Tag Archives: Expat Bars

Blue Marlin’s Steak Toast

IMG_20160503_023212Even when Jack’s Home was spiraling out of business, they did one thing consistently well: steak toast. When their hamburgers and their attempts at German food got weird, the steak toast remained consistent and reliable. It got to the point where ate only that and ignored the rest of the menu.

So, what was this dish?  Imagine two small pieces of sirloin on two toast slices. One had Hollandaise sauce on it, the other had Bernaise. A side of french fries came with that. Whenever I ate this, I used to love to mop up the remaining sauce with my leftover fries. And then, Jack’s went out of business, and I lost access to one of my favorites go-to dinners. I grew to miss it. Chocolate’s didn’t have it, Monkey King didn’t have it, and Jagerwirt didn’t have it either. That pretty much meant no steak toast in Wujin.

Now, I’m in Xinbei, and recently rediscovered it again.  It’s actually better than what Jack’s Home could ever do, and keep in mind that I really liked eating it there. The recently relocated Blue Marlin offers this dish. They used to be near Candle’s and a bunch of other bars. Now, they can be found at the Rise Sun Manhattan Plaza.

As for the food, I had it steak cooked medium. Both the sauces and the sirloin’s juices didn’t make the toast soggy. At first, I wished there was a bit more of the two sauces, but I realized that anymore would have been too rich and stomach upsetting.

There is another reason why I love this particular menu item. It’s affordable, and I am a notorious cheapskate. Lets say you are a steak lover, but you don’t want to dish out 150 to 300 RMB and upwards on a slab of beef. Let’s also say you really don’t care whether something is “Angus” or “grass fed” or not. Then, this is something for you. You don’t need to celebrate or have a special occasion to eat it.

My Eulogy for Jack

jackshome

I once had a sandwich totally confuse and confound me. The menu called it a Reuben, and that brought all of these fond culinary memories of Jersey. For those who don’t know, this involves two slices of rye bread, corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and thousand island or Russian dressing. They are common in New Jersey, Philadelphia, and New York City delis. What I ate didn’t meet that description. Cheese and fried onions topped a minced steak patty. No rye bread either — just white toast.

This “not a Reuben” could have been found, once, at Jack’s Home in Wujin. When around, it stood halfway between College Town and Monkey King and Chocolate’s. I used to go there out of sheer laziness. It was the closest expat bar to the College Town area when you ride an eBike or take the B1. Now, its gone. Somebody gutted it and replaced it with a fruit store.

Jack’s death, I am told, is typical of a failing restaurant in China. Butts were not in chairs. Menu items routinely fell out of stock for long periods. Once, I ordered a hamburger there and was served a pork cutlet between two slices of bread. I ate it. It was okay, but it wasn’t a hamburger. Also, some of the menu items began to get spicier — like a fusion between Western and Chinese, but not in a good way. Moves like that are supposed to draw in Chinese  customers, but it more than likely just confuses them.  Jack’s isn’t the first restaurant in Changzhou to vanish, and it won’t be the last. That’s just nature of the hospitality business. However, somebody needs to tell TripAdvisor, by the way that this place is gone and forgotten.

OK Koala: Sunday Brunch with Grandma

“You are asking the wrong person. I am quite antisocial. I don’t know.” 

I said this to a friend of mine, recently. She’s Chinese, and her fiance is an American new to China. In day to day to life, he is surrounded by his future Chinese in-laws.  He’s also surrounded by Chinese, and not his native language. Potentially, he may feel like a stranger in strange land, and she was wondering how and where he could meet fellow expats. As we talked, I realized that trying to use my fundamental lack of people skills as an escape was not going to be helpful to her and her fiance.  So, I thought extra hard for answer.

And then my mind drifted to Satina Anziano. She used to operate Grandma’s Nook in Wujin. It was a bakery that specialized in super awesome multigrain and sour dough breads. Plus there were always homemade chocolate chip cookies and rather illicit and guilty pleasure inducing cinnamon rolls. I mean, who else in Changzhou actually made and sold cinnamon rolls? She used to do Sunday brunch in at her Wujin shop, too. Only, I was always too busy to go. After all, I tend to be an antisocial, brooding, solitary type of guy. I know that’s a problem, and I am trying to get over it. Plus, I had too many part time jobs on Sunday, so I never went.

Satina has since retired and sold her shop. But, she’s still active in the expat community. Her brunches never ended, they just migrated from Wujin to Xinbei. Every sunday, Grandma’s brunches are now available at OK Koala, which can be found just one B1 BRT stop beyond Xinbei Wanda Plaza.

Every Sunday, you can get the sort of heavy breakfast that would be readily available all day in either an Australian cafe or a New Jersey diner. By this, I mean scrambled eggs, toast, potatoes, omelettes, and much more. This is the ultimate comfort food while living in Changzhou. Why? It’s hard to find. if you don’t make it for yourself. Besides OK Koala, the only place to get a breakfast like this would be Pizza Hut. After all, they serve omelettes and hash brown sticks.  Only, the person eating one table over from you will be Chinese, and they will be spooning an expensive porridge into their mouth. And they will likely be more concerned with staring at QQ on their iPhone than talking to you.

