New York’s a city with no shortage of mixology bars, cocktail bars, or so-called speakeasies (shudder). I previously said that Little Branch is the best bar I’ve ever been to, but Pouring Ribbons, a new joint in Alphabet City not even open yet for two weeks, has stepped up to offer worthy competition. While sipping a brilliantly mixed original drink, my friendly bartender mentioned it was only their eighth night open. It’s clear that they’re off to a running start.
Those in New York: run, do not walk, to Mission Chinese Food at 154 Orchard St in the Lower East Side. It’s been documented at length by all and sundry and been touted as the greatest thing to happen to Chinese food since wok first met fire, and that may just be true.
So what’s the deal? It’s the New York outpost of a San Francisco pop-up style joint, the child of chef Danny Bowien, who before Mission had never cooked Chinese food (indeed, none of the cooks in the place were Chinese), but went travelling in China, learning how shit’s done right, and then came back and fused that knowledge and experience into some crazy-good, mind-bending, mouthwatering dishes. The New York branch has been open a few months now and apparently offers a refined tweaking of the original SF experience.
Some of what’s on offer seems traditional, some not, but everything comes out like it’s been imbued with magic tasty awesomeness that takes you on a rollercoaster ride of flavor, heat, and spice.
I’ll only comment upon what my friend and I shared. We ordered the salt cod fried rice, the Chongqing chicken wings (“explosive chili and crispy beef tripe”), the thrice-cooked pork, and the mapo tofu, all things that can be had, more or less, at any worthwhile Sichuanese place.
The rice was subtle but very very tasty. The bits of salt cod and slow-cooked mackerel provided a nice balance to the sweet Chinese sausage, and the entire dish was a good foil to the spicy onslaught which followed.
The wings – holy shit. Smothered in a seasoning powder containing lots of Sichuan peppercorn for sure, as well as what tasted like some sugar and MSG. Umami-mouth tingling explosion. My lips felt like they were fizzing like a glass of warm soda (The seasoning is so fizzing good that I scooped what was left on the plate and ate it straight). Also, the crispy fried dry chiles they come with are AWESOME, like chips but way way better.
The bacon – Holy shit part two. Never have I tasted anything more porky and smoky than the thick cut bacon they use. The sauce was divine, thick, spicy, smoky, and tingly, and the included sliced rice cakes did a good job absorbing it. My friend and I were rationing it out to have bites throughout the meal.
Mapo tofu – wow, just over the top. If I had this plus a bowl of plain rice, and nothing else, I’d be very happy. With everything else, it was probably overkill. Far more meaty and rich than any mapo I’ve had (of course, due to the generous use of pork shoulder that they advertised) – this wasn’t the incendiary, numbing dish I expected, but almost like a super heavy Chinese variant on chili. Really ridiculous (no picture of this one, I was too defeated at that point to take pictures)
I’ll conclude with the atmosphere – wild. The entrance is in a basement, only easily detected by the queue outside. The shopfront looks like the scummiest of shitty takeout windows, only with lots of people milling about and…a keg, providing free beer to people with their names down for a table. Once your name is called (making you feel like a golden-ticket holder) you’re escorted through a narrow corridor, past the glassed-in kitchen, past shelves of ingredients, plates, etc, into what looks like an indoor courtyard or back garden. Lit up by a huge red dragon, the tables are tight in, it’s raucous, and it’s casual. The restaurant equivalent of a punk concert, or a proper dive bar with table service
Every single thing about Mission Chinese Food is over the top in the best possible way. Go there ASAP.
“Scotchy scotch scotch”, so quoth the anchorman. So serveth Whisky Café in the Mile End of Montreal. Over 150 single malts – staggering. Also quite a lot of other aged brown booze (cognac, rum, port, etc), as well as a separate cigar room with numerous classics from Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta, and others (Havana of course). They offer tasting flights of whiskies, arranged by distiller or region, as well as whisky and cigar pairings.
The main bar is reminiscent of a classic, elegant French café, the cigar room more a clubby, plush den. Both very nice (though definitely stay in the main area if you don’t smoke, as the air in the latter area is quite thick).
All in all a very distinctive place, the only such of its kind in Montréal, it seems, and truly a world class whisky selection. As it happens, it won the Canadian Whisky Bar of the Year award in 2008Try the Lagavullin 16, it’s peated perfection. Here’s just the single malt menu:
Sir Winston Churchill, in all his whisky-guzzling, cigar chugging Hard Ballerness, would approve.
Bonus: across the street is the Royal Phoenix Bar, which is to be entered at your discretion, but by all means stand on the street corner and watch the parade of alternative young Montreal life stream forth from it – black, white, straight, gay, girls, guys, and almost everybody dressed and decorated off the wall and mashed up. Pure entertainment!
5800 Boulevard St. Laurent
I actually bought a CD today, a physical compact disc. What could prompt such ludditery? Well, the dark Danish duo have done it again and released another quality album (their sixth, or in my count, seventh) shortly on the heels of the last one. Observator, released today, showcases the mature Raveonettes in a more emotional, stripped down mood. Recorded in a week in LA, after an apparent down period in Venice Beach for Sune Rose Wagner, the album and its title translate his many reflections into music. In his own words:
“This album rose from such a dark place but ended up illuminating the gloominess and restlessness in a way I never thought possible. I honestly never thought this album would see the light of day, all the turmoil, all the craziness, all the sleepless night but in a single burst of spontaneous madness it came to be. I’m so thrilled for people to hear this new album in its entirety, it’s quite a dark ride.” (quote from NME interview)
That said, when have any of the last several Raveonettes albums not had a dark side? Well, quite.
Musically, Observator has a back-to-basics sound, with the same lush melodies and some noise, as always. It opens with pure, melancholic vocal harmony, and ends with a wall of sound. Familiar territory? Sort of, but it’s by far the cleanest, purest, warmest Raveonettes album, with fairly unaltered guitars, simple beats, and some monstrously heavy piano, especially on “Observations,” the first and best single from the album.
Some of the other songs sound like distilled versions of classics from their last three albums, and they work very well (“Sinking with the Sun”, “She Owns the Streets”, and “You Hit Me (I’m Down)”.)
Others have a more original sound that makes for an interesting deviation. We end with “Till the End,” possibly the best wall of sound, harmonic noise-epic the Raveonettes have ever done – a song that could sum up their entire career. Tight melodies, punchy beats, chimey guitars, and waves of noise. It’s the Raveonettes at their best, and for me the best track on the album.
It’s hard to believe that Sune and Sharin could put out yet another quality album just a year after releasing the achingly beautiful Raven in the Grave, but then they’ve never gone more than two years without an album. I don’t know how they do it, but they so deserve the Great Ballers status I accorded them with earlier. Observator keeps the ball rolling.
Bonus part 2: The Raveonettes are coming to DC on October 6, playing the Black Cat as they always do. If you live in the area, go!