Anyone who has spent a reasonable amount of time in New York will remember the taste of corned beef and pastrami sandwiches, which could well be considered the hallmark food of the Big Apple. While several Beijing restaurants boast these sandwiches on their menus, the meat rarely seems to taste like the real deal.
However, "authentic" corned beef and pastrami is now available at one of Beijing's newest restaurants, Bistro, which opened recently on Xiushui Nanjie in the Jianguomenwai diplomatic district.
The restaurant has raised dining in the neighborhood to a new level and owner Sam Kwok rocks the street.
Kwok found his feet in the restaurant business in Hong Kong at the age of 15 before working his way up from bus boy in a Hilton to food and beverage manager at a string of hotels and restaurants.
He tasted his first corned beef and pastrami sandwiches when working at Lindsay's Restaurant (the Hong Kong version, not the Manhattan one), which served the Jewish community in the territory in the 1980s.
Because of the tradition of salting beef for preservation in many cultures, corned beef has long been a popular food for both Jewish and Irish people, hence the New York love affair with corned beef.
Bistro offers delightful corned beef and pastrami sandwiches served with home-baked rye bread. This is not the typical brined meat preserved in the tin; Kwok sampled various restaurants in Beijing serving the two meats and could not find anything suitable. He decided to make his own, pickling and braising the beef himself.
Kwok, who greets every diner, said he uses Australian brisket for its superior quality and because he detests using tenderizers, since they tend to ruin the meat's texture as well as its flavor. After dozens of experiments, he finally got his corned beef right and best of all, without adding in preservatives. Kwok added that he is not working on his own ham.
For those wanting to try something more substantial there is the veal scaloppini, served with a buttery floret of cauliflower, broccoli, carrot strips and potatoes, then doused with a red wine shallot sauce.
The vegetables are crisp and the potato edges are roasted to a delicious golden color. Also tasty are the lamb chops and veal parmigiana, which are both cooked with the same degree of skill. Accompanied by a pumpkin, vegetable or mushroom cream soup, they combine to make a fine meal.
Consider finishing the meal with a warm apple pie served with vanilla sauce, which is a union of the two classics: American apple pie and British vanilla sauce. There is also the tiramisu, full of cream and with a kick from the alcohol.
Bistro has a classic feel, reminiscent of good restaurants in New York with white tablecloths over green material and booth seating.
Yellow walls are graced with large photos of celebrities, such as Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart and a dancing Fred Astaire. An entire wall is dedicated to screen legend Audrey Hepburn.
The prices are under 120 yuan for a main course and are some of the most reasonable in town, especially when considering the quality of the food. Lunch set specials at 39 yuan are fantastic deals too.
Kwok also stocks a wide selection of wines at reasonable prices, which can also be purchased to take home. Details like these, without forgetting the friendly and excellent service, are why Bistro is such a great place to eat.