Grandma’s brunch’s at OK Koala is a great chance to meet your fellow expats. I went there recently. I realized that it had been forever since I talked to Satina, I went there to find her, only to find out that she had been feeling ill, Still, I hung around, and for the first time somebody showed me what Australian vegemite was, when

Vegemite on toast!

thinly spread onto bread. A New Zealander was also quick on hand that marmite was better. Vegemite? Marmite? It’s all the same to

this Jersey guy.  It’s deliciously sort of bitter on toast. But, honestly, I loved that a Kiwi and an Aussie had a chance to argue their cases in front of clueless American. And, right now, OK Koala is the only place to to have discussions like that on Sunday mornings.

 

 

 

OK Koala: Down Under in the Middle Kingdom

American knowledge of Australian food might be restricted to Vegemite. I don’t even know what exactly that is — other than a darkly colored paste that many Aussies like to slather onto toast. And there is only one reason why I know this.  It was a lyric in the now forgotten (by Americans) Men at Work song “Down Under.” So, I am imagining its a cultural cliche — just the same way that “Fosters is Australian” is also a a cliche.

“Oh, Rich, that’s a shit beer we feed to foreigners,”  an Aussie friend once told me. “Why? We don’t want drink it!”

So, yes, okay, I don’t really don’t know anything about Australian food and drinks. This is why my curiosity was piqued by OK Koala, in Xinbei. It’s a cafe and a bar operated by an Aussie, and it recently underwent a soft opening. In short, all that means it is brand new and that some menu items might not be available, as the Chinese staff undergoes training on how to actually prepare some of the food items.

One thing, however, is readily available. Meat pies! I had three of them last I visited: steak and mushroom, ground beef and cheese, and chicken and leek. All of them were very good and reasonably priced. OK Koala even has sausage rolls. These seemed to have more ground sausage at the middle. So, if one is looking for the Scottish variety (a British sausage link wrapped in pastry dough), look elsewhere. But seriously, this is about as close as you are going to get in city like Changzhou.

While this place wears it’s Australian nationality on it’s sleeve (and why shouldn’t it!), the amount of alcohol available is well stocked and  extremely international. Yes, you can find Australian beer here, but you can even find American micro brew. Hell, the bar even has a bottle of Polish egg-based advocaat, should a weary and homesick Pollack wander in.

And wandering in is extremely easy.  OK Koala is conveniently located. It’s next to the BRT station just one stop north of Wanda Plaza.

Jagerwirt’s Lamb Special

American holiday traditions can change from family to family; that’s just part of living in a multicultural society. After all, each family has a unique set of ancestors hailing from multiple countries. While growing up, Easter dinner for me, for example, was a hodgepodge of Italian-American dishes, and curiously enough, roasted lamb.  It was one of the only times of the year my mom ever prepared it.

I don’t know if I was thinking about this or not while eating at Jagerwirt in Wujin, recently. I was out at that German restuarant with a friend to celebrate Easter. I puzzled over the menu for a moment and than for some reason impulsively went for the daily special: lamb chops with mashed potatoes and a few grilled veggies.

It was easily the best lamb I’ve eaten in Changzhou. When cooked wrong, lamb can be greasy and chewy. This was tender and easy to cut with a knife. The sauce went well with the mashed potatoes, but you can say this dish skimped a little on the vegetables.  However, This just another example that I’ve seldom had a lackluster meal at Jagerwirt.

I wish the could say the same for other people. As for my friend’s dinner, I have to say Jagerwirt is not exactly vegetarian friendly. For the price on the menu, their mixed vegetable salad struck me as a bit small and lacking. I love how Jagerwirt is the one of the only places that you can get an actual baked potato, but once you strip off the sour cream and chives they can some times taste a little dry — as if prepared a little too far in advanced.

Candle’s Mediocre Jeager Schnitzel

Changzhou’s foreigner population contains a high number of Germans. They tend to be engineers — logic dictates that they would not be English teachers. This demographic reality can be seen on high-priced restaurant menus meant to attract expats and their money. And by this, I do not mean Jeagerwirt or Chocolate’s in Wujin — both actually boast themselves as “German Restaurants.” Rightfully so, too. Both are great.  I am talking more about the generally themed “foreign” eateries that want to be everything to everybody.

Candles in Xinbei is such a place. Their menu tries to excite Australians, Americans, Brits, Germans, and more. This is a place often championed as “The Place” to hang out in Changzhou. And that’s true — but only if you live in Xinbei.  The people who champion this place the as the greatest ever are people who live in Xinbei and think Wujin is a waste of time.

I now live in Xinbei, and I can tell you that when it comes to German food, Candles is mediocre. It’s great, because, well, there is nothing else in the Xinbei district that competes. When you have nothing else, and you only have one option, mediocre is quite awesome. Think about it. What other choice do you have? You don’t.

I thought about this, because I ate a Jeager Schnitzel at Candles for lunch, and it was nice. But. But! But, Jeagerwirt  and Chocolate’s in Wujin do this particular dish much better. Please don’t assume this as “hating” on Candles. I would eat this again and eat it again at Candles.