Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Spring Forever Cate Feast

The high class Renhe Spring shopping mall on the west second ring has been open about a month. While checking it out last week I went to the top floor expecting a food court, but was surprised to find a very ambitious buffet restaurant grandly named Spring Forever Cate Feast.

(Cate is a real word, related to catering, but hasn't been in current English usage since about the mid 1800s. Cate means delicacies or very choice food, and is the Chinglish version of '美食'. It often appears on machine translated restaurant signs and menus in China.)

Today a friend and I went to sample the goods at lunchtime.

Natural light fills the room, which is beautifully decorated and appointed. Lamps and ceiling fixtures:

The buffet has many areas: a sushi station, salads and Western foods, cold dishes, dim sum, Chinese stir fried dishes, stewed Chinese foods, a seafood bar, a dessert station, and a fruit and ice cream station that serves real Häagen-Dazs. (I was particularly excited about the ice cream.) The price of entry includes coffee and tea as well as sweet drinks such as soda and milk tea. At lunch, you can get beer but not wine, which is included at dinner.

Dim sum station:

You could ask for seafood to be prepared in a few different ways. We got baked oysters, which were a highlight, and shrimp and razor clams.

Like most buffets, the quality and deliciousness of the offerings varied widely and it took some hunting and sampling to find the good stuff. Tiny dishes of rich mashed potato covered with a golden sauce and crowned with snails were a highlight, as well as pickled beets in the cold food section (I haven't eaten beets for an eternity). There was an absolutely revelatory Cantonese honey roast pork (蜜汁叉烧), and one outstanding dish that I think was beef tendon and shiitake mushroom. (Many of the dishes were missing labels, or labelled in an illegible handwritten scrawl.) The ready made rolls and nigri on the sushi station were not that great but the salmon sashimi was sliced to order and decent, which means the best I've had in this town. There was sugary, neon coloured 'juice' at the drink station but fresh fruit juice at the fruit station. The dessert station had a lot of the fluffy tasteless style of cake, but also a very good coconut cake.

Saving room for dessert here is not advised. Although it is a buffet, they ration the Häagen-Dazs very closely. You get a ticket for the ice cream which entitles you to a single scoop, served up with a tool the size of a melon baller, and you end up with not even enough ice cream to satisfy a baby.

We got enthusiastic and hospitable service from a very young server who had just worked there for two weeks. The lunch buffet is 98 yuan per person on weekdays and 128 on weekends; dinner will run you 138 and 168 yuan respectively. They have an afternoon tea buffet for 42 yuan per person. Seniors (65+) and children under 12 who are shorter than 1.3 m are half price.

Chinese name: 四季春天 美食塔
Address: 二环路西一段 19号 仁和春天广场

Huiyuan Mao Cai

I noticed a mao cai menu at Huiyuan Noodles but hadn't realized it was from their sister restaurant a few doors down. The staff cover both places, and you can sit in either restaurant and order from the other as much as you like.

Their vegetable selection is fresh (though I would like to see pumpkin and a few more green things). They do have lots of meats to cook in the very good, complex flavoured soup: chicken, chicken heart, chicken gizzard, beef, beef stomach, pork throat, crispy fried pork, goose intestine, etc, etc. They also add a spoonful of preserved black beans (豆豉) so you stir things up before eating. It's a little more expensive than most mao cai places, but very worth it.

My vegetarian mao cai, which came out with a few shreds of beef in it, before being stirred up:

Once when I found a bug in my dish they apologized and cooked up a fresh order (after assuring me that kind of bug wasn't poisonous), and comped my one yuan bowl of rice. I won't hesitate to go back.

Chinese name: 惠元冒菜
Address: 红瓦寺街 共和村

Pao Pao - Hot Pot for One

At Pao Pao, customers sit around a bar which holds small hot pots for one or two. This is great for when you want hot pot but lack an eating partner, since it's really strange to go to a normal hot pot restaurant by yourself and even with two people your ordering options are very limited by your appetites. Pao Pao is billed as Taiwan style hot pot.

I pulled up a stool last week. First up was a standard youdie of sesame oil and chopped garlic. It came out with a dusting of msg, and I got them to replace it with an msg-free version. Behind, an order of wood ear mushroom.

They have a good selection of soups but not all of them were available when I went. I chose a suan la (sour and spicy) flavoured soup, an order of shrimp balls, tofu skin, and some vegetables.

