Sunday, September 27, 2009

Brunch and Macarons at Comptoirs de France in Beijing

A great way to save money and time and not cheat yourself out of a good meal when travelling is to have a nice brunch. You combine 2 meals into one and pack in a morning and afternoon of sightseeing with only one break.

I was running around Beijing like a madwoman, trying to check off my list of things to do and places to see. When I was writing out my itinerary in Shenyang, I researched and found the perfect place for a nice Sunday brunch-Comptoirs de France in the Lido Plaza expat community.

Before you judge me on eating like a foreigner and not experiencing local foods, know that I've been living in Shenyang, where Western food is hard to come by. What compelled me to add Comptoirs to my itinerary is their Sichuan peppercorn hot chocolate, Sichuan peppercorn, green tea, and rose macarons. See. I did have good reasons for venturing into the expat community.

Sunday Brunch at Comptoirs de France

I ordered the petit dejeuner americain that came with a fried egg, REAL HAM (when I say "real", I mean perishable...China likes to use nasty fake ham and hot dogs that don't need to be refridgerated and can last a decade), mixed greens salad, tomatoes, 2 hash browns, an assortment of freshly baked bread, orange juice, and Sichuan peppercorn hot chocolate. All this was 58 RMB = $8.50. I told you brunch is a great way to save money!

Sichuan Peppercorn Hot Chocolate; Freshly Baked Bread

Everything on my plate was just perfect. This breakfast surpassed the American breakfast at the American International School in Dalian because the ham is REAL. In Dalian, they still used the psychedelic non-perishable red ham for the breakfast burrito, but it was certainly the best in Northeast China.

le petit dejeuner americain

After brunch, I splurged on macarons, knowing very well that I can't get stuff like this in Austin or Shenyang.
Rose, Green Tea, Sichuan Peppercorn Chocolate, Hazlenut, and Apricot Macarons

Blu Lobster in Beijing's Shangri-La Hotel

I treated myself to a beautiful meal at Blu Lobster on my last evening in Beijing. I wanted to experience a spectrum of foods in Beijing before returning to Shenyang.

Many websites hold Blu Lobster's young Irish chef de cuisine Brian McKenna and Spanish chef Jordi Villegas Serra in high regard, and after reading about Chef McKenna's fondness for desserts and habit of tacking on several desserts at the end of a prix-fixe, I thought this was definitely the place to splurge in China.

When I walked into the restaurant, I couldn't believe how incredibly beautiful a restaurant in China could be! The lighting was just perfect. It felt dim enough to feel like you can eat anonymously, but there's actually sufficient light to photograph food! I hate going to a nice restaurant and not being able to document the amazing food.

The service was attentive. In fact, after I ordered the lobster prix-fixe, and my complimentary glass of champagne arrived, the maître d’hôtel gave me a copy of InStyle because I was dining by myself. How thoughtful of them yet sad for me. Hahahaha. One thing I noticed about travelling in China is that women never travel or eat alone. When I first arrived and hailed a taxi to get to the hostel, the taxi driver was astonished that I was here for fun and not for business...all by myself. I was only aware of my lack of a companion in a city of 17.4 million + people when people actually point it out to me. need to rub it in, people!

Blu Lobster; Complimentary Champagne and InStyle

The amuse-bouche consisted of lobster consommé with cream, a trio of foie gras with pistachio nuts on toast with a block of lobster consommé gelatin, prosciutto with finely diced melon, and something that tasted like ricotta cheese in a tube of sweet, thin, gelatin skin.

Lobster Consommé

Amuse-Bouche Trio; Foie Gras on Toast

Prosciutto with Finely Diced Melon; Ricotta Cheese with Some Kind of Sweet Gelatinous Skin

First of all, I've never had such a large portion of amuse-bouche in a meal. I felt like all this could have been almost a lunch! The lobster consommé with cream was warm and soothing, yet packed a wonderfully pungent lobster punch. However, the consommé didn't come in just that tiny bowl. I didn't take a picture of the pitcher full of consommé, which they left on the table! The server kept on returning to refill my bowl. It was too good to waste, so I stupidly drained the'll soon see why this was a big mistake.

