Pirate Day at Cu Ju: Yo ho ho and seven, er, eight bottles of rum

Despite my eye patch and peg leg being at the cleaners, I wanted to mark International Talk Like a Pirate Day last week, so I headed for Cuju Sports Bar and its bounty of half-priced rums. I have to admit, I had only slightly better luck finding this bar than did Columbus — hey, he’s listed in Pirate’s Cove! — finding westward passage to India, though any frustration floated away as the rum flowed. (For those who haven’t been to Cuju, here is the map).

I planned to try the Yunnan rum, the maple syrup flavored rum, the Tahiti Dark and then set a course for adventure*. Owner Badr Benjelloun added an extra sail to the figurative ship by splashing out three or four more rums. Then he added the equivalent of a dozen outboard motors by finishing with this. On the bright side, I could blame something other than rum for a hangover that made me feel as though I had been keelhauled.

I gravitated toward white rums that night — Rhum J.M in particular — though I also enjoyed the tasty dark rums Benjelloun recommended. The Sunspirit from Yunnan is fine and worth a try, if only for the novelty. I also liked trying a rum flight — good fun to taste three pours side by side. My least favorite pour was Dunc’s Mill Maple Flavored Rum from Vermont, which I found thin and boring. Perhaps this one needs an upgrade to maple syrup from Canada, proven even in our fair city to be a superior product (see A sticky situation: Rematch demanded in Beijing maple syrup contest).

Anyway, if you are a fan of rum, Cu Ju is worth a visit. And given it has over 50 rums, we may need to expand International Talk Like a Pirate Day to a week next year.

* Intentional Love Boat theme song reference

F stop: Frank Sun opening newest Tribute restaurant in Sanlitun South

F by Tribute

The latest Tribute by architect and restaurateur Frank Sun is slated to officially open in mid-October in Sanlitun South though you can expect a “soft opening” first. Sun, who brought his brand from Hong Kong to Beijing some four years ago by opening the relatively short-lived Tribute North, is calling this one F by Tribute. The “F” stands for “Food“. This two-floor restaurant is beside Casa Pagoda and includes an open dining area, some nooks and crannies for semi-private dining, and a big screen featuring — at least last night — old movies.

I inadvertently crashed a pre-opening food and wine pairing and tried a few menu items. My favorite: the mussels, dry shrimp and noodles with a sprinkling of rock salt to give it a nice kick. The award for most intriguing dish: the dessert of chestnut-cream sprinkled with dark chocolate flakes. As for wine, a syrah made by New Zealand’s La Collina, and distributed here by The Wine Republic, was my favorite.

More details on F by Tribute, including a possible “soft opening” soon.

A photo of F from 2F
Chestnut and chocolate
A NZ wine that isn’t Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir

To live and rye in Beijing: Templeton vs Willet Manhattans at Flamme

Drinks like The Passionate Englishman and Passionfruit Mojito elicit more oohs and ahs at Flamme but the happy hour prices on Manhattans have their own wow factor. Those Manhattans are half-price from 3:30 PM to 7:30 PM daily, listed with sweet, dry and “perfect” options, and as good a deal as you will find in town, especially on Tuesdays, when bartender Paul Mathew is usually on hand.

I recently had two perfect Manhattans, one made with Templeton Small Batch Rye Whiskey and one made with three-year-old cask-strength Willet Straight Rye Whiskey. Each included 55 ml of whiskey, 12 ml of Martini Rosso, 12 ml of Nolly Prat and a Bourbon-soaked cherry. Total cost: rmb85, with the Templeton at rmb45 (regular rmb90) and the Willet at rmb40 (regular rmb80), superb value given the price for a shot of either one of these at many bars in town. And there are more options. A Maker’s Mark Manhattan, for example, is rmb35 during happy hour.

I found the Templeton dry and clean, with a grainy texture, light caramel and fruit flavors, and a slightly tannic finish. On the other hand, the Willet had more viscosity, some plummy flavors brought out by the whiskey and vermouth, and a spicy and slightly bitter finish. Think I’m full of crap? Give them a try. Even if you disagree with my descriptions, I bet you find the experiment fun, especially at those prices.

My Soup: Central Park shop aims to bowl over patrons

My Soup will soon be ready to fly.

Clam chowder, bird’s nest, split pea, egg drop, ginger chicken, lobster bisque, tom yam, yukgae jang, cream of potato, wonton, hot and sour, garden vegetable, beef goulash, miso, borscht, ramen, chicken noodle, gumbo, French onion, gazpacho, tortilla, Scotch broth, pho, Jimmy B’s veg fund*… I have no idea what will be on the menu at new restaurant My Soup in Central Park but there is certainly no shortage of options.

(By the way,  for those about to leave a long comment about whether one or more of the above items “counts” as a soup — citing liquid to solid ratios or other factors — please first focus on securing world peace and easing the global economic crisis. Really, let’s get the small stuff out of the way as a warm up to expressing moral outrage over something as crucial to the human race as soup. OK, anti-rant rant over.)

By the way, I have some idea of what My Soup will serve — the owners mentioned items popular in Hong Kong and using top-end ingredients. But I’m curious as to what international options will make the menu, given the demographics of the apartment complex, and about the snacks the owners plan to add. Look for My Soup to open — with a dozen seats up front, seating in back, delivery in Central Park — within the next month.

Also, the owners asked me about soup and wine pairings. You know what goes well with soup? More soup. Really. Just bowl after bowl after bowl of nutritious and delicious soup. (And maybe some French onion with a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau when the new shipment comes in.)

* Jimmy B’s “Veg Fund” includes a minimum of 12 vegetables and gets its tangy je ne c’est quoi from a few packets of Taco Bell “hot” sauce.

This kitchen makes me think split pea.

Chef’s table: Jeff Powell’s Back Alley Bistrot on verge of opening

This is where J-POWW will make his chow.

Renovations at Back Alley Bistrot — next door to Frost and across from The Big Smoke — are nearly complete. While this place originally had an August opening date, owner Jeff Powell has been busy with Frost, with a cooking project in southern China, and with losing a scary amount of weight. The kitchen is now pretty much done, the furniture arrived last night, and Powell is hoping to open his 35-seat restaurant in a few weeks. As for those tasty Frost burgers, no worries, as the staff next door is able to work that grill.

Back Alley includes an outer room, an inner room and a chef’s table.
Back Alley Bistro is just off Xingfucun Middle Road.