(Tanqueray No. 10 Martini)
Beijing hardly ever sees rain, but the first part of the weekend we had an enormous showers followed by drizzling rain. The nice part is that the air (finally) gets cleaned. The bad part is outdoor activity becomes limited. On Saturday I was invited to the Ritz-Carlton Culinary Coin Festival, an indoor food and wine event I had no objections to attending.
(The “coin” part refers to the hotel’s location on Beijing’s Financial Street.)
The impression I got from some ads was that the event was all about Champagne and chocolate, but fortunately there was a lot of savory food to line the stomach pre-sugar and pre-alcohol. The food was a mix of French, Italian, Chinese, and Japanese, keeping in line with the Ritz’s restaurants. I filled myself up on cheeses, prosciutto, soba noodles, roast duck in pancakes, an interesting quail egg shooter topped with aspic gelée, caviar, and chive oil. Chocolate made an appearance in the form of a fountain, where you can dip grapes and marshmallows, in bonbons, and in a mini soufflé topped with chocolate or vanilla ice cream. Although, for me, the dessert highlight was a chocolate-less basil ice cream.
This event reminded me of a similar one I went to a few years ago in New York, an “Eat Out” fest hosted by Time Out magazine. Having just moved to New York and started culinary school, I was just in awe of how many big-name restaurants and chefs were gathered under one roof. I was so starstruck by seeing Nobu Matsuhisa working his restaurant’s station that I could barely squeak a “thanks” after being handed some sublime raw seafood concoction whose specificities I now forget. Well, starstruck, and pushed aside by hoards of other hungry New York foodies. That event was crowd-ded.
(Eric Johnson from Shanghai’s Jean Georges; Appetizer spreads on display)
Beijing is not the foodie town that New York is, meaning there aren’t too many people here who spend their free time tracking the whereabouts of celebrity chefs or endlessly debating where to get the best so-and-so. Which was probably why Eric Johnson, head chef of Jean Georges in Shanghai, was hanging around and able to chat for 15 minutes. I learned that it was his first time to Beijing, even though he had worked in China for the past 4 years. So far in Beijing he had prepared for the festival and tried Peking duck, but would get to the Great Wall once the festival is over. He also made me wish I was staying around for the 2,008 RMB dinner afterwards, just to try out the “Champagne ball” appetizer. And in China at least, he never gets mistaken for Eric Johnson the guitarist.
On to the drinks. There were a few wines available for the endless sipping, including Grace Vineyards, one of the very few Chinese producers that get much praise. I didn’t care much for their Chardonnay (of course, I tend to dislike Chardonnays in general). But the Cabernet was a very nice compliment to my chocolate soufflé. The alcoholic highlight, however, was a martini made with Tanqueray No. 10 (made with fresh instead of dried juniper and other fruits), Sakura syrup, and lemon juice.
And of course, as with all events in China, everything starts and ends right on time, none of that “give-or-take half an hour” business Americans like me are used to. So at 6pm sharp, the wines all stopped flowing. One of my festival companions went straight home and took a nap (a.k.a fell into a food coma), which is probably the best thing to do after such an event.
(Photos by J. Redding)