Last week we had the chance to try a few restaurants in central Beijing. Comments and pics below. (See Flickr
for larger photos.)
After touring the Forbidden City on our first morning, we walked over to Wanfujing Street, the main shopping avenue in Beijing, to find a place for lunch. We settled on Donglaishun, a century-old hot-pot place whose heritage you'd never guess from its present, rather ordinary location in a modern shopping mall. We'd never had hot-pot before, but we understood the concept -- order some raw meat, vegetables, noodles, etc., and cook them at the table by dipping in seasoned, boiling water kept hot by a metal cone of smoldering lump charcoal. Once you've got it cooked and in your bowl, you can add diced onions, cilantro, and Donglaishun's trademark sauce (which, according to an old article in Food & Wine
, consists of roasted sesame, pickled garlic and Chinese chives). Every diner gets their own bowl of sauce -- we saw other customers simply dropping their cooked items directly into the sauce bowl and using the bowl as their dinner plate.
For dipping, we ordered lamb, "tender beef," and rice vermacelli. (Strange to see one of Northern China's most emblematic foodstuffs being called by an Italian name, but apparently that's what they call it for English menu readers like yours truly.) Donglaishun is known for their Mongolian lamb, and ours was fantastic -- thinly sliced, delicately textured and flavored. All in all a delicious lunch, topped off by two liters of Yanjing, Beijing's hometown brew and the official beer of the Houston Rockets. (You can guess why.)
When we visited the Summer Palace a few days later, we noticed a branch of Donglaishun out there as well.
Donglaishun (in Sun Dong An Shopping Center - 5F, look for the huge hot pot)
No 130 Wangfujing Dajie Street
86 10 6528 0932
We had heard good things about Hakka cuisine
, and also that the Back Lakes area was a nice place to have dinner, so we took a flyer on a place we saw in Frommer's Beijing: Keijia Cai. (Apparently it’s the same place mentioned here
under a slightly different name.)
We had a little trouble finding this restaurant. The cab driver dropped us off in the vicinity, but there are about a dozen restaurants in the same area along the lake, and we started up the wrong (left) side of the lake until we realized the place was actually to the right.
The place was jammed (Saturday night about 7pm) and we waited in the lobby with about dozen other people until a table was ready. This was ok, because servers passed through the lobby on their way to one of the dining rooms, so we got a peek at some of the dishes. The most popular items seemed to be the fish cooked in foil, and the salt-baked shrimp. The staff is young, and there's a lot of energetic running up and down the stairs and shouting back and forth.
The servers don't speak English, but they have an English menu with pictures. We ordered the shrimp, broiled beef in a stone pot, and griddled chicken. The first featured about 20 shrimp in the shell on skewers, buried in a small wooden bucket filled with hot sea salt. This was very tasty, peeling and eating the salted shrimp being (in a tactile sense) an experience akin to eating blue crab at a Maryland crab house. The beef was the most satisfying dish. It was served not in a stone pot, but in a conventional metal pot that had hot black stones in the bottom. We saw a similar dish in several other places in Beijing. The beef was terrific. The chicken was very good though not spectacular; seemed like a stir-fry preparation not too different from what you'd get in a good Chinese restaurant in the US. Except for the chicken foot.
(Apologies for this and later photos where we tucked into our dinner before we thought to get the camera out.
This was probably our favorite place in Beijing: great food, good service, crowded and fun atmosphere. Love to go back and try everything else on the menu, except possibly the bullfrog and the (nicely circumlocutory) "meat of dog."
Southeast Bank of the Qian Hai
86 10 6404-2259
DIN TAI FUNG
Taiwan-based Din Tai Fung was one of our favorite places when we went to Seoul last year; the xiao long bao was better than anything we had in the home of xlb, Shanghai. On Sunday night, looking for something familiar but still can't-get-at-home, we decided to check out the Beijing branch.
We ordered pork xaoi long bao and the chicken soup. The xlb were, like last time, absolutely wonderful. Although they had thinnest shell imaginable, they didn't let even a drop of the precious juice leak out. A saucer of soy-and-lemongrass dipping sauce came with.
In addition to xlb, Din Tai Fung does a fantastic job with soups. In Seoul we had an amazing braised beef noodle soup. This time we tried their famous chicken noodle soup. Too bad we didn't get a shot of the soup before we ate - the noodles come perfectly folded like a blanket. Note the chicken neck, back, etc.
For dessert we passed over the traditional red bean snow ice for the fancier "almond jelly" snow ice. This consisted of shaved ice, a sweet almond syrup, and cubes of almond gelatin. Nice enough, though half-way through an important question occurred: can you safely eat a snow-ice dessert in a city in which you can't drink the water? (The answer, in this case, was yes.)
