With my last posts being about food and Chinese incompetence respectively, I felt like this next one should encompass the two as well as possible. How to go about doing this? By trying a new restaurant of course!
My friend turned me on to the idea of checking out a restaurant called Jason’s library. Except, when I was first told about it I was under the mistaken impression that it was meant to be a bar. That would have made all the difference for me. With bars, style over substance is a lot more forgivable. I don’t expect ever drink I have to be a god damn masterpiece, and I am even willing to pay a little extra for a drink if the local is cool. Its all part of the bar business model.
I get that. But restaurants? Oh you better know what you are doing.
Spoilers, they didn’t know what they were doing. At least not so in the kitchen.
I must admit though that when it came to ambiance, this restaurant knew what the hell it was doing. It is called Jason’s library because from the outside it is meant to look like a bookstore. “Where is the restaurant part of it?” I hear you ask, and the answer would be right through the secret entrance behind one of the bookcases. Now, here we could dock one point for not knowing the difference between a bookstore and a library, but I get the impression that the intent was never to hoodwink people so I can let it pass. I should in theory dock another point for being so god damned gimmicky. I would, but frankly their silly gimmick got me into the door, so I guess that realistically this is one point in their favor.
Once you get into the restaurant proper, you are oddly enough further reminded of the gimmick. Nothing about the restaurant proper really speaks to the notion of library. Mostly, it just looks like the kind of room you may find in a castle, or a building older than structurally sound windows. The walls are faux brick that shows the faux more than the brick; if you look carefully enough you really see the pattern where the brickwork tiles are laid. Its an upsetting detal that may have been done a little better elsewhere, but still not enough to lose a point by.
But the truly amazing thing about this restaurant is to what extent I didn’t think I was in China as I sat there. No one was shouting. Furthermore, everyone was sitting politely and having normal, non screaming conversations. When people needed a server, instead of screaming ‘FU-YAN!’ at the top of their lungs, they raised a polite hand.
Fantastic! Almost like being back in civilization.
So I got into the restaurant about 30 minutes a head of the friend I was supposed to meet. Not expecting it to be a restaurant, I took a seat at the bar. This was a bit of a faux pas, as in China the staff have no idea that bar’s are a place for customers and not a place for the staff to work from. They were bothered by my presence, but not enough so to ask me to move. I sat there for about 15 minutes when a tap on my shoulder revealed a friend who I had not seen in some time. He invited me to wait for my other friend at his table, and I sat there just as the food was arriving.
And that brings me to my larger point, and the real star of the show: the food.
In a restaurant, the food is god damn everything. It’s like that there magical golden ball with wing from that one Harry Potter sports game: it really makes everything else that is going on irrelavant.
The first thing these friends had ordered was a carpaccio.
Carpaccio is a dish I absolutely love. However, there is something to be said about the fact that one does not merely make carpaccio when one chooses. It is more a dish born about the consequences of suddenly finding yourself with a dead cow. In other words, there should be no other circumstances that produce carpaccio short of having fresh meat. That bears repeating: fresh meat. For the uninformed, carpaccio is a dish of thinly sliced raw meat (I’ve had beef and salmon varieties, and have been informed on the existence of others) served on a light bed of rucola and any kind of grana cheese. All of this should be very lightly dressed in a bit of lemon juice. The star of the show must be the fresh meat. That is the point.
Some of you playing at home may already see the accident coming, cinematically, in slow motion.
China and fresh meat are not two words you often think about in the same sentence, or at least not without inserting ‘lack of’ in there as well. And, as I have made abundantly clear in my China as a cargo cult post, people in China don’t always think things through. So how exactly will serving carpaccio be not completely thought through in a Chinese restaurant?
They froze the meat.
Which is certain one way of keeping meat from rotting. It is debatable whether anyone would call that fresh or not. I for one, wouldn’t. But while this would be fine for stewing meat, or anything that is going to endure the obliterating stresses of cooking, it wouldn’t be good for a nice fillet mignon. And for a carpaccio, it would be a god damn abortion.
It tasted of meat. I would even go so far as saying it tasted of good quality meat that was frozen well. I marvel at how they managed to thaw it so well. But it was a thinnly sliced god damned carpaccio popsicle in my mouth. Words cannot elaborate just how unpleasant that was. And of course, this affected the taste.
It was about as awful as carpaccio could be. And I have no idea how anyone could have thought this was a good idea, unless they either were once told about carpaccio by vaguest description, or tried it once and didn’t really get the point aside from ‘Laowai like this, therefore it must be good.’
The adventures at Jason’s library continued. There was mediocre pizza, some freighting looking scallops, mediocre cocktails, the temptation of scotch eggs, and beef wellington that was too expensive to order. The consensus seemed to be that it was a place to avoid. And so far, I have.