Eskimo pies — and herself turned green. True or false?
  6. Are you sure?
  7. Well, aren’t you clever?
  8. What is the name of the first Canadian prime minister (bonus point for giving it a Bob and Doug McKenzie twist)?
  9. What is the one line that Relic should have said to Nick (see photo above), but never did, on The Beachcombers, the Canadian TV show about driftwood collectors in British Columbia?
  10. What should be the official all-time quota for the entire known universe for TV shows about driftwood collectors in British Columbia?
  11. Who in Canadian rock music history is known as the Metal Queen? Was she actually made of metal? Did she turn green?
  12. How is making love in a canoe similar to American beer?
  13. What is that awful smell in Newfoundland?
  14. It’s not loneliness?
  15. What drink does a baby seal never order at a bar?
  • Bonus question: At least half of the goals scored by Wayne Gretzky could legitimately be described as “kind of lucky”. True or false?

Good luck, people…

The final cut: Butcher Steakhouses closes, Wall of Fame lives on

They beat the meaty beast.

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The Butcher Steakhouse burst onto the scene by offering its massive gut-busting burger for free — if you managed to down it in one sitting. Now TBS has seared its last steak / is chopped liver / has been gutted / is closed. While this place had potential, and a nice deck on which to chill out, it had an awful lot of seats to fill and struggled with the service and food. That downstairs Japanese restaurant, which opened just a few months, is also closed. This place has been a merry-go-round since longstanding tenant Cappuccino left — maybe it is time for a comeback?

More restaurants for the grinder.