The trio was wonderful. The mini toast of foie gras had a strong, sharp, and heavy flavor, which is followed by a cool, crunch, and refreshing prosciutto and melon. I loved how just the cut of the melon changes this classic dish into a completely different experience with textural variation of the melon. The amuse-bouche ended on a creamy, sweet note. Ahh...the meal is about to begin...almost...

After they took away the empty dishes, another server came and asked if anyone has offered me bread. He promptly came back with a basket of freshly baked mushroom and raisin bread (super weird), honey pork bun, and a mini baguette. The basket came with a tray of olive oil, sea salt, dijon mustard, and puréed tomato.

The mushroom and raisin bread piqued my interest, but in China, raisins appear on every kind of bread. It doesn't matter whether it's mixed with sweet or savory ingredients. The bread didn't knock me out of my chair. It was warm and pleasant, but not memorable beyond its odd pairing of ingredients.

Mushroom and Raisin Bread, Honey Pork Buns, and Mini Baguette; Bread Condiments

Now, we can talk about the actual meal!

The first course was a lobster and tomato salad with lobster foam. I devoured this like a bear swatting salmon from a river into its mouth. I had to remind myself to slow down and eat elegantly like the other diners at the restaurant, but it was terribly hard to play the "I eat like this everyday" role. The lobster was fresh and meaty. The tomato and balsamic vinegar were good acidic substitutes for citrus.

Lobster and Tomato Salad with Lobster Foam
Next came my favorite dish of the evening, lobster and mascarpone raviolis in Thai coconut broth garnished with a trio of shellfish meat (clam, mussel, and slice of geoduck). The mix of flavors were so amazing-sweet, savory and pungent. I think the chef hit the spot by leaving the lobster filling medium chunky rather than grounded into a paste like consistency.

Lobster and Mascarpone Raviolis in Thai Coconut Broth
So, earlier I wrote that drinking all that creamy lobster consommé was a big's why. The lobster bisque with sea urchin was the third course. By this time I was exactly full. And I have a second soup course and five more courses to go through! The bisque was delectable, but I could barely enjoy it because I felt like I was going to pass out from food overload.

Lobster Bisque with Sea Urchin
My strategy for the following courses was to just not think or enjoy but chomp my way to the end of the meal. This is a terrible approach to fine dining, but the portions were too large to handle. I think I ate a total of 3 lobster tails not counting all the other stuff accompanying the lobster!
The Lobster Thermidor with porcini mushrooms and parmesan was a creamy and hearty concoction, which was not something I wanted after feeling like passing out from too much food. If I had this earlier on, I would have loved it.

Lobster Therimdor with Porcini Mushrooms and Parmesan
Next up, grilled wagyu beef and paté with lobster reduction. I gasped in disbelief at the large chunk of beef and paté in front of me. How the heck was I going to finish the darn thing? Obviously, I couldn't. This dish was the only dish not worth finishing anyways. The beef was certainly not wagyu. It was tough and leathery.

Grilled "Wagyu" Beef and Paté with Lobster Reduction
I was relieved to reach the dessert part of the meal...but only the first of three!
At least the first dessert was a light and summery lobster jelly, cold apple with roots and mint consommé. Hmm...a third soup? I think I took in equal amounts of liquids and solids from this meal!
Lobster Jelly, Cold Apple with Roots and Mint Consommé
The second dessert was a molten chocolate cake with spices and lobster powder. I really liked how the lobster powder retained a strong lobster flavor, and it worked amazingly well with the chocolate and spices.

Molten Chocolate Cake with Spices and Lobster Powder
And lastly, the petits fours arrived on an adorable frame. I managed to stuff myself with the crème brûlée in a cone, tiramisu in a cone, a mini opera cake, a piece of chocolate, and a vanilla macaron.

