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Cuisine: American/European (focus on breakfast, brunch, sandwiches).
Price: 30-60 RMB per person
Just in case you haven’t heard of Alba on Gulou: they make a nice breakfast fry-up and delicious pancakes, at reasonable prices. They are much better than Sculpting in Time, my previous breakfast spot. The sausage, especially, was very good and spicy. The pancakes were fluffy and great paired with the house-made jam.
That said: we have returned and found that their coffee is seriously overpriced (28 RMB for an iced latte that was mostly milk), and that the kitchen doesn’t seem to be holding up to Alba’s increased popularity. Return visits have found badly scrambled eggs and tasteless potatoes. It is better than Sculpting in Time, but Alba still has some ways to go; it’s not yet serving consistently great food at good value. But sometimes when you really want pancakes, good is often good enough.
Drop by if you haven’t yet! And check out what City Weekend has to say about it here.
70 Gulou Dongdajie
Open 10 a.m. – 1 a.m.
Cuisine: American (salads, pasta and smoothies)
Area: Sanlitun Village
Price: 100-150 RMB/person
Element Fresh has great decor, a charming terrace (if the weather’s nice) and is conveniently located in Sanlitun. We went there primarily because we were desperate to eat raw vegetables. We did eat salad, and sated the craving, but I couldn’t honestly tell you that Element Fresh is a really good restaurant, or worth the money.
The roasted-duck salad involved dry roast duck, apples, celery and raspberry dressing. The elements were all nice enough on their own (except that duck, this is a town with high standards for duck, after all). Unfortunately, the salad didn’t really cohere. Everything was cut too large to eat comfortably, and the raspberry dressing was far too sour. This was probably a great idea for a salad that didn’t work out as well on the plate. (It was 78 RMB, I believe).
The eggplant sandwich with mozzarella, meanwhile, was solidly average. It wasn’t terrible, but neither was it actually good. The arugula was very peppery, which was nice, but the bread and cheese and sauce were all middle-of-the-road.
The raspberry smoothie (28 RMB for a small one, 52 for a large as I recall, I’m not remembering prices well here but the average of 100 plus RMB for one person is accurate) was decent. It was clearly made with fresh fruit, but I found it too sour. Nice for those who are craving fruit, but 4 RMB will get you an upscale apple.
The whole meal was fine if you don’t mind paying high prices for average food in a town where great food can be gotten cheaply. We were desperate for a salad, but if you’re not, stay away from Element Fresh.
S8-31, Sanlitun Village South, 19 South Sanlitun Road,
Cuisine: American barbeque (specifically Memphis and Texas – but see website for more info).
Price: RMB 50-80 per person
Home Plate just won the top category in The Beijinger’s restaurant awards…making this the best restaurant in Beijing! The Beijinger has a kinda hilarious article in the April issue (on page 29, by Iain Shaw) rationalizing Home Plate’s upset. Home Plate may be less-established and less polished than other restaurants, Shaw wrote, but it won because it offers value for money and a personal touch.
Shaw’s right about Home Plate’s good points, but he sidesteps the obvious reason for Home Plate’s win: it’s serving food that Americans love. Fried pickles and cornbread have an appeal for my American-raised classmates that other cuisines just can’t touch, no matter how well done. Good value and a personal touch can be found at plenty of restaurants in Beijing – they just don’t serve American BBQ. And Americans vote in Beijinger surveys. (Talking to the Chinese couple at the next table also showed that Chinese foodies were flocking to the place).
All that aside, Home Plate rocks! The food is damn good, not “for Beijing,” for anywhere. Plus they’ve added outdoor dining and you can now eat BBQ in the sun. Watch out for that dust, though.
The pulled-pork sandwich (30 RMB) made with pork shoulder smoked for 8 hours with applewood, is served on a slightly sweet, house-made sesame bun. It’s served with BBQ sauce and great coleslaw. The meat is juicy, both tender and a little fibrous and crisp.
The craft beers here are amazing! They have: Brooklyn Lager, Brooklyn IPA, Rogue Dead Guy, Rogue Amber Ale, San Miguel, Estrella, Moosehead, etc. (see the full list on their website). The Rogue Amber Ale in particular is beautifully crafted: it’s refreshing and gently sweet with hints of caramel.
I wasn’t crazy about the Buffalo Wings; they were too sour for my taste (my friend assured me this was normal though). I’d recommend the BBQ wings instead…they taste terrific and are served with delicious blue cheese dressing. And the BBQ fries, topped with brisket, were incredible! The fries were going soft underneath the sauce but we didn’t care. The brisket was smoky, tender, saucy, and just a tiny bit chewy – perfect.
My chili dog was also great – I have to say, Home Plate’s chili is much better than Lush’s, which was my previous standby.
The service is very friendly – and all the waiters speak great American. It was a little hard to get the waiters’ attention, since they were mostly inside and we were sitting outdoors, but it wasn’t a real problem to get up and run to ask for something now and then. Indoors is nice too – our first visit was on a cold night, the place was packed, everyone was getting tipsy, there was a Marx brothers movie playing on the back wall – it was crowded in the best way possible.
UPDATE: After subsequent visits, I stand by my earlier review, but want to add that Home Plate’s quesadilla, filled with pulled pork, is outstandingly good, as good as the best Tex-Mex I’ve had in California.
Home Plate BBQ/本垒美国餐
35 Xiaoyun Lu courtyard (from the Third Ring Road, walk north. When you see the Hollywood restaurant on your left, turn left. Take the first possible right, even though it just looks like a residential street. You’ll see Home Plate on your right soon.) Chaoyang District.
Watch out! It is easy to get lost the first time you go to Home Plate. The street it’s on actually doesn’t have a name! Make sure to go to the website and look at the maps to avoid grief.