Sunday, June 18, 2017

Quintessential Beijing Dinners: Lamb Hotpot at Three Brothers and Peking Duck at Da Dong

We've had some great meals here in Beijing.  On our first night, we went with a friend to a local hotpot restaurant that served an amazing assortment of lamb in all cuts, forms, sizes and shapes.  It was very tasty.  The lamb skewers were insane - meaning really delicious, out of this world, huge.

I had a feeling it was going to be good when I saw all of these traditional hotpot stoves lined up outside the restaurant.
 And I knew Michael was going to be happy when we saw all of these skewers, or "chuanr" as the locals pronounce it.
 I think (but cannot be 100% certain) that this is a Xinjiang restaurant where the meat is halal. 
 We chose a platter of five different cuts of lamb (none of which I could recognize),
some vegetables (including my favorite, tong hao), shrimp ball paste (it was very fresh) and lamb (not beef) tripe (a first for both Michael and me).
 The condiments were very simple - cilantro, garlic, green onions and chili peppers infused in chili oil (it wasn't that spicy).  The idea was to fold these ingredients into the thick sesame paste that would serve as the base.
 We ordered a clear broth, which burned atop a stack of coals, and the smoke emerges through a mini smokestack.
 Plum juice is ubiquitous in Beijing, and I ordered it at this meal, and the next meal...
 While the boys went for stronger stuff - specifically, baijiu (Chinese liquor) with 52% alcohol content.
These skewers were monstrous!  They were delicious.  I couldn't eat the whole thing, which Michael was more than happy to take off of my hands.
 After dinner, we went to Jing-A, a cool microbrewery/taproom located in the 1949 (The Hidden City) compound in Sanlitun.
 We emerged at the end of the night full and happy and joined the throngs of locals waiting for taxis.  There, we spotted a rather random looking car (we had no trouble recognizing the Ferrari).  Any clue what brand it is?
One of the things we didn't really realize, or at least appreciate, before this trip was how difficult it is to get a taxi here.  Usually when I'm here on business I just have a personal driver, so I didn't realize that the shortage has become such an acute problem.  I don't know if it's just that there aren't enough taxi drivers, or that there are too many people (likely both) but you can really find yourself stranded without any means of getting a taxi, for a very long time.  Even with a ride sharing app, often people still can't get a car.  Without a local bank account and credit card, I can't sign up for a ride sharing app, so during this trip we were at the mercy of the taxi roulette. 

More than once, Michael and I just took the subway.  I have nothing against public transportation, in fact I love public transportation, but given our limited time here, it increased our transit time significantly when we were trying to get around this huge, sprawling city.  I kept marveling (and still can't stop marveling) at how the last time I lived in Beijing, there were only two subway lines (the red line and the blue line).  Now, there are 15 lines.  Fifteen!  In the span of 15 years they have managed to build 13 new lines that span the entire city.  This is awe-inspiring and should scare the bejesus out of the New York MTA. 

Continuing on our culinary journey in this great city, Michael and I went on a date night to Da Dong, a restaurant famous for its roast duck.  It's touted as one of the top Peking duck restaurants in the city, and once we tried it we had to agree with all the critics. 

The décor was interesting...kind of disco night club meets Sweet Sixteen party?
 We completely over-ordered (at the encouragement of our disingenuously sweet waitress), selecting a cold platter of sour and spicy cucumbers
 traditional deep fried Beijing pork meatballs (Michael loved these and I have to say, they were superb)

vegetables in a garlic broth
 and slightly spicy and sour and sweet kung pao shrimp.
 Our condiments for the Peking duck came in a fancy platter, packed with (starting from the top in clockwise direction) melon slices, garlic paste, sugar, plum sauce, onions, green onions, pickles and cucumbers.
 Our duck was shown to us at the table and then skillfully dismembered.  A cleaner, more surgical job I have not seen.
 One person cutting, two supervising!  No pressure.
 Our duck was big enough for two platters.  They give you two kinds of wraps - the pancake and an air filled, puffy sesame bun.
 The carving job was so exquisite that they even give you the left over bones of the legs to show you how precisely and beautifully they cut out all of the meat.  I'm not sure why, but they also give you the duck head...
 Upon the completion of our meal, they brought a complimentary platter of the largest lychees I'd ever seen.  They were so sweet and so tasty.  It must be lychee season!
 The walls of awards (rightfully) attesting to their roast duck prowess.

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