In contrast with the Seoul branch, which is hip and modern, the Beijing DTF is comfortable, more brightly lit, more generic. We were struck by the number of families dining the night we went. It felt just like a neighborhood place - albeit one that has the greatest steamed dumplings on earth.
Din Tai Fung
22 Hujiayuan (near YuYang Hotel)
86 10 6462 4502
The Oriental Plaza Mall is at the base of the Wangfijing shopping street, where the street meets Chang'an Avenue (the street the runs between Forbidden City and Tienanman Square). The mall has a nice little food court (Megabite). If you're staying nearby, it's worth a walk-through just to identify different items you'll find at smaller shops and restaurants throughout the city. We came to the Plaza to visit a local branch of South Beauty, a Beijing-based Sichuan chain with outlets in Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu.
They have an English menu and a separate, partial picture menu. We ordered pork with red pepper and ginger slice, chicken with red pepper and peanut, and dan dan noodles.
We split on this dinner, with J loving it and L thinking it was too spicy and not varied enough. It was true that the pork was extremely spicy, and that the chicken, though milder, didn't offer much relief from the pork's scalding heat. Un-Beijing-like, we ordered white rice with our meal, which helped moderate the heat somewhat. But of course Sichuan is not just about the pepper, and if we visit again we'll probably explore some of the rest of the menu.
1 Dongchang'an Jie (In Oriental Plaza mall)
86 (010) 8518 6363
MADE IN CHINA
There are many places to have Beijing's famous duck -- Quanjude, Da Dong, and Ya Wang to name a few -- but we read that one of the best place was Made in China, which is (hard to believe) inside the Grand Hyatt hotel.
We went at lunchtime, and ordered Peking duck; crispy pancake stuffed with lamb, cumin, and coriander; and Chinese cabbage salad. The whole duck was carved at the table, and we were served in three stages: just the skin, with small bowls of sugar, minced garlic, and duck sauce as condiments; just breast meat, with thin rice wrappers served in a bamboo steamer and thinly sliced scallions and cucumber to add to the roll-up; and finally meat and skin, also to be rolled in rice wrappers. The duck was superb - the skin was crispy and the meat very moist and flavorful. The Chinese cabbage was a nice complement, and we were glad the server recommended it, saying it was good to order something from the vegetable side of the menu to counter all the duck meat. We order half a duck and we finished everything we were served.
After the duck we were served the lamb pancake, and that was a treat, too. It reminded us a little of one of our favorite Lebanese dishes, arayes: a rich meat filling inside a crisp baked pocket. Not at all what we expected, but spectacularly good. This was L's favorite meal.
Made in China
1 East Chang An Avenue (in Grand Hyatt Hotel)
86 10 8518 1234
http://beijing.grand.hyatt.com/hyatt/ho ... /index.jsp
DONGHUAMEN NIGHT MARKET
We had seen the Night Market several evenings from a taxi heading out to other destinations, and on our last night we decided to go over for a taste. The most popular items seemed to be on skewers: beef, squid, tofu, starfish, snake, frog, silkworms, millipedes, crickets. You can see just about all of those in the pictures below. Mindful that we had a 24-hour journey back to the to US the next morning, and that 30,000 ft might not be the best elevation for experiencing the ill effects of ingested insects, we stuck to more ordinary fare: a nice stuffed sandwich with chicken and other ingredients fresh off the griddle, and some vegetable pot stickers. And enterprising young man worked his way through the crowd with a sack of cold cans of Yanjing, which came in quite handy. All in all, a feast for the eyes as well as the mouth.
Donghuamen Night Market
Donghuamen Avenue at Wangfujing
STEAK & EGGS
A classic greasy spoon, run by an American, in case you get an urge for a cheeseburger or an American breakfast on your way to or from the Friendship Store, Silk Alley, etc. Hits where it aims.
Steak & Eggs
Xiushui jie (Behind the Friendship Store)
86 10 6592 8088
http://www.beijingtraveltips.com/restau ... d_eggs.htm
The CourtYard is basically a very good contemporary restaurant with a good wine list, in a nice spot overlooking the Forbidden City. J had the onion tart with parmesan for starters, and pork chop with prune and mushroom for entrée. L started with the arugula salad and dined on the chicken breast with lemongrass and curry. We shared the lemongrass creme brulee for dessert.
Given the kind of meal you can have for $20 for two in Beijing (including the first four meals described above), the locals probably consider the prices here obscene, but they're still less than you'll pay for similar fare in the States. Nothing bowled us over here, but it was a nice "spacer" to keep authentic local fare from growing too familiar. The lemongrass crème brulee was nice too.
95 Donghuamen Ave (east gate of the Forbidden City)
86 10 6526 8883
That's it -- can't wait to go back.