Petits Fours
As I wobbled out of the restaurant and thought to myself how I won't be eating for the next 24 hours, the maître d' came after me with a complimentary bag of cookies. Ah! Quel horreur! Just kidding. Who wouldn't want a bag of the best cookies ever!!!!
Blu Lobster Cookies
I certainly left Beijing with a culinary BANG!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Lan Club 籣会所 in Beijing

I remembered that Andrew Zimmern went to Lan on his Beijing Bizarre Foods episode. This was the one restaurant on his show, which serves food that really isn't "bizarre," but the decor, by Philippe Starck, is what it would look like if kitsch threw up on itself. The lighting made it difficult to photograph the interior; for better photos, check out their website.

Lan Club 籣会所
I ordered the lunch set menu of asparagus soup, steak with red wine sauce, and green tea cheesecake.
Asparagus Soup

Steak with Red Wine Sauce

Green Tea Cheesecake

The food, although quite delicious, especially the tender and juicy steak, does not make this restaurant a must for Beijing visitors. However, in a country where you'll be lucky to find a decent squat-toilet, Lan's restroom is a must-see.

Over-the-top Restroom
You get a throne and a throne in the restroom! I stayed in the room as long as I could to soak up the bizarreness that wasn't even featured on Zimmern's Lan clip!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Xinjiang Restaurant in Beijing

After a day of riding in a sidecar (check out to see the non-touristy and non-reconstructed part of the Great Wall, a new friend and I decided to pig out on Xinjiang street food. The food was hearty and delicious. It's a shame that we don't have Xinjiang restaurants in Texas.

Ezra Riding through Tiananmen Square; Me pretending to Bike on the Highway Next to the Bird's Nest

Xinjiang Restaurant around Nanluguxiang Street

Grilled Lamb Skewers and Lamb Leg

Mutton Stew on Naan
Spicy Cucumber and Onion Salad; Noodles with Xinjiang Tomato Sauce

Pigging Out on the Street

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Da Dong Kao Ya 大董烤鸭: Awesome Peking Duck in Beijing

Before going to Beijing, I knew that I had to have good Peking duck. It would be a crime to go to Beijing and eat crappy duck. The New York Times recommended Da Dong, saying that they offer super lean Peking duck. I was excited. I haven't had "super lean" anything in China, and since you're meant to eat the skin of Peking duck, I was convinced that this was going to complete my Peking duck experience.

I ordered half a duck, super lean, an orange duck soup (assortment of duck parts like the web of its feet, tongue, you get the picture), and sticky rice balls stuffed with black sesame paste in a warm coconut milk soup. This was an incredible start to my Beijing food journey.
The half Peking duck was carved at the table and the waitress demonstrated two ways of eating the duck: 1) wrapped in a thin crepe 2) stuffed in a shao bing (flakey sesame pastry). I bought a tray of duck condiments (8 RMB), which came with tian mian jiang (the requisite Peking duck sauce), cucumbers, scallions, garlic paste, pickled radishes, and granulated sugar for the duck skin.
Half a Duck
Free Soup Made from Duck Bones; Tray of Peking Duck Condiments
Duck in Shao Bing; Duck in Crepe
The Peking duck was sublime, but my favorite dish turned out to be the orange duck soup! What a clever twist on the French classic, canard a l'orange! The sweet-tart taste of the orange juice made the assortment of odd duck parts dance on my tongue.

Orange Duck Soup
I didn't know that the meal would come with a free duck bone soup, so I stupidly ordered 2 soups, the orange duck and the dessert soup. I didn't mind though, because each dish was made and presented impeccably. My dessert came on a plate of dry ice. It was heavenly eating coconut milk soup from a plate of billowing clouds.

Sticky Rice Balls Stuffed with Black Sesame Paste in a Warm Coconut Milk Soup
Just when I thought I had reached the end of my foodie trance, the waitress came with a complimentary fruit platter. Ahhhhh...the best first meal in a city ever!
Fruit Platter