Over the past several years, I have been to many Japanese restaurants in Xi’an – from the high-end fine-dining experience to the corporate sushi chains. Each has its own benefits, and you can often find very decent food at each, but still there is something lacking – a personal touch. During a previous trip to Japan, I had the opportunity to dine at several small, family-run restaurants, and in each you could feel the influence that the owner had on the place, and often, you could meet them as they would either be working the floor or be in the kitchen. However, there is a place in Xi’an were you can get that home-like touch – Mozai Japanese Restaurant.
D o you ever feel like bars in Xi’an can be a bit… serious? Many a cocktail bar here in the city tends to aim at the higher-end, more refined audience, with bartenders in vests and ties carefully mixing classic combination. And while there will always be a time and place for that kind of thing, there are also times where you just want to relax in a fun and creative atmosphere.
That is exactly the goal of On Trip, a bar named after a famous Japanese movie. In this bar you won’t find any overstuffed leather chairs or perfectly dressed waiters. Instead, what greets you in this small side alley bar is a brightly colored and cartoon filled mishmash of different styles that still manage to come together in a wild, but harmonious way. Everything from the decorations to the menu screams of a creative spirit.
The creativity also extends to the cocktails on the menu, which features a wide variety of innovative cocktails of a variety of strengths and flavors. The menu is almost entirely in Chinese, but there are enough hand-drawn picture and clues to show you an idea of what you will get, though it might just be fun to go at random and see what you end up with.
The first drink of the night was chosen for the coconut palm and peanut symbols in the description. The drink that came out was far different than any cocktail that I had tried before. It looked more like a Thai dessert that a cocktail, with an assortment of tiny mason jars full of ingredients to add and a spoon. This would be a first, drinking a cocktail with a spoon, but the rum accented coconut milk mixed well with the peanut flakes, red bean, coconut jelly and watermelon. Honestly, you almost don’t recognize the rum inside, but the overall effect is quite pleasant, and it is fun to eat.
We also had another drink that tasted of watermelon, passion fruit, and peach, mixed with a bit of vodka. It was exceptionally light and fruity, and once again not very strong. It was then that we noticed that each of the drinks is labelled according to their strength, with many having a low (less than 10%) alcohol content.
Looking for something stronger, we ordered the two strongest drinks on the Creative Cocktails menu. The first promised whiskey, cinnamon and smoke and delivered nicely on all three. The drink came under a glass dome that was clouded by the smoke within. Unveiling the drink was a show within itself, and the drink that was revealed was a mix of whiskey, clove, and cinnamon, with a nice hint of the smoke that the glass had been coated in. It was a nice sipping cocktail, with a large clear ice cube that melted slowly with the drink, so you could take your time without it being watered down.
The other drink to arrive was labeled as having white wine and osmanthus flavors to it, and came neat in a simple martini glass. This one tasted heavily of vermouth and would have been refreshing on a hot day.
The bar also serves different kinds of food, with a variety of delicious snack to keep you at the bar and drinking. We decided to try a few different varieties of snacks, including delicious fried chicken pieces, which were boneless and juicy. The chicken had been wrapped in shiso leaves before being battered and deep-fried, with added a pleasant grassy note to the chicken. We also tried their version of a Scotch egg, which was very lightly-seasoned, with a runny yolk and accompanying side-salad. Finally, there was a dish called ‘Octopus Meatballs’ which consisted of small sausages cut to resemble octopi, octopus balls, and plenty of shaved bonito flakes. All of the food was good and went well with the drinks.
To add to the creative vibe, the bar plays host to minor ‘exhibitions’ of non-serious art. The work currently on display is a series by an artist called ‘Dirty Monkey’ titled ‘Small Fart Little Dog’. The paintings cover some of the mirrors and other parts of the bar, and there are also little postcards and other memorabilia available if you want to take something home.
Overall, this is a nice little place, and if you are looking for something less serious, want to try some lower octane creative cocktails, or if you just want to check out something a little different, this might be a good place for you. The creative cocktails start at around 68RMB and go up from there, while the classic cocktails average 58RMB. The food is not that expensive either, with most items coming in at less than 30RMB. So if you’re in the area, and want something different, this place is for you.
Boutique coffee shops have become something of a trend in Xi’an, with a great number of them popping up in the downtown and Gaoxin areas of the city. Qujiang, however, had not seen many smaller shops, being mostly dominated by chain coffee shops that offer the same sterile experience each time you enter their doors.
The first thing we noticed when we arrived at Fuji was that the environment was innovative and had a kind of night club-like vibe. We could easily imagine such a restaurant in some trendy neighborhood of Tokyo. The restaurant just opened in May, but it was quite full even though we arrived later on a Wednesday evening.
While brunch has become a mainstay of many of the coastal cities in China, Xi’an has long lacked anything approaching the leisurely gourmet experience that is a nice brunch. While there are many great breakfast foods, and plenty of 5-star hotel buffets for you to stuff your face at, the brunch experience, a.k.a. sweet or savory breakfast style foods and some sort of boozy accompaniment that will help ease out the aches of a night of overindulgence or as a way to kick start a fine weekend.
Coffee has been around for so long that it seems that there is little to no room for innovation. For the coffee purist, there would seem little to be no need to do so, but for shops looking to bring in more customers, the next big thing is a priority. FOOM Coffee, also known as BakeWorks, has settled on an interesting trend – charcoal lattes.
It’s safe to say that cocktails have taken Xi’an by storm. There are more cocktail bars than any one person would be able to visit, and there are new bars opening all the time, even as older bars close. But even with the vast variety, bars can sometimes start to feel…generic. It’s always the same drinks, mixed in very similar ways, without out much in the way of theme or originality. It’s often that I walk into a bar and recognize every single drink, and every single bottle on the wall. So, it takes something unique to impress me.
As the National Games are approaching soon, I thought it best to include a recipe for this month’s issue focusing on shared food.
Many of us think of a fondue being made and served in a pot, however, the vehicle of choice here is an entire loaf of bread that’s been disemboweled and stuffed with cheese. The inner bits removed are torn into chunks, anointed with olive oil and baked in a hot oven until crispy. These bronzed morsels are used to dip into the fondue. This is an ideal oozing, gooey pull-apart treat that’s great for sharing whilst watching the games and certainly a crowd pleaser.
Diets are one of those things that everyone loves, and hates, to talk about. Many of us are on one, or have some kind of dietary restrictions for tons of different reasons. A lot of people also love to have a nice drink; a cocktail here or there to take the edge off. And being knowledgeable about drinks, people often come to me with questions or request about drinks they can have while sticking to their diet. It’s tricky trying to balance both of those lives. I wanted to make an article to help people figure out how to drink responsibly (for their health, the rest is on you). It would be super easy to list a bunch of low-carb, sugar-free, healthy cocktails but you could easily look up list after list of these. I figured, as someone who knows craft cocktails, I could give you some techniques and tips on how to make your own drinks suitable to your diet. So, let’s dive right in.
I’ve often felt that the term ‘hidden gem’ is a bit overused. Often times it is used to describe places that is both convenient to get to and in plain sight, not the hard to find places that are actually good. However, occasionally you do find a legitimate hidden gem – place that you would not have actually found unless you were guided there. This is the case with Matsukawa Japanese Restaurant.