100 Days, 100 Restaurants - Upscale Homestyle Hits Beijing

So here were go, starting off the 100 Days, 100 Restaurants series and not even going to begin talking about Chinese food, but forgive me for that, Beijing has many quality offerings of all kinds of food.

Over the past few years its been popular in the US to take "homestyle" cooking and "comfort food" and turn them into high end cuisine. There are currently a number of places in Beijing trying to take simple foods and turn them gourmet and we'll look at some today.

A few week back when having dinner with a prominent China blogger (no names), the topic somehow turned to Korean food and he stated how he regularly angered Koreans by referring to their food as "peasant" food. Even when I've had "upscale" Korean, back when Chicago still had a branch of Woo Lae Oak, the dishes weren't much different from what you'd find at a hole in the wall place in Koreatown. Well, in Beijing there are two places offering higher end Korean, but much like my Chicago experience, this isn't imperial style Korean food, its the same soups and grilled meats that can be found anywhere else.

1. Saveurs de Coree
From the French name, you know you're in for a different experience and when you walk into the stylishly decorated tiny dining room, your suspicions are confirmed. There isn't much decoration and the restaurant is very small, but it does have a wonderful rooftop terrace (arguably the best for al fresco dining in the area), making summer eating a great option. This is definitely a place that you need to contact in advance, but the nice thing is there are lots of choices in Nanluoguxiang. The menu features all the regular favorites and doesn't really diverge from what you'd get anywhere else, except the meats are served on sizzling plates instead of grilled in front of you. The nice thing is that all the hotplate dishes come with lettuce, vegetables, and dipping paste. Of course, all diners also get a decent selection of the requisite pancheon (including a good kimchi). The restaurant emphasizes that its Korean food is healthier than other places, the only place this is really noticeable is in the small portion sizes. The soon tofu was good and the dukbokki didn't disappoint, but both were a bit pricey. The spicy pork served on a sizzling plate (RMB58) was excellent, a bit charred, but that's just how I like it.

This place is a wonderful spot if you're looking for Korean food served a bit different and where you won't come out smelling of grilled meats. Prices are relatively reasonable considering the surroundings, but regulars at lower end spots or the Wudaokou Korean places will come away wondering why they paid so much and yet might not be full. Drink prices are high as well, especially when compared to the price of the food. In the end, its a great spot for a date, but not for a big meal with the guys.

Saveurs de Coree
29 Nanluoguxiang

2. Sorabel
Set in the swanky Lufthansa Center, despite the many changes around it, this restaurant has been in this location for many years. Fortunately, as Beijing has expanded, this spot on the northeast corner of 3rd Ring Road has slowly been surrounded by a larger and larger population from which to draw customers. Despite this, the customer base hasn't changed much, businessmen working in the area buildings and Koreans separated from the Wudaokou masses, as well as getting a sliver of the "women who lunch" business. It's your typical Korean barbeque, though in a cleaner and more posh setting. Prices are high compared to the other barbeque joints in the city, but reasonable considering the surroundings. If you're in the area or live nearby and have a hankering for Korean food, Sorabel can fill it, otherwise, it's not worth the trip as the city has many, better options.

Basement 1, Lufthansa Center
50 Liangmaqiao Lu

3. Noodle Loft
Noodles are a staple in any northerner's diet and are typically consumed at a neighborhood place where heaping bowls of daoshao mian (knife cut noodles) or niurou la mian (pulled noodles with beef) are served form RMB8 or so. Noodle Loft, from the people behind the other "Loft" restaurants, takes these northwestern staple dishes and takes them upscale, fortunately along the way, the prices stay somewhat reasonable. All noodle dishes are under RMB20, and while that may seem like a lot, for those working in the CBD, its nothing new. The difference is, the setting here is more like a fancy bar rather than a noodle shop. The noodle portions are small, with the popular items being the DIY daoshao mian (RMB12) and youmian (RMB16), which comes with 3 dipping sauces. Menu dishes range from around RMB25-50, and help satiate your hunger after the rather small bowl of noodles.

This certainly isn't your local noodle spot where a bowl of noodles is enough for a meal. In this high end environment, noodles are meant as just one course, alongside a variety of hot and cold dishes. The place definitely gives off a cool vibe and there's a lot to see, especially while watching the action in the open kitchen as the chefs prepare the variety of noodles. The Baiziwan location is even nicer than the Heping one, but the Heping one is easier to find and get to as its very close to the Heping Xijie subway station on Line 5 (easier, but still not that easy as its tucked into a hotel with little signage to guide you). It's noodles like you've never had them before and well worth checking out at least once.

Noodle Loft
Heping Xijie, JiSuanJi Chang Yuan Number 3

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