The idea behind Canada Grade-Eh Week is for Beijing restaurants and bars with Canadian involvement to feature Canuck-like foods and beverages on their menus from June 25 to July 1 so we can eat and drink ourselves silly. And to welcome other venues willing to join in with a Canadian angle.
Last night, I met with Annie Wei of Beijing Today, Sienna Parulis-Cook of City Weekend, and Xie Yanchen of Beijing Youth Daily for a mini tour of some of the participating spots.
To use a hockey analogy, you might say the tour included some sweet goals (hello Nanaimo bars!), a delay-of-game penalty (where is the Canadian!?), a superb save (by a non-Canuck, no less), a near cancellation (those threatening storm clouds) and a Game Misconduct (see below). Plus, a few veteran skaters: the 25-year-old Alberta Premium, 18-Year-old Wiser’s and Forty Creek whiskeys I carried all evening for our post-game cocktail session.
Our mini tour…
Clamato Oyster Shot, 7 PM
As we chilled out and waited for resident seafood guy / Canuck Chris Hebert, manager Alisha Bailey of Starfish kept us entertained with oyster tales as she and the staff shucked the little critters and I wondered how they avoided driving those scary knives into their palms.
Bailey showed us some huge oysters, Yaquina Bays, with 300 or more grams of meat each. She explained that the Kumamoto oysters are slightly creamy, buttery and sweet, thus making them good for beginners, who might not like something fishier. And she told us, in hushed tones, about the mythical Hosehead oyster that grows in the Arctic, attains the size of a moose, is tended to by submersible zambonis and, when opened, says, “How’s it goin’, eh?” (Just kidding, I made that last oyster up.)
Then it was on to the shot. Technically, as Parulis-Cook noted several times, this item was not strictly Canadian. Fair enough, it was more NAFTA, after the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The shot included Clamato juice and Crystal Head vodka from Canada, an oyster from the United States, and Tabasco sauce from Mexico, not to mention Worchestire sauce, black pepper, lemon juice and Starfish cocktail sauce.
Bailey served it in a tall shot glass. You might want to down this one in two gulps, the first to taste the liquid, the second to include the oyster. She added that party-goers in Hong Kong are starting to drink such shots late at night to maintain their energy. “It’s better than Red Bull,” she says.
Anyway, this tasty concoction is available during Grade-Eh Week next week for rmb68. (Note: Starfish is closed Mondays.)
Hebert showed up about this time looking like he’d just gone one-on-one with Ogopogo. Delay of game! No doubt he had a good reason but his tales of Canadian seafood and his tips on the proper way to skin and serve a baby seal would have to wait because we were off to…
NO MORE BUNZ
The Great Canadian Sausage, ~8 PM
We arrived to find Mr Wei, the sole employee of this modestly sized hot dog stand, grilling two extra-long sausages — one German and one Italian. Canadian co-owner Simon Gauthier soon joined us from his other gig at nearby A Food Affaire — more on this place below — and explained the idea behind The Great Canadian Sausage. In short, this is a lengthy beast that measures 48 centimeters in total and includes two sausages in a baguette topped with Canadian cheddar and bacon. You can also top it with the other condiments stocked by No More Bunz.
There is a lot going on here culturally. Canadians of German and Italian descent, as represented by the sausages, are both widely found in Canada. And the two largest groups are also represented: the French by the baguette and the British by the mustard. That’s some kind of multiculturalism at work at No More Bunz, eh?
The Great Canadian Sausage is rmb60, or rmb100 with two Mooseheads, for the upcoming Grade-Eh Week. Even better: No More Bunz on Xindong Road, normally closed weekends, will be open June 30 and July 1!
(Note: No More Bunz also has an outlet near the south gate of Beijing Institute of Clothing Technology.)
A FOOD AFFAIRE
Mac & Cheese / Nanaimo Bars, ~8:30 PM
With thunder and lightning dominating the skies, Gauthier walked us to April Gourmet on Xingfucun Middle Road, which houses a branch of his A Food Affaire operation.
Our first item was Mom’s Beefy Mac and Cheese, which he considers a step up from Kraft Dinner and uses pasta, beef, tomatoes and peppers.
“This is spaghetti!”, said one among us.
“No, it is beefy mac and cheese!” I replied. Actually, I didn’t. I was too busy eating it. Very tasty, and especially nice given that it is designed for takeaway.
Gauthier says he plans to pair this with a salad and sell them for rmb36 during Grade-Eh Week, and rmb46 after that.
The second item: Nanaimo bars.
I have seen numerous recipes for this treat but Gauthier’s starts with a chocolate base embedded with oatmeal, coconut, peanuts and almonds. This is topped with a concoction of butter, whipping cream, sugar and vanilla, and then topped again with more chocolate-y goodness.
A bar will be rmb18 and, during Canada Grade Eh Week, and will be available in flavors like cherry, mint and orange.
Canada-themed cocktails, ~9:15 PM
The original plan was to head to Switch to sample the maple syrup-glazed ribs, but the recipe is still being finalized. (Speaking of ribs, Switch has an all-you-can-eat deal from 5 PM to 8 PM on Sundays for rmb120.) Thus, with rain still threatening, and with Gauthier kindly lending umbrellas, we headed to Flamme to trust the three bottles of whisky to Paul Mathew.
English bartender, American steakhouse, Canadian whiskey: what could go wrong? Given Mathew’s track record, nothing.
First, we sampled the three whiskeys, along with Canadian Club, straight up. That Wiser’s had some caramel and Christmas cake smells, while the Alberta Premium had a somewhat spicy and very dry finish. Good stuff.
Then Mathew, who gets kudos for prepping with some research on cocktails from the Great White North, got out his shaker. He noted that during Prohibition in the United States, a particularly fruitful time for creative cocktail making, many bartenders were using smuggled Canadian whiskey. Beauty, eh?
Here are the drinks tasted (I hope I have the ingredients listed correctly):
- Canadian Cocktail: This one uses whiskey, triple sec, bitters and simple syrup. Mathew made both sweet and dry versions of this drink. Wei and Xie liked the sweeter concoction, so I took one for the team and drank the other version.
- The Mountain: With lemon juice, sweet and dry vermouths, egg white and whisky, this one require vigorous shaking. There was general consensus it tasted “weird”. Light and subdued, with lemon nicely coming through at the end, but weird. Parulis-Cook polished this one off.
- The Quebec: Mathew found this recipe on-line and it might be good for whoever is marking St. Jean Baptiste Day this weekend. Whisky, Dubonnet red (we used Martini vermouth) and angostura bitters. Quite pleasant.
- Game Misconduct: I asked if Mathew could make a cocktail to fit this name. His two-glass solution: one glass with warmed whisky, fresh cinammon and maple syrup, a second glass with chilled whisky, maple syrup and mint. The idea is the drinks clash, like two fighters in a hockey game, thus performing the equivalent of ballet on ice with fists. In this case, it was a bench-clearing brawl between Team Hot Toddy and Team Mojito.
And thus ended the night. Kind of. I walked over to Q Mex with Mathew, where some people were trying tequilas, and sampled a few. Then stopped at Brussels to chat about the upcoming Firefly night, and tried the Canadian whisky out on Nick, who is from Minnesota and thus practically Canadian. (He liked the Alberta Premium Rye.) And that ended the night…
More coming soon on Canada Grade-Eh Week in Beijing.