Saturday, December 13, 2014

Brave the Bear!

For a western person, walking in to a restaurant where giant teddy bears are seated at the tables and used as decoration in general, it just won’t happen – unless you are under 6 years old or have been rallied in to help at a children’s birthday party. A restaurant called “Bear” will not appeal to most of us either. What IS being served in this institution? Is the name a code for something?

So when Bear opened in the seemingly tiny space between Eatalicious and Tapas Plus in Pinnacle Plaza, we were skeptical. And because we also couldn’t read the menu on display outside the place, we didn’t bother for a long time. But then it didn’t go away as so many other places do, quickly, and a steady stream of patrons seemed to be swallowed by it so we decided to give it a try one cold, grey day.

And what a surprise we got. Walk past the narrow room just after the entrance and a whole new world opens up! It is nicely decorated (albeit with more stuffed bears than a toy store), clean, has a spotless bathroom AND menus in English. We learned that it is a chain restaurant of the Taiwanese/Hong Kong variety and specializes in noodle and rice dishes. But as all places here it offers so much more. The menu has a bit of everything; cold dishes, salads, noodles, rice….but there is also a specials menu that we, sadly, couldn’t read.

On our third visit we brought a few of our most loyal students. We wanted to order almost everything on the menu to really sample the fare and, while we can certainly eat, this would put a strain even on our appetites. Even better, this time we were able to have the specials translated for us and we choose a variety of dishes from both the standard menu and the specials of the day.

As always the cold dishes arrived first and we sampled the healthy wheatgrass salad as well as the fungus with lily bulbs in mustard sauce. The salad was similar to a Japanese seaweed salad with a nice bite and taste; the fungus had just the right springiness and the lily bulbs were surprisingly crisp. The mustard dressing was light and flavorful but not overwhelming.

Healthy Wheatgrass Salad
Fabulous fungi with crispy lily bulbs
Next came the soy barbecued chicken and the char siu pork. As westerners we prefer chicken with less bony bits but the flavor was excellent, reminiscent of Hong Kong street food of the best variety. The pork was melt in your mouth good, the meaty and fatty bits mixed together in a sweet mélange.

A Bear Speciality - Pork Char Siu

Yummy soy bbq chicken
We were eager to try the blackened cod but it turned out to be a disappointed. Though the fish was perfectly cooked and beautifully plated it was not at all as inspirational as we had suspected. Saying this - the dish could have been served with honors in any western restaurant. I think we were just expected something a bit more authentic.

Blackened Cod Fish - Good but won't order it again
The greens we ordered were, as always in China, perfect -  crispy and green with a few slices of garlic on top. How they manage to remain so dark in color is a wonder. In the west you would dunk the greens into icy water immediately after cooking but here they come to the table steaming hot straight from the wok.

How do they get them so steaming hot and bright green?!?!?

We continued eating – we did order a ton of food.

Our guests, who had also been to the Bear before, said that the fish head soup is a specialty, we had to try it. It comes in two sizes and since we already had ordered so many dishes we opted for the small one. The flavor was good and despite being seasoned eaters of local food; sucking on fish scales to get the meat out is a bit over the top, even for us. However, we completely understand the concept. It is in the head where you find the juiciest and meatiest parts and it definitely makes the best stock.  Good choice but we would prefer the stock bone and scale free instead, with pieces of fish added.

Loads of garlic in the Fish Head Soup
Claypot rice came next, of two varieties. The one we were most eager to try with Szechuan pickles and beef was sadly not available. The waitress explained that: “it’s not good so we don’t have it”. I’m guessing taking it off the menu is the next step.  Instead we ordered one pot with slivers of two kinds of house-made sausage, one with liver and one without, and another pot with salty ribs and whole sweet and smoky sausages.   The slivered sausage variety turned out to be our favorite while the rib option didn’t have much flavor and none of the promised saltiness.  The sausage and other delicacies are also for sale to take home.  Look for the refrigerated cases in the lobby, just by the entrance. Worth checking out!

By now, as you can imagine, we were pretty stuffed. Though the servings are not big by any standards it was still a lot of food for five ladies – at lunch.  Still, dessert is always a requirement.

The selection is small but we only had our eyes on the fermented rice soup with sesame balls so the rest of the menu didn’t matter. It was beautifully presented with a few goji berries floating around in the milky white soup. The taste is sweet and sour and a bit tangy. Sara tasted green apples but it was probably only the fermentation giving it the fruityness. The sesame filled rice balls were perfect in size, taste and texture - a little gooey but with a bite and that satisfyingly nutty taste of sesame.

What a beautiful finish to a lovely meal!
Very happy and stomach’s content, we left after paying the bill. The Bear is not a cheap place if you compare to other Chinese restaurant’s in Shunyi but still affordable considering the quality of product and cleanliness (and did we mention the pristine bathroom?!?!).

We had a wonderful lunch with wonderful friends. Thank you Kathy, Ashley and Connie for joining us!

Happy Eating and Happy Holidays!


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