The vegetables were all clean and fresh and I was impressed with size of the servings, since most vegetables were only three yuan each. The shrimp balls were the processed fish kind, and I didn't like them at first but once they got soft in the soup they were more interesting. The soup, unfortunately, was like slightly spicy msg water without much flavour. Since hot pot restaurants distinguish themselves with their soup, this is a major failing. Some of their other soup flavours may be worth trying, but on the other hand there are plenty of other great places to eat in the neighbourhood.

Name in Chinese: 泡泡
Address: 红瓦寺共和村商务楼 1-25

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Red River Grill

This cowboy themed restaurant popped up in a Dianping search for the top burgers in town. It's on the second floor of the Great World complex by the Carrefour.


House wine was on the drink menu for Y15 a glass (yay), but it was a tiny drop of mouth-drying changyu (boo).

The roll-up-your-sleeves Montana BBQ burger has a lot going on: tomato, lettuce, onion, cheese, barbecue sauce, bacon, and a nicely toasted bun. Despite its heft it was not too hard to eat, staying together surprisingly well. The fries were the kind that come frozen in a bag, but had a bit better flavour than most in town and came hot.

Attractive looking orders of potato skins and pizza also passed by my table.

They have a mob of specials this month: 40% off on Tuesdays starting the 12th of January, and a New Year's special of 20% off from the 13th of January til the end of February. (Discounts are for food totals only.) They will, however, be closed from Feb 11 to Feb 17. But, during this time they will open on Valentine's for dinner. Whew, hope I've got that all straight.

Chinese Name: 红河 西餐厅

Address: 大世界广场 2 楼 1 号

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

San Gu Noodles

This noodle and homestyle restaurant's main draw is its very convenient location by the Moziqiao overpass, where Computer City meets Kehua North Road. I've always liked the food here, but it used to be one of the grubbiest restaurants I've ever eaten in. A while ago they did renos, and now it looks quite nice inside:

However, I think the place still qualifies as a fly restaurant (苍蝇馆子), since the walls are not attached to anything on top. The ceiling is made of a few tarps whose translucence shows clearly how dusty they are. I probably wouldn't try to eat here if it was raining.

The other day I went in and asked for an order of beef and green peppers (青椒牛肉丝), even though it was not on the menu. They charged me 19 yuan for it, and I had to pay up front. (Thinking, this better be max delicious.)

Beef (or pork) strips with green peppers sounds like one of the least interesting dishes in the world, and I was always puzzled when my local friends frequently ordered it or declared it their favourite dish. When I realized that Sichuanese cooks often prepare the dish with spicy bean paste (豆瓣酱), I understood.

This version also had black beans (豆豉). It was a great combination.

They also serve hot rice now, which is an improvement. (Before it was scooped out of one of those big pails which gets cooler and cooler as the day wears on.) There were a few other customers, and everyone else was eating a fresh fried guo kui and then getting a bowl of noodles.

Qingdao and Snow beer both start at 5 yuan per bottle.


Name: 三顾面


Le Lai Guo Kui

On New Year's Day on Chunxi Rd, there were so many people that even in the middle of the afternoon there were lines out the door of many eating places. (It was the first time I have been surrounded by people and stuck, absolutely unable to move, while crossing a street.)

Lots of the window shoppers were snacking on guo kui (which has gotten a bit more expensive since that previous post. One guo kui chain that you find all over town is Le Lai Guo Kui (乐来锅魁). After fighting my way to the front of the crowd around the till I asked for a ya cai and minced chicken sandwich (芽菜鸡米锅魁), and an order of potatoes.

(The setup makes it a bit tough to order if you lack Chinese language skills; I tried to eat here a couple of years ago and only managed to get potatoes. You also need Chinese-style crowd navigation skills to order when it is busy, so it may be best to come here with a local friend.)

Marinated shredded vegetables and tofu, ready to be piled into sandwiches:

Two kinds of meat:

Hot and numbing potatoes. (They look nice, but were some of the worst I've ever eaten, cold and dry in places and far too oily.)

My chicken sandwich, with warmed-up spicy filling stuffed into warm bread, was fantastic. Too delicious to stop and photograph.

People were also devouring grilled meat on skewers. Most of the garbage bags being collected looked like this:

Glamour photography places had their spokesmodels out posing:

Chinese Name: 乐来锅魁

Location: Chunxi Rd, in front of Isetan and Ito Yokado